To have consistently performed despite the pressure of a billion fans and more is what sets Sachin Tendulkar apart from the other sporting greats of the world. Few, if any, would have had to endure the ruthless, microscopic dissection of every move the man has made during the course of a glowing career spanning over 24 years. To have come out unscathed from this kind of relentless scrutiny on and off the field is a tribute, in itself, to the genius of Tendulkar.
As one who loves cricket and has followed the game since childhood, it’s no surprise that I have grown up admiring him. My father is an ardent follower of the game and, with a professional cricketer husband completing the circle, cricket has a ubiquitous presence in my life. It is the most watched and talked about sport in India and each of Sachin’s actions, as I said earlier, has been deified or devilled by a billion-plus for over 24 long years. The fact that he continues to inspire millions and continues to be humble and modest is a testament to the man’s character and set of values.
I’ve been lucky enough to have encountered Sachin at a fairly early age. The first was when I was just 16 and had won the junior Wimbledon doubles title. Sachin had soon after arranged for his signature Palio car to be presented to me. While he couldn’t make it to the function, he called me at the time of the presentation and there’s little doubt I was more elated to speak to him than to have received my first car!
The first time I met him was at a Hyderabad hospital, at a function arranged for the members of the medical fraternity. Both of us were guests on the occasion. Yet again what stood out was Sachin’s humility and modesty. This is what he had to say to the doctors, “My job of playing cricket is of very little significance when compared to yours. I believe I have the luxury of committing some errors in my field of work but you are far more important and cannot afford to make a mistake in your job.”
The one salient thing that distinguishes Tendulkar from his contemporaries is the pressure we’ve put on him right through his career. He is expected to score a ton every time he walks out to bat; anything less is considered unacceptable. The nation brooks no failure from Tendulkar. Having played an intensely competitive sport for more than a decade now, I know what pressure can do to a sportsperson. We all know why Indian tennis players underperformed at the London Olympic. The pressure was often too much to bear. For Tendulkar, however, it appears routine. This is what makes his achievements all the more daunting.
Finally, I know what it takes to keep fit in high-performance sport. You have to sacrifice many a normal pleasure and maintain a strict work ethic all year round. To be able to do so when you’re 40 and after having put the body through intense physical activity for 24 years is inconceivable. However, that’s Sachin Tendulkar for you. Here’s wishing India’s single biggest sporting icon a very happy 40th birthday.
Former captain of Pakistan
Having played against Sachin Tendulkar for well over a decade now, he is no doubt one of the most respected players India has ever produced. Each and every one of us in the Pakistan team has the greatest regard for him for what he has achieved. Believe it or not, he has a huge fan base in Pakistan and has always received fantastic crowd support when he has played in my home country. The support he received during India’s tour of 2003-4 or 2005-6 was unbelievable and it was evidence for all of us what this man meant to the wider cricketing fraternity across the world.
As a player, he often carried the entire Indian team on his shoulders. I remember the ODI against India at Mohali some years back when I was captain of Pakistan. We could only entertain thoughts of beating India after we managed to get Sachin out for a brilliant 99. He had so nearly carried the game yet again and had very nearly taken India across the line!
While some say he hasn’t been a great captain, I somehow beg to differ. More often than not, a captain is as good as his team and Sachin was handed the reins of captaincy at a time when the Indian team was going through a period of transition. Some of India’s subsequent greats were still finding their foot in international cricket and had he continued for some more time he’d surely have got the results for his country. I have always found him to be a very good thinker of the game and one who could have become a very successful captain as well. Maybe India thought it better for him to concentrate and focus totally on his batting, a decision which has paid rich dividends for Indian cricket for a decade and more.
One of his most significant achievements is to be able to maintain fitness for the duration he has. He never looked as though he worked extra hard on his fitness and yet he was as fit as a cricketer needs to be! Despite the many injuries he suffered through his career, he always came back fitter and stronger and that is a testimony to his mental toughness and passion for the game. He continues to be fit even at this age and chases down every ball with rigour, a rare lesson for every aspiring youngster.
Finally, the longevity of his career is proof, if any was needed, of his class, calibre and match fitness. It’s simply unbelievable that he started his career in 1989 facing the likes of Imran Khan, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Angus Fraser, Craig McDermott and the like. While each of these greats has retired and moved on in their careers, Sachin is still around today, facing bowlers who were toddlers when he made his international debut. His longevity, more than anything else, is a tribute to his greatness and discipline.
When I see people criticising him for a few odd failures, I find it rather odd and tend to think to myself how they could forget what he has achieved for over two decades and continues to do even today. Even in the last Test series against Australia it was Sachin who helped set up the first Test match with a wonderful counter-attacking innings in Chennai. I suggest we just enjoy seeing him play for the rest of his career, for all great things come to an end at some point. Sachin too will leave cricket some months into the future and the game will be poorer for it.