Indian Express- Chandigarh Newsline- November 16, 2009
When we were in school, boys of my generation used to dream of playing like the original little master, Sunil Gavaskar. His straight drives, his piles of runs and his record number of tons were so inspiring that we grew up hero-worshipping him and when he retired in 1987 we felt a void in our hearts that we found difficult to fill up.
Two years later, a young boy, all of 16, strode on to the international cricketing stage and took on dreaded Pakistani bowlers like Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Abdul Qadir. The moment his first cover drive thudded into the fence in that Karachi Test, we marvelled at the sheer class of the young man and knew that we were in for a special treat. What we did not know at the time was that we would still be celebrating Sachin Tendulkar’s genius, 20 years later.
Each and every moment that he has spent at the crease in the course of this journey has been a moment of sheer joy for his millions of fans. The sense of collective anguish that engulfs Indian audiences each time the Master has to make his way back to the pavilion is truly unbelievable.
During the recent Australia-India ODI at Mohali, Tendulkar was poised to reach the unheard-of-landmark of 17,000 runs and the scoreboard was following him every inch of the way. When he fell 7 runs short of the milestone, for a well compiled 40, the feeling of despair that overtook the 40,000 crowd was such that some of us started to leave the stadium. This, despite the fact that local hero Yuvraj Singh and Indian skipper, MS Dhoni, were still to bat. A burly policeman was even heard remarking ‘Baba ji is out. What’s the point of watching now?’ Thus does the great champion, ageing just theoretically, manage to hold the crowd like none else even today!
Each innings of his has been chronicled, analysed, and dissected, over and over again, but some of the memories are definitely worth reliving-
1. His maiden Test century, at the age of 17, at Old Trafford in 1990 which converted a sure-loss into a near-win.
2. His 114 at Perth in 1992 on as pacy a pitch as ever seen in Test cricket.
3. His 222 run stand with Mohammed Azharuddin at Cape Town in 1996-97 (Tendulkar made 169 runs with 26 fours), described even by Alan Donald as some of the best batsmanship ever seen in Test cricket.
4. His twin centuries against the shell-shocked Aussies at Sharjah in 1997-98 that gave nightmares to Shane Warne.
5. The heroic but tragic 136 on a minefield of a pitch at Chennai against Pakistan in 1998-99 when India fell short by just 13 runs.
6. 98 brilliant runs in the 2003 World Cup tie against Pakistan when Shoaib Akhtar and company were pulverised by him.
7. His 103 not out at Chennai against England last winter, as India successfully chased an imposing target of 387 on a crumbling wicket.
8. 175 of the most scintillating runs that you’ll ever see, against Ricky Ponting’s outfit at Hyderabad just ten days ago.
The list is endless, as is the man’s reservoir of talent, grit, and determination. Much has been written about the expectation-led- pressure that his shoulders are burdened with, every time he strides to the crease. His humility and his spiritual nature have surely stood him in good stead at such times.
Those booming drives, the delicate flicks and the amazing paddle-sweeps seem to get better every day, and he continues to delight us with newer and newer shots that simply take our breath away. His fitness at the age of 36 is astounding.
If ever India’s youth needed a hero to idolise, Tendulkar has been that hero, with his unparalleled success, his integrity, his graceful demeanour and his never-say-die-spirit.
Is he likely to play the 2011 World Cup and better still, to win it for India? Who knows? Sachin Tendulkar knows no boundaries, no limits.
What we should do is to give up conjecture about his date of retirement, give up analysis and dissection, and just cherish that familiar ecstatic feeling that his batting still generates in us. For when he finally puts his bat away, we shall miss him no end.