Sachin Tendulkar looked up to the heavens and closed his eyes in silent prayer. This is a ritual every time he passes a landmark, and, after scoring his 50th Test hundred, he said, “The first thing obviously I thought of was my father, because I wanted to do it for him. Yesterday was his birthday, and I would like to dedicate this to him.”
People come to watch Tendulkar bat. The result is often secondary. Every Tendulkar innings is an event. When India is batting, the question always is “How many runs is Sachin on?” You do not want to miss even his forward defence. His eye for the single has the assiduousness of a squirrel storing nuts for winter. His innings are all like Picasso masterpieces—every one of them has an inestimable value attached to it. His failures have gold value too, and it is enough for fans to say, “I was there when he was out first ball.”
Fifty-one Test centuries and 46 one-day hundreds speak of a man born to rewrite the record books. A quiet man. A humble and respectful man. Short like the Don and Gavaskar. Short like his contemporary, Ponting. But is there anyone taller in the modern game?
If a curator of cricket’s immortal museum was to assemble history’s masterpieces, the first two picked would be Bradman and Tendulkar. These two have also been the favourite sons of mathematicians and statisticians. If truth be known, they have given mathematics a romanticity beyond numbers. And the statistics have a soul. His footsteps are light but the footprints he leaves behind could belong to the giant Yeti.
What drives a man who has been famous since he was sixteen? He was accelerating to a hundred at the SCG before he could drive a car. To this day it remains his favourite cricket ground. Ferrari gifted him a 360 Modena Spider so he could be the face of the car in India. The irony is that he can only take it out in the dead of night, when the roads are deserted. In India, that is a window that lasts but an hour.
The other side: Sachin loves cars and is the face of Ferrari in India
The hunger for runs was formed at an early age and got its deserved platform when he was picked to make his Test debut at 16. His adversaries were the two Ws from Pakistan, Wasim and Waqar. And for good measure, the indomitable Lion of Lahore, Imran Khan. The helmet was almost too large, the bat seemed like a tree in his hands, but his walk to the crease had the assurance and poise of Nadia Comaneci.
Two years later, his 114 in the first innings of the Perth Test in 1991 was hailed as the work of a prodigy. This was the fastest wicket in the world. McDermott, Whitney, Hughes and Riefel were making it bounce and jag. Tendulkar played as if he was enjoying himself. The cherubic enthusiasm that he still displays at 37 was uninhibited then. His cutting was that of a master tailor and his driving had the purr of a Daimler. His batting then, as now, always gave the impression that he had another gear in reserve.
Cis a religion in India and Kapil Dev was the hero people loved. Gavaskar was the one they admired. Tendulkar is the one they worship. In a land of gods and demigods, Tendulkar has already ascended into mythology of Vedic proportions; his good book only keeps getting thicker.
Bradman was comfortably wealthy in his time and garnered wealth with an accountant’s dispassion. Wealth, on the other hand, claimed Tendulkar for the credibility he bestowed on it. Money earned on the back of Tendulkar’s exploits was “clean” money and had none of the connotations of “black” that besmirches sections of Bollywood and fringe corporates.
Tendulkar would be one of the highest taxed citizens of India. His finances are an open book and this is in stark contrast to his private life. He is a hero and a recluse at the same time. It is not surprising that he saves his best for the cricket field. Much like the confluence of India’s holy rivers Ganga and Yamuna, passion and skill intersect in sublime lines in a Tendulkar innings.
The early 1990s saw Manmohan Singh fashion India’s free economy and Tendulkar became the symbol of mega-sponsorships. Tendulkar was destined for greatness and wealth and the planets did not so much align as become one. The Board of Control for Cricket in India has dined out on the Tendulkar brand for nigh on 15 years. It has survived the match-fixing calumny on the goodwill of Tendulkar (and also that of his contemporaries Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble).
At the start of the 21st century, Tendulkar was easily the highest earning cricketer in the world. For now, he is focused on helping India do well in South Africa. Next on his wish list is to help India win the 2011 World Cup. To play in the final in his hometown of Mumbai would be something he would give all his millions for. And the final frontier for him would be to win a series in Australia.
How does one compare Tendulkar with a Pollock or a Sobers? Apart from those two being left-handers, the sound the bat made on meeting the ball was also different. With Sobers it was first the flash of lightning and then the thunder. With Pollock it was the sound of a gasp when you encounter a supernatural force. Tendulkar’s sound was composed and without discord. It was not a melody so much as it was a reverberating bass. And in all of this there was a permanence born of the North Star.
The writer is a cricket buff and journalist based in Sydney
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