For 17 years, first as a boy and now as a man, Sachin Tendulkar has played cricket with distinction and been for India its honourable champion.
In a sporting world of swollen egos, pouting stars, silly belligerence on the field, artless sledging, he has never undignified the adulation he has been given.
For 17 years Tendulkar has been India's champion
Somehow through it all, his riches, his deification, his life turned into an unending episode of reality TV, Tendulkar has maintained a sense of proportion. Except now some of us are losing ours.
Judgement of Tendulkar in recent times in some places has been hurried, harsh and disquietingly rude. He failed in the Test series against Pakistan and he was Endulkar, he scored a century in the first one-dayer and he was Tondulkar, a grand career glibly reduced to a slick headline.
But then this is the age of provocation, where some pundits confuse volume with wisdom, and cricket is turned from game into tamasha (commotion).
Reasonable observers like Gavaskar and Shastri remain, but they are in danger of being drowned out by more strident voices. Moin Khan, hardly the most chaste of cricketers, is giving us hysterical lessons in sportsmanship, while some former Indian players make a loud living offering bold and often banal pronouncements.
Not that any of this means that Tendulkar is immune to criticism, or that he is above scrutiny. He is the man in the arena and must be judged, like others, not on reputation but performance.
Tendulkar, when he goes, must go of his own hand, it would be the only honourable departure
He does not ask for favours, but only to be accorded the same dignity he has brought to the game. We need not swoon over him, neither must we revile him.
But to blithely dismiss him as had been done recently, to mock his ability as some do, to say he is afraid of fast bowling as others contend, is painful and unedifying.
Tendulkar was always a reluctant God and perhaps it is just that we have become impatient worshippers. His decline may eventually be more revealing about us than about him.
Perhaps we have spent a lifetime perceiving Tendulkar as a batting superman and are unsure how to deal with him as a man, a human batsman who fails, who makes mistakes.
Indian fans: "Impatient worshippers" of the game
But after 17 years even the machine, and so many saw him as one, has to wear down, its mechanics occasionally faulty, and for some this is a revelation. What did we expect, that he would never grow up, that he be 16 forever? Are we?
When Tendulkar scored his 35th Test century recently it was said quickly, here and there, that he was back to his best. Of course, he wasn't, he cannot be.
But this is no surprise; what is a surprise, and thus a tribute to Tendulkar, is that his career stayed so brilliant so long, his embrace of discipline so constant that it stands unmatched in recent times and perhaps not just in cricket.
Sure his consistency has been somewhat amputated, but this is a natural progression; he is no longer the all-time great practitioner of the batting arts, but he remains a very good one. His 95 in the third one-dayer in Pakistan, on a pitch that was alive, had his captain, Dravid, in raptures.
Suggestions that his career is done with are laughable, for it is not as if India's bench is littered with superior talents who are being denied an opportunity. Men must earn their place, Tendulkar still is earning his. Over the hill he may be, but he is still more accomplished than other men at the top of their mountains.
Roger Federer remarked recently that despite the apparent ease with which he dominates, some days tennis is hard work for him and he must labour.
For Tendulkar, it was the same, so fluently did he play once that we did not see nor appreciate his struggle, his singular focus of mind, which ensured that bad days or good, he found a way to produce his best for India.
Now his struggles are more evident, and yet there is a particular pleasure in watching Tendulkar past his prime, it is moving yet instructive to watch a champion return from injury and grapple with his game, propelled by a desperate, undying belief that even now, so many years later, he is still, dammit, good enough.
Tendulkar is a proud man, always has been, and if his instinctive genius has slowed then it is educational to watch a batsman remake himself, to find a new style that suits him, to stay relevant as a player even now.
Tendulkar is "challenging time" now
He has defied everything for nearly two decades, bowlers, pitches, expectations, and now he is challenging time. He will face it head on; he always does.
One of these days it will end, maybe next year after the World Cup, maybe later, and this will be interesting, too, for modern sportsmen are loath to admit their moment has passed, taken kicking and pleading from their field of play. Retirement is a final admission of failed skills, it is these days an expensive decision as well.
Tendulkar, when he goes, must go of his own hand, it would be the only honourable departure. But that can wait. For now let's lock away the cheap criticism and the sweeping judgements, and enjoy the final chapters of a decent man and superior batsman. The season of Tendulkar is not yet over.
Here is a selection of your comments.
I my opinion Sachin is remarkable icon both on and off the field. I just want to try his best to see India winning the games. However it is noteworthy to mention that he has never been accused for any misbehaviour nor linked with any contriversy.
It is pity that the persons like Moin Khan who even could not pick the bat are suggesting the it is the down fall of Sachin. I think Sachin did the right thing by answering his critic by his bat only.
Players like him are born once in a century and we must respect and utilise them properly
Mahesh kadgaonkar, India
I agree, Tendulkar has shown that on song and fit he still has what it takes to produce match winning performances. In my eyes a master of the arts that is batting. Long may he continue to play and please the viewers
Sachin Tendulkar has answered his critics in the best possible manner, there is no doubt about that. But the disheartening fact remains that the manner in which he bats now-days has undergone a sea change , except for a few innings in-between like the 95 he scored the other day.
I have been a great Sachin fan for years, but seeing him get hit like that by an Akhtar bouncer was very painful. May be it was the spur he needed to get back to the old ways and I hope he will return to belting the cricket ball and entertaining the crowd by lusty cuts & pulls.
Shravan Deshpande, India
I have been following sir Sachin from the time he made his debut, he is one cricketer I know who is down to earth and never involved in any controversies like match fixing, or even being a Casanova like the Pietersens or Laras. He is a perfect role model to all the youngsters in the world.
Shelldon Smith, uk
I totally agree with you Mr. Rohit, having been a great fan of the little master, he has been the greatest and will remain the greatest even after his playing days are over. If fit and available I do not see any reason why the master blaster cannot continue for a few more years. The end is far beyond the horizon.
Antonio Dias, Netherlands
Tendulkar, Endulker or Tondulkar, what so ever we call him. He was a great star no doubt, but if wants to remain shining he has to perform. Cricket is now the game of performance not mere experience and styles. Thus, Sachin has to be on his toe and keep the tons of scores otherwise, he will be criticized and many of us will not be happy with the situation.
Excellent column on Great Tendulkar. I want to add few thoughts for those so called "ex-player /critics". What did they achieve in their career? Are they anywhere near Sachin? It is easy to comment but not perform. So what if Sachin's career ends? Some day one has to stop. But what he has done for 17 years that counts. I tell you one final thing: statistics are no where near the class of Sachin Tendulkar. He is unique and cricket lovers will admit that he is one of those who made the game proud.
Sachin Tendulkar was, is and will always be a CHAMPION in more ways, than just a cricketer.
A fine example for others to try to emulate, if so, then would it not be that cricket itself becomes a better game.
"Sachin Tendulkar a fine example".
Mickey Watts, Australia
What a fine article!! As an Englishman, living in South Africa and an avid cricket fan, it was heart-warming to read an article on Sachin Tendulkar that was balanced and honest. In a world where sporting superstars often fall from grace in one way or another, Tendulkar stands out as a shining beacon to all. His humility is only surpassed by his undoubted talent and I for one, hope to see him grace cricket fields all over the world for many years to come. Congratulations Rohit in writing about a great player without favour or hysteria.
Pete Roberts, South Africa
Neat story and in the proper perspective. There is a lot of talk on how some criteria needs to be defined for nominations to the selection committee... perhaps, it is time to have some similar standards before allowing any ex-cricketer to voice their, often ridiculous, opinions.
Vinay Chousalkar, INDIA
Tendulkar is an all time great, without doubt. The best batsman India has produced, who knows. Gavasakar made 34 test centuries and averaged over 50 when India was not a successful test playing country and when their batting was thin, thus putting additional burden on him. Tendulkar has had the luxury of having one of the world's strongest batting line ups around him (at least in the last 5 or so years) which takes pressure off. In addition, if you look where their centuries have been scored, the quality of the opponents indicates that Gavaskar pretty much of any of the top batsmen anywhere was always up for the fight and at his best against the best. The debate will no doubt rage, but for me, when put in context, Gavaskar was better.
Jonathan Mills, Cyprus
Well said. Tendulkar won't fade away so easy. Ups and downs are there. Clearly however he is not going anywhere from the minds of his witnesses.
Faisal Afzal, Pakistan
I think it's the dream of all cricket Nations to have a Tendulkar and India is lucky having him, in my point of view Tendulkar should play until age of 50 coz he deserve it.
It is indeed sad that even a batsman of the calibre of Tendulkar has been subjected to unwarranted criticism. It is not that sometimes he has not failed our expectations. But to unceremoniously, prematurely and wishfully bid him farewell is to say the least patently unfair, unbalanced and smacks of immaturity.
Tendulkar may not repeat the kind of performance which once made him comparable to Australia's legendary Bradman. Let us not forget that he is human and getting on years. But as his last three ODI performances in Pakistan suggest he has a lot of cricket in him to display and for us to savour. He is a world class batsman; a more than useful bowler and fieldsman, and a true cricketer to the hilt.
Sauri P. Bhattacharya, USA
This is a good article, very moving and reverent (almost like a Puja). I just wish Ganguly, who won 21 Tests for India as a captain and scored 10,000 ODI and 5000 Test runs, was accorded the same graceful respect. Instead he has become a toy in a heartless game of attrition between Dalmiya and his enemies.
Samir Chatterjee, United kingdom
Tendulkar is not a machine, even machines do have wear & tear. Playing for 17 yrs or more is not the issue. He still has potentials & plays well than most of the above-average cricketers of the world. Let him do his job. But when he quits, it should be his decision,& he should do it with honour& dignity .
Couldn't agree more with Mr. Rohit Brijnath. With Lara set to retire in 2007, and Sachin somewhere in 2010, we are indeed seeing the last years of the great modern era dons. I haven't seen a more humble cricketer in my life. Those who criticize, cricketers alike are no match to his greatness. It would be sad to see him leave the game, which he one day will, but for the moment I want him to play and enjoy playing as long as he can.
Nafees Husain, Canada
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for such a wonderful article. I have been sick and tired of reading and listening to the critics of Sachin Tendulkar in the past year and a half. It was a very absorbing article to read and very realistic in describing that age & time will eventually slow down the fluency of the greatest batsmen of modern cricket. Moreover i totally concur with you on Sachin's permanent genius which will still be there the day he departs.
Suboor Ahmed, Citizen :India ( Residing in Hong Kong)
A great article on a fine sportsman. Your comment at the end, to 'enjoy the final chapters of a decent man and a fine sportsman' is particularly relevant in an age when cricket matches are won off the field by nasty comments from opposing teams. A bit of light hearted banter on the field is within the spirit of the game, but when it degenerates into the boorish sledging of teams, particularly the Australians, who bully their opponents into defeat, then that is simply not cricket. Let us hope that the age of the true sportsman, like Sachin, never leaves us.
Colin Simons, Australia
This is such a refreshing article. You can feel the author's appreciation for what can be considered of any human being. today too are young and in your glory, later you wither and die. People cannot appreciate that, they want to be young and mighty all the times.
Michael Hyatt, Jamaica
Tendulkar has done what no other batsman has done for India and that is earned the respect throughout the universe. Brian Lara is now 37 and the West Indies still rely on their Prince for the brilliant performances and for his contribution to the players in a different way. Tendulkar is only 32, give the guy a break please. Shane Warne is 36 and Australia is sticking their Kangaroo's with him to see how far he can extend his record. Inzamam is 37 and Pakistan has done the same for him. McGrath is 36 and gets the same appreciation, why can't India do the same for their HERO. Tendulkar is like a God or should I say he was a god to the!
fans. He remains the No. 2 batman in the world in my opinion with the Prince Brian Charles Lara at the Throne. Think about it India.
Mohan Peetam, Trinidad
We Indians are not particularly known to be balanced or level headed in our views, are we? If you win, you are worshipped like God almighty and if you lose, you are treated like dirt. There is too much emotion attached to everything we see and do. This of course is true with the Indian way of life in general. No surprise that Sachin Tendulkar is not treated any differently. I think we need to be able to sit back, analyse and rationalize to succeed - not only in cricket but in every sphere of life.
Jose Chacko, United Kingdom
Having watched Sachin Tendulkar in his prime not so long ago, he will never be back to his best. In fact I never believed it was possible for anybody to bat as well as that. However, in my honest opinion, here is definitely the best batsman of his era. I'm an England fan and I shudder at the thought of Tendulkar walking out to the middle. But I would drop everything to see him bat nowadays, just for a chance to see a flash of his brilliant genius. The game will be worse off without him.
Matt Coombs, Somerset, England
A superb balanced tribute to Tendulkar's career. We have been privileged to see him and we should not allow short term headline writers to detract. Great is used too freely for sportsman these days but in his skill and his demeanour and sportsmanship, he has been truly great. Remember, not least of his achievements, to be the first overseas player for Yorkshire, at the age of 18, and win over a reluctant public. He paved the way for those who followed. And he may yet show that his obituaries are premature.
Stephen Guss, uk