At a time when players beyond 40 are rarer than hens’ teeth, Sachin Tendulkar passes that landmark next Wednesday; still a Test No. 4, still, so it seems, at the height of his powers. Clearly this batman is beyond statistics for all his 100 international centuries and, perhaps most difficult of all, a ton in Twenty20.
You will remember him in the spring of his cricket life, making a century with calm and measured tread at Old Trafford.
Such was his assurance that he might have been 40 then and when members in the pavilion — not always the most friendly folk, let me remind you — rose to acknowledge his four hours at the crease, it was in part an appreciation of the maturity of the boy grown into a man.
That evening we knew we were witness to a remarkable batsman.
Now that the autumn days are gathering around this sporting god sent to earth to allow us to marvel at his skills, there are those who demand that he retire so that we only have the happy memories of him and his extreme orthodoxy plus muscular power through mid-wicket plus late cuts delicately sent rippling past second slip.
No doubt he will have considered a retirement finale and, for the moment, rejected it. What else would he do? Sit at home, waiting for the phone to ring, or his tenth cup of tea of the day to arrive?
Appear sometimes to add his felicitations to those of his former colleagues for someone much younger who is stepping into that unwanted farewell? Or occasionally stepping into the limelight with a cryptic sentence or two about the cricket controversy of the moment?
The books are already written, the TV life stories already made, the thanks of the grateful fans already offered.
There may be a place for him among cricket’s law makers, or in Parliament, or state government but is this a satisfying future for an eternal master who has – some would say effortlessly – caused the ground at his feet to be strewn with wreaths as an acknowledgement of his greatness.
Tendulkar deserves better when the time comes for him to lay aside his bat.
There are at least another 40 years ahead in which he will still be a symbol of everything that is honourable, good and satisfying about the game he has adorned.
Perhaps there is a missionary role that needs filling.
His presence in the Indian sides has in recent years given the selectors the time to try out young men with potential knowing that if they failed Tendulkar was on hand to effect a rescue. When the time comes, he could instead be a poster character — poster boy is too pretentious — a recruitment officer, a General Kitchener bellowing “Your country needs you” to the thousands of junior cricketers desperate for the chance to jump into his shoes.
The Tendulkar era has — slowly and sometimes with laborious effort — enabled India to rest comfortably among the top three in the world, to reach the summit briefly and to discover that the place suits its ambitions.
With Tendulkar as a flag-waver, a symbol of what anyone can achieve and a model for what is good in sporting achievement by the young there is no limit to what they can make Indian cricket.
In the flim-flam world of fashion, celebrity and high society, it is assumed that one is finished at 40.
It need not be so for Tendulkar who is above all such airy facts and figures.
His future as a cricketer may be limited but his future as a man of cricket still lies ahead.