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SACH has been the journey

And so it finally happened. The year long wait for the epic ton finally came to an end and the Indian public could now breathe easy. So what if it came on a placid track and against, as Virender Sehwag once famously said, an ordinary attack. So what if India lost the tie against Bangladesh and jeopardized its chances of making it to the finals?

It was a match which had the now familiar sight of India’s greatest cricketing icon taking off his helmet and raising his bat to acknowledge the cheering crowd, for the hundredth time in the international arena. Enough to make a country of over a billion to go into a festive mood. The Union Budget was supposed to be the highlight of the day and various economists had lined up on news channels to unravel it and make the common man understand how his next financial year is going to be.

But the cricketing demigod, Sachin Tendulkar chose the same day to reach the summit of hundred tons and everyone, including the finance minister had to make way for the maestro. Some pundits stuck their neck out and blamed Tendulkar’s slow paced innings for the defeat but for his awestruck fans, the hundred mattered more. It is not that after the hundredth hundred suddenly made him the darling of the mass overnight, just that the fans had one more reason to celebrate.

The Indian public has always been notorious for its hero worship and often it is felt that the bigger picture gets over shadowed by the Tendulkar hype. Such has been the master blaster’s clout that at times he is projected to be bigger than the game, much to the dismay of the purists. For reasons one has to look back at his long career, where it is not hard to notice how it has been reminiscent of the country’s progress over the last two decades.

In 1989, India was still under the clutches of license Raj and the common man looked for a hero to realize his dreams. In such a scenario, a 16-year old, who followed his heart and made a mark among battle hardened men in the rigors of Test cricket, came as a ray of hope for the entire mass. The repressed crowd identified themselves with his struggles to survive against the best in the business and the school boy’s innocence got everyone’s backing.

The 90s came and liberalization gave new hopes to the nation. It created new opportunities for the country as its growth rate and per capita income moved skywards. Introduction of foreign direct investments and privatization of state owned business ensured that India was now a key player in world affairs. But it was still miles away from being world leaders. While the nuclear tests at Pokharan in 1998 announced India’s entry into the big league, the Ayodhya issue and Bombay blasts in 1993 proved to be huge setbacks to the nation’s aspirations.

Indian cricket was pretty much in a similar state at that time. Tendulkar’s stocks were rapidly growing and his stature as the world’s best batsman was gaining voice. Be it the audacious 114 on a bouncy track at Perth, the 169 and 136 against all odds at Johannesburg and Chennai respectively, the Sharjah desert storm or his amazing show in the 1996 World Cup. He kept producing innings of highest quality but the Indian team was still far away from being world beaters. The rest of the team’s inability to play short pitched stuff and lack of a quality seam attack meant the tigers at home were lambs away from it. So much so that the opposition went with the mantra, get Tendulkar and the rest will follow.

At the turn of the century, a new India came to the fore. Now a full-fledged nuclear super power and armed with a robust economy, it aimed to be the next big superpower. The massive youth population proved to be its strength and with the world economy in crisis, the big business players and top world leaders made a beeline for India.

The cricket team too saw a new dawn. Led initially by an aggressive Sourav Ganguly, then later by an astute Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Team India was well on its way to glory. Away tours were not nightmares anymore as India posted Test wins in every cricket playing nations. The crest which started in that test in Kolkata in 2001, finally reached its peak when India reached the pinnacle in Tests by the end of the decade and became world champions for the second time in 2011.

All this while, Tendulkar kept doing what he was best at.  The career stats  slowly grew to astounding heights and almost all batting records fell to the Mumbaikar. Greatness had befallen to him long back and now he was scaling heights which would be out of reach for lesser mortals. Now he had the company of the likes of Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag and VVS Laxman among others and the Indian team wasn’t the one man army anymore, allowing him more freedom at the crease.

After 23 years, more than an entertainer, he is now an inspiration for the billions who follow his every step. Despite being under the microscope all his adult life, his work ethics and down to earth demeanor made his appeal cut across the globe. More than Sachin Tendulkar the player, now it is Sachin Tendulkar the person who is capturing imagination.He faced his biggest challenge, moving from 99 tons to the hundredth one, in his 23rd year at the international stage which spanned over a very uncharacteristic 34 innings long dry run. Former players doubted his motivation, labeled him selfish and raised the dreaded question about retirement. But being the man he is, he kept answering with the bat and promised the saga will continue.

May he score another 100 more !!!

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