The year 2013 has seen quite a few high-profile retirements from Test cricket, but none was as celebrated as Indian legend Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell. The master batsman, regarded by many as the greatest of all, called time on a glorious 24-year career during which he represented India in a record 200 Test matches, breaking most of the major batting records on the way, including those of most runs and most centuries.
There have been better batsmen and better cricketers than Tendulkar, but no one else in the history of Test cricket has come close to the diminutive Mumbaikar as far is reverence is concerned. Tendulkar was not just loved and admired, he was worshipped and glorified to such an extent that sometimes it made rational people wonder whether cricket is a team game after all. Such was the genuine affection that a vast legion of fans (not to mention many more ‘worshippers’) across India showered on him throughout his career, and it showed in the emotional swansong that India’s most famous sportsperson received in his last two Test matches.
Tendulkar had later revealed that the reason he wanted to play his last match at home was that his mother had never seen him play live, and that she would be able to watch his son at least once if Mumbai were to host his 200th Test. The BCCI could not refuse such a request, and allotted the two Tests against the West Indies to Kolkata and Mumbai, two of the most cricket-mad centres in the country. The series itself was arranged out of the blue in September and the reason cited for its sudden addition was that India needed to have some Test cricket at home in the season.
As it transpired, the two Tests put together barely lasted the duration of one as the disinterested and below-par West Indians got beaten by an innings under three days on both occasion. But that scarcely mattered during that fortnight or so between November 6-16, because all eyes were on one and only one person alone.
It did not come as much of a surprise when Tendulkar made public his decision to quit. Having retired from one-day cricket last year, he was seldom in good form for a good part of the last three years. Seemingly he aimed for one last record, i.e playing 200 Tests, before walking into the sunset. He had last scored a Test century in January 2011, and many followers of the game rightly began to believe that his reputation was coming in the way of a deserving young batsman, and that his retirement should have come quite some time back.
I personally feel the right time for him to quit was, at the most, after the 2012-13 home defeat to England. But then who are we to decide that! On current form, Tendulkar would have failed to score big in his final two outings; yet everyone prayed for a century at the Wankhede. He almost granted their wish – scoring a free-flowing 74 before being caught in the slips, silencing the crowd for one last time.
For two-and-a-half decades, Tendulkar was expected to score runs every time he strode out to the wicket. But people used to forget that like everyone else, he was always a mere mortal. Calling him God, fasting for him, putting him way above the game were some of the ways in which people used to show their affection. However ridiculous it seemed, such was the stature in which Tendulkar was held throughout his career. It was the Indian masses’ way of admiring a once-in-a-generation talent, who has left the cricket world awestruck ever since he debuted at the tender age of 16 against Pakistan in 1989-90. And the amazing thing is that Tendulkar himself scarcely showed that he was affected by the undue pressure and the exaggerated hysteria. Instead, he just kept on collecting runs like a run-machine, punishing great bowlers and mere trundlers alike.
The advent of Tendulkar in the Indian team came at a time when India were considered as worthy Test opposition only in home conditions. He was the first of a golden Indian batting line-up which would serve India with great distinction in overseas encounters in the 2000’s. As a 17 year-old, he scored a match-saving 119* at Edgbaston in 1990 – his first of a record 51 Test hundreds – and an 18 year-old made memorable centuries at Sydney and Perth in the 1991-92 series, which India lost 4-0. He had made the world notice of his abilities almost immediately, and everyone knew that someone special would be entertaining them for the next two decades. Even Don Bradman, the greatest batsman ever, saw himself in the way Tendulkar batted.
It is extremely difficult to pick a single memory of Tendulkar – there were countless of them, and he left an impression with his stirring farewell speech as well!. Notable innings that stand out include the masterly 136 which ended in painful defeat against Pakistan at Chennai in 1998-99, the monumental 241 at Sydney in 2003-04, the above-mentioned 119* at Old Trafford, the ‘gave- Shane Warne-the-nightmares’ 155 at Chennai in 1997-98 and the classy 146 that he scored off a rampaging Dale Steyn at Cape Town in 2010-11, when he was three months short of turning 38.
Statistically, Tendulkar’s records (mentioned below) are many a notch above the rest. But then he has played for nearly a quarter century, so he was bound to accumulate such numbers. However, to counter that, one can say that from right the 16 year-old schoolboy to 40 year-old senior statesman, he has kept himself amazingly fit and the factors that have made him a phenomenon are not just his statistics, but also the way he achieved them. His longevity and attachment to the game were second to none.
The man was all humility, grace and dignity on the field – which has become a rare thing in the current scenario. He just loved to bat on and on, as the stories from his childhood testify. He may not have been India’s best bet in a do-or-die situation, but the fact remains that he was the batsman who was the most pleasing to watch when at his best – the packed crowds whenever he batted and the lack thereof when he got out is enough evidence.
Among modern-day batsmen, no one could have played the straight drive or the upper-cut better than Tendulkar. These two strokes are probably the ones which define him the most. There have been equally effective batsmen who have been Tendulkar’s contemporaries, but he was the one for whom people paid to watch for sheer artistic pleasure and satisfaction. He was so dear to the average citizen, that the mood of the nation often depended upon how many runs Tendulkar scored, especially in the 1990’s. Moreover, he has become a role model for thousands of people across India and beyond.
Tendulkar is a living example of an immensely talented person making it big through sheer hard work and determination. Whenever he was deemed to have been out of form, he bounced back with renewed vigour, underlining his insatiable hunger for playing for the country. It was understandable when he shed tears like a child before acknowledging the emotional crowd that had gathered at the Wankhede to watch him in whites for one last time. It was one of the most poignant sporting farewells ever seen.
Tendulkar in numbers:-
Tests (1989-2013) – 200 matches (world record), 329 innings, 15921 runs (world record) @ 53.78, 51 hundreds (world record), 68 fifties (world record), best of 248*, 115 catches, 46 wickets
All First-class (1988-2013) – 310 matches, 490 innings, 25396 runs @ 57.84, 81 hundreds, 116 fifties, best of 248*, 186 catches, 71 wickets
Thanks for the memories, Sachin Tendulkar.