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Tuesday, 20 November, 2001, 12:08 GMT
Sachin forever tainted
BBC Sport Online's Oliver Brett considers the potential fall-out in India after Sachin Tendulkar is punished for ball-tampering.
Most Indians, being Hindus, acknowledge many gods. But in cricket, there is only one.
Not just in his hometown of Bombay but across the length and breadth of the country they all rise to Sachin Tendulkar.
When he was 12, this supremely gifted strokeplayer initally hoped to excel as a fast bowler.
But he lacked talent as a paceman, and though his leg-spin has been an extremely handy asset at various stages during one-day internationals and Tests, it is his batting that so stirs the hearts and minds of the cricket-obsessed masses.
He was just 16 when he came out to bat for his country in a Test against Pakistan at Karachi in 1989.
That sort of thing simply wouldn't happen in a country like England.
But it was less than a year later - in England, ironically - that Tendulkar played Devon Malcolm, Angus Fraser and Eddie Hemmings like a veteran at Old Trafford to hit his first Test century.
Since then, his exploits have occupied a considerable swathe of newsprint - 99 per cent of which has been so positive.
A stand was named after him at the Wankhede Stadium after he reached the remarkable landmark of 10,000 one-day runs.
And the exceptionally high regard in which he is held means that even before this latest controversy, Indians have always been unflinching in their defence of their hero.
In July, Wisden incurred the wrath of the world's most dedicated cricket fans when it decided not to include Tendulkar in a list of 100 greatest Test performances.
Variable factors like the state of the game, the quality of the opposition and the types of pitches were woven into the equation.
And, alas, there was no place for the Bombay maestro. It was later acknowledged that the 136 he hit against Pakistan in Madras in January 1999 would have been a strong candidate, but Pakistan won a nailbiting match by 12 runs.
As if that omission was not enough, he now finds himself at the centre of a ball-tampering row.
Found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute by former England captain Mike Denness, the International Cricket Council match referee, on duty for the Port Elizabeth Test, Tendulkar's record will now be forever tarnished.
You could say: 'What a shame,' but it's more than that. With an average not far short of 60 in Tests, and a one-day average around 40, even the raw statistics show Tendulkar's supreme quality.
And still only 28, he could conceivably play at the highest level for another 10 years. It is frightening to think what he might achieve.
There is not an obvious fault to his game. He has the iron wrists of all Indian greats, but also pulls and hooks confidently while his driving is immaculate.
From the very beginning something special was expected from him.
As a schoolboy he once shared in a 600-run partnership with Vinod Kambli and it would have been more if their teacher had not instructed them to retire.
By the time he turned 20 he already had five Test centuries to his name.
Tendulkar's worth to India was never better demonstrated than in the 1996 World Cup. The country were co-hosts and the nation demanded a home triumph.
There was an outpouring of anger when they went out to Sri Lanka in the semi finals, but none directed at Tendulkar. Instead he was more revered than ever.
In India's seven games he scored 523 runs which amounted for a stunning 34 per cent of the runs the entire team managed.
Up to now, the only blot in Tendulkar's career have been his two spells as captain. Neither the team nor he, by his standards, were particularly successful.
But any biography now penned on this living legend must take into account the unwelcome attentions of the match referee in this Port Elizabeth Test.
It's a sour little episode, but the tale will need to be told.
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