Sachin Tendulkar. What does one say new of this man who has caused us to reach out and feel the electricity in the atmosphere every time he walks in to bat? What can one add to the reams penned by commentators who wax eloquent with delight at his incredible cricket?
The little big man lords over contemporaries, making capital of his unquestionable gifts — wonderful eye-hand coordination that mark superb shot selection and the ability to score off good balls, not to speak of his cricketing intelligence.
He flirts with batting records and is, perhaps, well on his way to monopolising them. But the man himself has said he likes to be remembered as an attacking player who likes to take on the bowlers. He realises that while doing this, he has to take chances, especially in one-dayers where it is not enough to play according to the merits of the ball. In fact, he says “Very often your success depends on not treating the ball on its merit.”
Of course, his batting is always potent, instinctive. He is usually in a hurry, suggesting that he is occupying the crease to score runs. He improvises strokes that don’t exist for the others. He can defy every known textbook instruction and make the gaps on the field look larger than they really may be.
To be sure, even the gentlest of his strokes, the flick or the pushed drive down the track, reek of brute power. Which is why it is hard to think of any of his innings as a symphony. The stacatto bursts from his willow are more the hard rock and metal sorts. There are batsmen. And there is Tendulkar.
He drives and pulls with such frightening power that grace is not a word that springs to mind readily. Power and precision are. Of course, his batting can be poetic as well. The straight drive and the cover drive, the caress through slips. For, in the presence of genius no rule apply.
Yet nothing gives him greater joy than helping India to victory – be in Tests or one-dayers. He draws the most pleasure for each Indian win, taking as much pride in his team-mates performances as in his own. His confidence is exceptional, no sign of worry on the visage
that we get to glimpse through the visor grill of his helmet. His amazing batting has led India to see him as super human even if he has reminded us, ever so often, that he is, after all, human.
First among equals, perhaps.
He has made us experience the whole gamut of emotions known to humankind. For instance, India warmed up to his innocence as he stood up to Waqar Younis late in 1989; experienced agony when he threw his wicket away in sheer bravado at Napier the next year when on the edge of a century which would have made him the youngest to reach the milestone; and found great pride in his match-saving hundred at Old Trafford in England the same year.
Indians consoled themselves as he took the fight into the Australian camp in Sydney and Perth when he still not old enough to secure a driving license; They reduced to gaping school-children when the enormity of his talent was on view as he took a superb 165 off England in Madras in 1993 and counter-attacked Courtney Walsh and company in making 179 at Nagpur in 1994 and employed similar methods to make a hundred in South Africa in 1996.
India also basked in reflected glory as he decimated the myth of Shane Warne in the Tests in India in 1998 when a steely new resolve was there in his eyes for all the world to see; Indeed, India also wept with him when he sobbed because one of his best Test centuries, a
rousing effort in a losing cause, was not good enough to carry India to victory over Pakistan in Chennai; And, it doubled up in pain when his back threatened his career — a whole nation debated the injury and its import.
But of course, India had to suffer a long wait for the real Tendulkar to walk in to bat in one-day internationals. For long, India had to content itself with memories of a famous last over in Hero Cup semifinal against South Africa on a tumultuous evening in November 1993 at the Eden Gardens in Calcutta.
A whole nation rejoiced as his appetite was discovered accidentally when he opened the innings in New Zealand in 1994 and scored his maiden century in one-day internationals in Colombo later that year;
India was awe-struck one April night in 1998 when commentators wrote of two storms in Sharjah – of nature’s fury that made way for Tendulkar to unleash a blitz against an Australian attack that was shocked into submission.
And all of India wondered at his ability to shrug off thoughts of a personal tragedy and praised his commitment to Indian cricket when he returned from the funeral of his father to score a poignant hundred in the World Cup in 1999. Many of us in Bristol shed more than a tear when we saw Tendulkar share a private conversation with the departed soul.
If Tendulkar were batting, you would not want to bat your eyelid for the risk of losing the chance to see him play a shot. Indeed. Sachin Tendulkar. Peerless batsman. Great entertainer. Harbinger of Hope. What next?