At a time when immediacy masquerades as relevance in sport, a nuanced understanding of true greatness evades us. It takes something as monumental as what Sachin Tendulkar achieved in Gwalior against a South African side of no little quality to prompt us to filter out the shrill absurdities and begin to examine the contours of real greatness. Tendulkar turns 37 in April — he has long passed the age when every failure a batsman suffers is investigated for evidence of fading eyesight and slowing reflexes. Yet he continues to confound us, constantly forcing us to review and revise the limiting parameters against which great batsmen — and indeed great athletes — are measured. No other Indian sportsperson has been quite as adept at pressing our awe-buttons as Tendulkar. The maestro's double-century, the first such instance in the 2962 One Day Internationals held so far, is significant at many levels. Every time a barrier is breached, every time something seems possible only in theory is realised, some of the patterns of collective mental conditioning are broken. Tendulkar, in achieving this feat of will and endurance in his 21st year of international cricket, has not merely exploded the myths common to ageing sportspersons; he has also shown again that longevity is the most functional of metrics in assessing greatness.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit,” said Aristotle. It is a habit that few athletes have exemplified as well as Tendulkar for more than two decades. Sporting immortality is achieved by quickly erasing dark memories of the odd intimations of mortality. Even so great a batsman as Tendulkar has had his lows, and his lowest perhaps occurred when he was booed off his home ground, the Wankhede Stadium, in March 2006. But he has sparked a renaissance, batting on occasion without ego, playing a shrewder, safer game, but every so often reprising the rousing, intuitive style of his younger days. The last 12 months, in particular, have seen more of the latter: he has during this period made 10 international centuries, six in Tests and four in ODIs (including three scores of over 150); most of them have evoked a sense of glorious lightness. He has 93 international centuries, and if he progresses at the same rate, the staggering achievement of 100 centuries could be his by the end of the year. But numbers, however impressive, do not offer the measure of a man. These days Tendulkar is often asked what motivates him now that he has achieved nearly every batting record. His answer has always been the same: he loves the game. It is this simple, unaffected love that has allowed him to adorn cricket without appearing bigger than the game.