This piece of writing goes out to arguably the finest sportsman that India(and perhaps the world) has ever produced Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. As a kid I remember thinking “What is the hype about, after all he is just a player” and was in general cynical as something so hyped up rarely lived up to the promise but Sachin was different, he was the real deal and the hype for once seemed justified. For Indians he is a demi god who can do no wrong (he’s actually repaid the faith in full).
Ironically, the first time Sachin really had a impression on me was with the ball. It was a match against Australia, opponents against whom he has prospered and often performed at his best. Unfortunately on that occasion Sachin was dismissed by Kasporwicz for 8 runs. India however set Australia a target of 310 to chase. With Australia cantering home at 203/3 after 31 overs Sachin turned the match around claiming his career best figures of 5 for 32. This was a cricketer willing to give it all every single time he stepped onto the field.
The numbers speak for themselves. Sachin has an umatched record in ODIs. 45 hundreds, 93 fifties at an average of around 45 are statistics that any cricketer would be proud of. He would have got 50 hundreds were it not for getting dismissed in the 90s quite a few times starting with the 2003 world cup where he scored a series of the most chanceless 98s. He is not bad in Test Cricket either of course a few more double hundreds wouldn’t have hurt. An average of over 50 with 43 hundreds in a career spanning two decades is no joke and speaks of his longevity and dedication to the game. Ponting seemed to heading his way with a rich vein of form but with the retirement of several Aussie greats his form seems to be dipping and he seems mortal yet again. Contrast this with Tendulkar who in the 90s was the only one who seemed to have turned up to play the game and yet when everyone around him was being dismissed he was at his peak. He was often the lone performer. (Lara had an even tougher time) An opposition knew that once Tendulkar was dismissed the rest would blow over(There were exceptions to this of course). On top of this there were a billion people watching his every shot. Under such pressure he was able to play at his best. The tennis elbow and his back injury took some runs away as he was almost in perpetual pain while playing some innings during the period.
Sachin is by far the most complete batsman of this generation and perhaps of all time. Spin, Pace, Seam he can play them all effortlessly. Nothing unsettles him. He is perfectly balanced at all times. His footwork is precise and not a movement is wasted. I suppose this is in common with many other top athletes who never waste a single movement of theirs. This has also allowed him to remain in the game at his peak for two decades when the number of matches being played are at their maximum. When one watches his game one also realizes how quick his anticipation is. Almost always he knows what the bowler is planning to bowl. Sunil Gavaskar points out that his bat always comes down straight and not from third man like Sir Don Bradman. The margin for error that bowlers have is extremely small with Sachin especially in ODIs. If a ball is slightly full it is driven, slightly short either punched or pulled away for a boundary. He has once begun to step out to spinners and hit them over their heads which he had stopped due to his bad back for some time. His shotmaking is truly a sight for the gods.
One of the most amazing aspects of Sachin is how he is able to answer every sledge that the opposition throws at him with the bat. Henry Olonga claimed that he had figured him out after getting him out once. Sachin promptly showed him who’s boss in the very next match without saying a word. Caddick claimed that Sachin could not play the short ball only to be hooked away for a massive six. Mind games just don’t work with great man. Only recently has he started to be confident with the media playing mind games with the opposition. One recalls the recent one day series against Australia where he said that two finals would be enough and then top scored in both the matches.
Two of the most frequently shown innings on any cricket channel are the twin hundreds he scored against Australia in the semis and finals of the Coca Cola cup. The innings show Tendulkar in all his glory and highlight why so many are enamored by Sachin. I still recall Tony Greig screaming into the Microphone “the little fella has hit the big man for a six!!” when Sachin smashed Tom Moody straight over his head. Sachin reserved his best for the world cups. He was sublime in 1996 world cup and then again in the 2003 edition. The 2003 edition was special because many believed him to be past his peak. The 98 against Pakistan when 273 were being chased was amongst the best one day innings ever. Billed as a Shoaib Akhtar vs Tendulkar contest Sachin came out on top easily dealing with the pace of Shoaib with deftly played punch shots and the upper cut which seemed to have been invented just for the occasion. Let’s not forget that Akram too was playing in that match. He was past his peak but still one of the cleverest and deadliest bowlers around. Sachin played a back foot punch through the covers of one of his balls that was barely outside off stump. There was practically nothing wrong with the delivery and yet it was dispatched with disdain.
Sachin also highlights the value of preparation and the necessity to work hard. Of course he is extremely talented and god gifted. Cricket is in his blood but he still works hard and prepares strategies for bowlers that he is going to face. He had 4 stances for a tour of South Africa depending on what was being bowled. Everyone remembers him greeting Shane Warne with a six over his head. Shane Warne confessed to having nightmares of being hit back over his head. Only later was it revealed that L Sivaramakrishnan had bowled to him outside leg stump in order to help him prepare for Shane Warne. He also plays the shot that can be best described as the reverse straight drive. He is the inventor of the upper cut which he played in the World cup match against Pakistan against Shoaib Akhtar. Subsequently a lot of players have made this shot their own(including Sehwag).
If Sachin has a weakness or a slight chink in his armour it is his tendency to get out the inswinging delivery. McGrath, Shoaib Akhtar have exploited this on a few occasions. Sachin has also gone through phases where a few bowlers have dismissed him repeatedly. Notable among these being Abdur Razaq and Dion Nash(Bowlers who primarily bowled inswinging deliveries from slightly wide of the crease). He also fulfills every debutante’s dream of dismissing the greatest batsman of all time for more often than not the debutante gets Sachin’s wicket, case in point being his dismissal by Clint McKay during the breathtaking 175 that Sachin scored nearly handing India victory in the chase. (The match had striking parallels to the one against pakistan in 1999 where Sachin all but ensured victory only to be let down and have defeat snatched from the jaws of victory).
An oft ignored attribute is the way he supports his team mates. It may be argued that Sachin can do so because he is well established and can take on the authorities but the fact that he supports them beyond the normal call of duty is commendable. He was the only who came out in support of Harbhajan (against Symonds) and publicly stated what he had heard when no one else came forward. He also stated that “Mumbai belongs to all Indians” when everyone else was afraid to take a stance. Not one celebrity came out in his support publicly. Everyone preferred to keep silent, letting Sachin draw the wrath of the politicians.
Sachin’s love for the game is always apparent even after 20 years the happiness and the joy he exudes when India won, the sadness he feels when India lose are there for all to see. The smile that lit up his face when he scored 103 in the record breaking chase against England became the defining image of the Test. He still lights up every time he is on the field. His fielding and his throwing arm are rarely commended but very rarely does he misfield or drop catches. His running between the wickets is exemplary. His calling like his batting is precise and he is usually a fine judge of a run. When he bowls he gives it his all trying everything that he can to break partnerships and get that crucial breakthrough. In the test match when Laxman scored the magical 281(and Dravid 180) he picked up the valuable wickets of Hayden and Gilchrist and dismissed Shane Warne of all people with a googly. He never allows his standards to drop. India never the best of fielding sides was being let down by their catching against against Sri Lanka, during the mammoth chase, he alone held on to the crucial chance of Angelo Matthews in the dying stages of the game.
Sachin’s impact however is far beyond the game. He is a nationwide superstar worshipped and admired in every corner of India and he is the only one. Not even Amitabh and Rajnikant can lay claim to that distinction. He is the ideal almost everyone aspires to be and represents to everyone as to what talent coupled with hard work can achieve. The biggest draw while watching any cricket match is still Sachin Tendulkar, the same as ten years ago. How many remember asking their parents to let them watch TV while Sachin batted or their mother telling them “Ab Sachin out ho gaya, koi fayda nahi”. A lot of people would switch off their TVs the moment he was dismissed giving up all hope. He still retains his humbleness and modesty despite what he has achieved. Sachin is loved and worshipped because he is good at the game which is very different from say a David Beckham.(This is not to deny that David Beckham is good at football. His dead ball game is amongst the best but he is just as if not more valuable for his other assets) He needs the game and the game needs him. Only then are the two complete. Sachin will be 38 in 2011, the year of the world cup. Its getting tougher for his body but his mind is still strong, he loves the game and will hopefully win India the world cup and cap his already fantastic career.