Sachin Tendulkar, if he is given to such fancies, might have felt a sense of déjà vu over the past year—a sense of experiencing his glittering career in miniature. Hardly had the Little Master enjoyed his most prolific year (2010) in Test cricket and savoured the heady success of a World Cup win when the familiar constricting pressure reappeared. The national obsession with him hadn't dimmed; it had merely been distributed among the members of a resurgent Team India. But with expectations of a 100th international hundred raised to fever pitch, and India's standards — and his own, to a lesser extent — sliding, the 38-year-old genius from Mumbai will have been reminded of the time every innings of his affected the country's mood. Typically, Tendulkar has handled the period of 12 months and 33 innings with dignity. He has said little; but he has always maintained that he plays not for records but because he loves the game. Yet it's his numbers that help put his greatness in perspective. So while a 100th hundred is no more or less significant than a 101st or 99th — indeed, it's an artificial landmark as some critics have suggested — the roundness of the figure allows us to stand back and comprehend its staggering enormity.
Longevity is the gold standard of greatness. Over the course of a long career — particularly one such as Tendulkar's, which has spanned cricket eras — every facet is subjected to the strictest scrutiny. It takes a singular individual to survive change: in his 23 years in international cricket, the great man has seen the game evolve both subtly and significantly. But it takes no less than a defining figure to dictate the course of change. As a constant presence, but not an unchanging one, Tendulkar has been a major part of the evolution, his batsmanship and the bowlers' reaction to it altering cricket. He laid down the template for greatness across formats, art customised to canvas. Cricket hasn't seen a better Test and One-Day International batsman. Sir Vivian Richards was a dominant master of both formats — and he's Tendulkar's only competitor for the honour — but the Indian has done it for longer and with greater consistency than the illustrious West Indian. Tendulkar himself will debate the point, for he holds Richards in the highest esteem. But there's no arguing with long-term numbers. Consider the list of first-rate bowlers Tendulkar has faced: Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Sir Richard Hadlee, Craig McDermott, Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Allan Donald, Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Jason Gillespie, Muttiah Muralitharan, Brett Lee, James Anderson, and Dale Steyn. A hundred hundreds against these worthies is, without a doubt, one of the finest achievements in modern-day cricket.