Men may come and men may go, but he will go on forever
Any sport isn’t devoid of or isn’t in dearth of legends, yet I would postulate with courage that cricket is the only sport to have savoured a hero, an idol, a demi God. In no other sport do a player’s records thoroughly outnumber those of his contemporaries; in no other sport do the second best have under their kitty just half the numbers as the one atop does; in no other sport does a record remain assiduously unchallenged; in no other sport does a player remain at the top for a whopping two and a half decades, scrupulously amazing generations of fans; in no other sport does a player command such fervent respect throughout his career; in no other sport does a player win the tears of millions when he quits. The perpetrator, the protagonist, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
From the 600-run partnership at school to the last time he stepped on to the field, there are a few things that remained intact. First things first. From Shakespeare to Shelly, there have been heaps of love stories that have enticed the world, yet, the one most reminisced, the most divine one, the eternal one, is the love this man had for the game or rather the love cricket had for this prodigy. From 16 to 40, almost a silver jubilee for the couple, the most intimate couple the world has ever seen. Caught in the clutches of love, this was the hardest decision of his life. Sportsmen retire, sporting heroes too. Yet, the latter retire only from the field, not from the hearts of a million.
People call him the most complete batsmen of his generation. Yet, it remains an understatement to the most accomplished, comprehensive, consummate – to sum it up – the supreme batsman the sport has ever witnessed. There have been batsmen who have dominated the game more than this man has done, but all of them in patches, for periods of not more than half a decade. The very fact that he’s remained at the top for two and a half decades is a testimony to his fortitude and diligence. Such fortitude doesn’t come without the heart. A heart that longs for the sport, a heart that roots for cricket and only cricket. Having tyrannized both formats of the game in his inimitable style, the master would go down as the best player of cricket. Cricket and Sachin would be synonymous. Taking to a point beyond it, sports and Sachin would be synonymous. His contemporaries in other sports lose to him on two fronts, dynamism and longevity. Thwarting generations of oppositions and routing a variety of bowlers, he has meticulously done it for more than two decades in his own, unique transcendent ways.
A king of the ODI format, they say. The king of cricket, I say. In the ODIs, there hasn’t been a batsman who has blended aggression with elegance as he’s done. Every time he’s looked brutal, he’s look brilliant. Every time he’s looked aggressive, he’s looked astute. Every time he’s looked destructive, he’s looked discerning. Every time he’s looked audacious, he’s looked adroit. In the powerplay overs, that uncanny knack of slitting the in-field with a surgeon’s precision was his trademark. Engineering an ODI century is by no means a cakewalk. Surprisingly, it’s tougher than a test century. The stats and the facts go hand in hand. How many batsmen have crossed 25 centuries in ODIs as against the number of batsmen scoring more than 25 test centuries? This man has done it 49 times. Beyond all these facts, there remains the truth, lofted well above the reach of a certain sect of people. None of us are his fans for his numbers. You don’t become an ardent aficionado of someone by just looking at his stats. There was something well above all that, which attracted, allured and inveigled a million both within and abroad. The ODI format has always suited his aggression and guile. His skills were tailor made for the ODI format, as evident from the numbers which has the entire cricket fraternity in awe.
Numerous occasions when he has shied away from fame, from glory, from glamour and glitz, yet there isn’t a single occasion he’s shied away from brilliance on the field. Gifted with an astounding array of shots under his disposal, he’s exhibited paramount brilliance with his bat. His bat spoke better than he did and that’s the recipe for a champion. The straight drive, the most scintillating shot ever played by any cricketer, showing the maker’s name, was enough to entice a millions. Then, the voracious cover drive that was completed in a an exquisite manner; the head still, the bat coming down from third man, the bottom hand just controlling and manoeuvring the stroke, the back heel rolling over. The cheeky paddle sweep, the fascinating flick past square leg, pounding pull shots, is all that forms the technical attributes. Off the field, there were other attributes that set him apart.
The ability to evade the constant attention, the diligent ways of coming back from lean patches and the prowess of recuperating from injuries. The innings at Sydney, in 2004, where he cut out all his off-side strokes and grilled the opposition, spoke volumes about his endurance and temperament. An innings that reiterates the fact that he doesn’t give up at any cost. That perseverance which delayed the retirement decision, the fighting spirit that held him back from giving up and calling it a day. Such tenacity and stout-heartedness which made him stretch till the end to realize he was done, at the cost of exerting himself, training harder than a 25-year-old, and more importantly, falling prey to the acrimony of the short sighted public. The valour he has, made him fight till the end before he gave up. He could have just as well conveniently given up on a high after the World Cup win; rather he toiled hard to serve Indian cricket, that which contended his heart, that which made his oxygen, that which made him the man he is, that which gave him livelihood and last but not least, that which gave him harmony and happiness.
It all finally boils down to where it began. The love for the game. The love that brought him thus far, the love that made him the God of Indian cricket, a love that caused a flurry of hatred in the media, the love that made him SACHIN RAMESH TENDULKAR. The love is unparalleled by any force. I’ve never regretted not watching Leonardo Da Vinci paint, Beethoven compose, Michael Jackson dance, or Hitler speak; yet I thank God for belonging to the era of Sachin Tendulkar. I will tell my grandchildren and captivate them by the heroics of this master. We sing heaps of praises about deities seldom seen, yet we despise a deity that has met our eye, Sachin Tendulkar.
The day once distant, has eventually come. The day I dreaded the most. The doomsday for ODI cricket. The Mayans just missed it. Tendulkar retires from ODI cricket. Well, it should have been reworded as ODI retires from cricket. I will avoid watching ODIs for a while, until the fact sinks in. I will try hard to become someone’s fan, with the hope of not losing interest for cricket. As I sign off, images of the curly haired chubby boy, the straight drive, the cuts, the illuminated eyes, the running, the gestures after a century, the glancing towards the heavens, acknowledging the crowd, the MRF bat; all of these do their rounds in my mind. Tears roll down my cheeks, and my heart never ceases to say – “Cricket is my religion and Sachin is my GOD.”
Men may come and men may go, but he will go on forever.