When it finally happens, there is shock, consternation, sadness, and perhaps even relief. Sachin Tendulkar has chosen his time well. Will anybody ever play 200 Test matches again? Or score 100 international centuries, 51 of them in Tests? After 24 years (his 200th Test will be played next month on the anniversary of his first), this is no longer about a sportsman retiring from the game. For his goodbye is a reminder of our own mortality.
As long as Sachin was active, we could tell ourselves that we remained young. We could continue to bookmark our lives by his achievements. Now, Indian cricket will be divided into two eras—BT and AT, before and after Tendulkar.
Few players in history give their name to an era. The Grace era, the Bradman era, the Sobers era, the Tendulkar era. It was the golden era of Indian cricket, when the country went to No. 1 in Tests and won the World Cup. It was the era in which India won more Tests (76) than they lost (60). Before Sachin, in comparison, the results were skewed 43 won to 89 lost.
He made his debut at 16, having scored centuries on his first appearance in the Ranji, Duleep and Irani tournaments. Would he make a century on first appearance in Karachi too? He came in at No. 6 and was bowled by Waqar for 15. He looked like a pocket version of Maradona then, the same squat body, the hair biased towards curls, but the puppy fat was a dead giveaway. This was a boy among men.
Now at 40, and playing in a national side with players who were not yet born when he began his international career, Sachin retains that childlike quality. On his first tour of England, manager Bishan Bedi said that women everywhere wanted to mother him; he made his first century at 17 to save a Test at Old Trafford. Just over a year later he was in Australia, making a century on a fiery track at Perth and another in Sydney. John Woodcock, the doyen of cricket writers, called him the best batsman in the world. He was 19.
It was another five years before Don Bradman set the seal on him as a clone of himself. The inevitable comparisons began. Different times, different game. But similar expectations from fans. Bradman in the post-Depression era was the great Australian Hope; Sachin’s symbolic importance in post-liberalisation India has become a cliche. Sachin played Test cricket in 10 countries on 59 grounds; Bradman in two countries on ten grounds. Bradman didn’t play ODIs. Sachin played 463. And T20, and IPL and Champions League T20. Bradman lost his best years to the war. Sachin didn’t have wars to deal with, but he had the pressures of competing media, a public that felt entitled to his time and space, and a deep consciousness that he was an ambassador of his family, his country and of the game itself.
All in all, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar was the greatest all-round batsman the world has ever seen. Not a great original like Grace or Ranji; not a run machine like Bradman; not a creative genius like Lara; but a repository of all the knowledge and techniques known to batsmanship up to his time. You went to Ganguly for the cover drive, Dravid for the square cut or Laxman for the on-drive—or you sat back and watched Sachin play all these shots as well as the best.
It was an onerous responsibility—to be both the textbook of batsmanship and the cutting-edge innovator. Sachin gave respectability to such shots as the deliberate upper cut over third man or the Federer-like cross-court pull that sent a perfectly respectable ball outside the off stump screaming to the long on fence.
Even in a team with such jewels as Kumble, Dravid, Srinath, Ganguly, Laxman, Harbhajan and Sehwag—each one either a candidate or a certainty for an all-time India XI—Sachin stood out. Only Harbhajan and Sehwag remain of that incredible group; neither is a certainty in the current team. Sachin has outlasted two whole generations, starting with Kapil Dev and Ravi Shastri—seniors on his first tour—to Dravid and Laxman, who retired last year.
He has put Indian cricket in good hands—Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara will now have greater responsibility; they better not baulk at it. But what will the Master himself do? Forty is the age when ordinary folk reach the peak of their careers; for a sportsman that is beyond retirement age. Whatever it is, we can rest assured that Sachin will bring to his new avatar the same dignity and focus he brought to the game. Gold never loses its lustre.
(Suresh Menon is editor, Wisden India Almanack)
Some people like me, cannot seem to fathom what batting is, when Tendulkar bats. I personally loved the batting of V. V. S.. I didn't particularly feel very excited when he was about to come out to bat. There was an insecurity and a feeling of nerves. It was more important that he didn't get out, by what people fathomed of his batting, but they weren't perhaps thinking of that.
The retirements of Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, and Amarnath, could make people very low emotionally, and also make people feel bad about what might be. It's unusual, that neither Dravid, Ganguly, or Tendulkar made people feel, that Cricket wouldn't be good without them. I actually felt a little down, when V. V. S. retired. The idea of announcing retirement seems a little out of sorts and place. Perhaps, players should announce their unavailability for selection, and not play thereafter, but the announcement would make me very depressed, just like the retirements of Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Amarnath did.
The best innings that I loved of Tendulkar and Gavaskar, were when they got out for 98, and both the individual innings were against Pakistan. It seems that Tendulkar had his first brush with 'tennis elbow', during that innings. He was out of action for about half a year, or so, after.
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