Sachin Tendulkar: An incredible journey

Sachin Tendulkar
Sachin Tendulkar is one of the greatest cricketers of all time

Tributes to Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar have poured in on the 20th anniversary of his Test debut. The 36-year-old started his 160th Test when India began a three-match series against Sri Lanka on Monday.


It has been an incredible journey , a trip that figures alone cannot define. Not that the statistics lack weight. To the contrary they are astonishing, almost mind-boggling. Tendulkar has scored an avalanche of runs, thousands upon thousands of them in every form of the game. He has reached three figures 87 times in the colours of his country, and all the while has somehow retained his freshness, somehow avoided the mechanical, the repetitive and the predictable...

It's never been hard for him to play cricket - the hard part will be stopping

In part he has lasted so long because there has been so little inner strain. It's hard to think of a player remotely comparable who has spent so little energy conquering himself. Throughout, Tendulkar has been able to concentrate on overcoming his opponents...

And there has been another quality that has sustained him, a trait whose importance cannot be overstated. Not long ago Keith Richards, lead guitarist with the Rolling Stones, was asked how the band had kept going for so long, spent so many decades on the road, made so many records, put up with so much attention. His reply was as simple as it as telling. "We love it," he explained, "we just love playing." And so it has always been with Tendulkar. It's never been hard for him to play cricket. The hard part will be stopping. But he will take into retirement a mighty record and the knowledge that he has given enormous pleasure to followers of the game wherever it is played.


Sachin Tendulkar
Tendulkar still shows flashes of his youthful arrogance in his game

His batting is of a sophistication that defies generalisation . He can be destroyer or preserver. Observers have tried to graph these phases into a career progression. But it is ultimately a futile quest for Tendulkar's calibrations are too minute and too many to obey compartmentalisation. Given conditions, given his fitness, his state of mind, he might put away a certain shot altogether, and one thinks it is a part of his game that has died, till he pulls it out again when the time is right, sometimes years afterwards. Let alone a career, in the space of a single session he can, according to the state of the rough or the wind or the rhythm of a particular bowler, go from predatorial to dead bat or vice versa.

Nothing frustrates Indians as much as quiet periods from Tendulkar, and indeed often they are self-defeating. But outsiders have no access to his thoughts. However eccentric, they are based on a heightened cricket logic rather than mood. Moods are irrelevant to Tendulkar. Brian Lara or Mohammad Azharuddin might be stirred into artistic rage. Tendulkar is a servant of the game. He does not play out of indignation nor for indulgence. His aim is not domination but runs. It is the nature of his genius.


Two decades into his career he may not quite be able to replicate the jaw-dropping genius of his youth , but he can revisit this trance-like state. Against England in Chennai, in the Test that followed the Mumbai terror attacks last year, Tendulkar said that he did not realise that India had won until the opposition came to the crease to shake his hand. He scored an unbeaten 103.

Sachin Tendulkar
Tendulkar is India's biggest icon

"He hasn't just survived, he's left his imprint on every situation," Harsha Bhogle, the doyen of Indian cricket commentators, said. "It is a colossal achievement. On his first tour of England he batted against Eddie Hemmings, who had made his first-class debut seven years before Tendulkar was born. He now shares a dressing room with kids who were having their umbilical cord cut when he was scoring his first century."


He has toured Australia on four occasions, as many times as Bradman toured England. Like Bradman, he has never gone home without a Test hundred to his name.

One particular hundred - Sydney, 2003-04 - might outlive the others. When someone bats for 613 minutes, strung across three sweltering January days, the mind can wander, and as Tendulkar trudged on, making do without the cover drive, for it had caused his downfall too many times already, this mind wandered to Leichhardt and Giles and the famous explorers, who made do without company, without water, surviving on single-mindedness and instinct. He could do things to your imagination , this boy who knew how to make it rain.


Sachin Tendulkar
Tendulkar has always been a team man

As I say, all the fame and adoration has not affected his unassuming and unpretentious personality - but it certainly has affected his lifestyle. He is virtually a prisoner in his own home, unable to visit the malls, restaurants or cinemas without being besieged by fans. Still, he is able to conduct himself in the most admirable fashion.

I have no doubt that over the years certain sections of the media have tried to find skeletons in his cupboard, but they have always failed. He is to all intents and purposes a man without serious blemish - both as a cricketer and as a human being.


Sometime earlier he had told me he was a big fan of Mark Knopfler and we thought it would be great if we could get the great Dire Straits man to talk to us.

"I'm recording all night but immediately after that, before I fall asleep," Knopfler said, and somehow we persuaded Sachin to do the programme in the afternoon rather than in the morning. And when the moment came, we patched the line on and when I said, "Hello Mark," Sachin looked puzzled. A minute later his eyes lit up when he realised which Mark we had on the line. And then he was like a child, tongue-tied, fidgety, excited - much like most people are when they first meet Tendulkar. Even the stars can get starry-eyed!

And there have been moments of surprising candour. When asked, as batsmen tend to be, which bowlers had troubled him the most, he smiled an almost embarrassed smile and said, "You won't believe this." When probed, he said, "Pedro Collins and Hansie Cronje."

"In fact," he said, "I once told my partner 'Will you please take Hansie for me? I don't mind playing Allan Donald'"


Sachin Tendulkar
Tendulkar was a fresh-faced teenager when he made his debut in 1989

As the advancing years slowly rendered him back to mortality, he encounters a new charge: he is not the same batsman any more ; he doesn't bat like he used to. True, this is not Sachin at all; this is some other imposter batting in his frame, scoring the same number of runs but in a much, much more human way.

Those who have seen the real thing up close, of course, will lament in hope; those who have heard the crack of his rasping shots will continue to long for the vintage little boy: the others can only snigger and make crude remarks about his role in the team.

Luckily, just a couple of weeks ago, Hyderabad happened, the 175 materialised; let us, however, be assured that it was an accident, that we may not see it again, at least not in a hurry; but yes, it very clearly showed that the old little Sachin still resides in Tendulkar's body.

The bitter truth, however, is that it's not the same body any longer. In fact, it has probably been dissected more than even his own batting; there isn't a single part inside which hasn't seen an injury or met a surgeon. He has gone through so much pain that it's a marvel that he can even walk, forget run or play.

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