45 years of Sachin Tendulkar – A tribute to the legend
In 1989, a young high school student of Sharadashram Vidyamandir school, made his international debut in the Indian cricket team against Pakistan. Little did the cricketing world know that this boy would go on to become one of the world’s most celebrated cricketers of all time. A glorious international cricketing career, spanning over 23 years beginning at the age of 16, from scoring an average of more than 50 runs every 3rd match to being the only one to score 100 centuries in international cricket… his list of records is endless.
Post liberalization in 1991, the young and aspiring India looked for a hero, who could not only conquer the world, but also, more importantly, it’s heart. For those born in the 80’s and 90’s, he was their hero. One cannot think of any other cricketer in the 90’s who had generated as much discussion and debate as him. That was Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
15 Man of the Series awards, 62 Man of the match awards with 90% + Indian victories, a Man of the Match award against every one of the ICC Full Members, and a lunch with Sir Don Bradman were just a few of his many achievements. Unlike certain cricketers who had weaknesses in certain countries, Sachin conquered every country. The tougher the pitch, the more graceful the innings. Perth, Lords, Newlands, MCG, Manchester, Hamilton – name the ground, name the team – a Sachin century was associated with it.
It was because of him that Jonty Rhodes became a villain in the eyes of many Indians for a controversial catch in Durban during the tri-series. It was because of him that Steve Bucknor was disliked by many for bad umpiring decisions. And because of him, tons of electricity were either consumed or saved, depending on him getting out or otherwise.
For an entire generation, he was the only hope. With each passing day, not only did the hopes and expectations increase, but also the debates and criticism – "Did he choke in the finals? Was he not capable of being a finisher? Could he not carry the team through intense matches, etc. The job of a critic is to criticize, to make a mountain out of a mole-hill. A few critics started saying that he plays only for his records and most of his centuries were in a lost cause.
For a hardcore Sachin fan, it did not matter because every time he was criticized, he let his bat do the talking. Whilst it is easy to find fault, what people forget is the consistency amidst the weight of expectations. It is difficult to recollect any batsman in his era who was so consistent – an era dominated by Wasim, Waqar, Walsh, Ambrose, Warne, McGrath, Murali and Donald.
The 90’s had some of the most ferocious cricketers playing for their countries. And at the big stage, the World Cup, Sachin upped his game even further. The stumping off Jayasuriya in the 1996 World Cup semi-final against Sri Lanka cost India the game. He had scored 60 odd runs in a total score of 120. The critics once again complained about his inability to shine in semi-finals and finals.
But the fact, however, was that he was majorly responsible for taking the country till that stage. Then the Desert Storm happened in Sharjah, followed by the Henry Olonga massacre.
In 1999, during a test match at Chepauk, it was heart-breaking to see India lose to Pakistan after a Sachin special. With 270 runs to chase in the fourth innings, India was tottering at 82/5. Most cricket fans would have wanted to switch off the TV, but Sachin had other ideas. Nayan Mongia decided to give support and Sachin, with a stiff back, took India to 254/6.
With 16 runs left, Sachin got to Saqlain Mushtaq after amassing 136 runs. Most Indians knew the match was over. The next three wickets fell in the space of 4 runs and India lost by 12 runs. India lost the match, but Sachin had cemented his place amongst a billion hearts.
But he went on to hurt the Pakistanis 5 years later. He reserved his best for the 2003 World Cup battle with Pakistan at Centurion. Wasim, Waqar, Shoaib and co were punished duly. There was a game changing moment in the match. While on 32, Abdur Razzaq dropped Sachin off Wasim Akram. An exasperated Akram shouted "Do you realize whose catch you dropped?"
And he went on to score 98 off 75 balls and led India to victory along with the support of his fellow teammates. Deservedly, Sachin was Man of the Match as well as Man of the Series in the 2003 World Cup. That summed up the status of Sachin in his heyday.
For almost a decade, the country could not muster a batsman who was 50% close to his abilities. Despite that, India had a near invincible record at home but a miserable one away due to lack of support. Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid finally came on-board and then things started to change.
When MS Dhoni took over as captain, he very rightly chose to do away with senior cricketers who were liabilities on the field. Sourav Ganguly went first, followed by Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid. But Sachin was in a different league. Till the time he played his last game, his fielding or batting was never a question.
His commitment was 250% - that was the power of the man. Barring Glenn McGrath, no bowler has “troubled” him regularly per se. Warne was taken to the cleaners. Murali was conquered. The others didn’t matter. Most people think Dhoni invented the helicopter shot, but true Sachin fans have seen this shot in the Natwest Trophy 2003 against England where Sachin helicopters Darren Gough over midwicket.
But he was not always perfect. The Ferrari car controversy, the Rajya Sabha disaster, his failure as a captain twice were testimony to this. Despite this, every Sachin fan hoped that he would be a part of at least one World Cup winning team.
That moment arrived in 2011 and Sachin should thank Gautham Gambhir and Dhoni for pulling India out of trouble. The Almighty had smiled on him finally. It was only fitting that a young Virat Kohli carried Sachin on his shoulders that night at the Wankhede with the ever-familiar shouts of "Sachiiin… Sachiiin." That name is much more than just a shout. It symbolizes various things to various people – adulation, hope, inspiration, magic, glory, beauty, finesse, perfection, consistency, humility and idol worship.
To say that his last international speech was emotional is an understatement. He couldn’t script his farewell with a century, but he had done enough for a nation starved of sporting heroes in the 90’s.
He is much more than just numbers; he is an emotion. He is nicknamed “God” which is quite a nickname for a cricketer.
Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar - thank you for the memories.