His bat will rest, not his legacy. By choosing the stage for his final walk to the crease, Sachin Tendulkar has followed in the footsteps of Sir Donald Bradman. One of the finest batsmen of the modern era has, like the great Australian, given his fans a chance to be part of his retirement.
The privilege of picking the final day on the cricket field had eluded the likes of Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman, Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar and Anil Kumble.
It has not eluded Tendulkar, though. He has always played cricket on his terms. It is hardly surprising that he is quitting on his own.
The clamour for his retirement, sometimes uncharitable, did hurt him. It was becoming increasingly difficult for someone, so used to entering the field to delirious chants of “Sachin, Sachin” to depart in deathly silence. The failures with the bat had become frequent and the evenings lonelier.
Tendulkar was a universal phenomenon. Fans queued up outside Lord’s on the midnight prior to the match to catch a glimpse of him. In Australia, he was more popular than its icons. Even the Australians thought he was a better batsman than Bradman, though Tendulkar was never comfortable with that comparison.
In the West Indies, where he did not really have the best of times, he was as popular as Brian Lara. Pakistan’s legends never shied away from glorifying him as the greatest either. He was a cricketer with an international appeal.
It was tough to be Sachin Tendulkar. “Very tough,” he had confessed once. He rarely celebrated triumph, but always brooded in silence when the team failed.
The burden of expectations weighed heavy on his shoulders for a major part of his career. “You get Sachin, you get India,” was a line adopted unfailingly by the opposition. Often were they proved right.
It was Tendulkar’s character that epitomised his cricket. He never put a foot wrong. No colleague remembers Tendulkar venting his anger in the dressing room. No dissent on the field, no sledging. He remained a picture of dignity at the crease, playing the game as Bradman did, with the team’s interest above his own.
Tendulkar did have his moments of vulnerability, as seen in his recent cheap dismissals. But he ensured that they did not impact the team’s interests. Bad umpiring decisions hurt him the most, but he took them in his stride, suffered them in silence.
He did not do as well as captain. It was largely because he expected similar commitment and intensity from lesser mortals, from men less gifted.
One remembers the painful night in Barbados in 1997, when tears rolled down his cheeks as India had lost a match it should have won. He was inconsolable, unable to come to terms with the result. However, like a true leader, he never blamed anyone for the debacle.
He never brought disrepute to the game. He not just upheld but enhanced cricket’s culture with his exceptional contribution with the bat.
For a generation that raved about Gavaskar and Amitabh Bachchan in different fields, Tendulkar was the biggest star, uniting the nation with his deeds in cricket arenas all over the world.
Tendulkar was the reason cricket survived the wounds of match fixing. He is the reason the game has thrived with people flocking the stadium for just this man.
His zeal for the game was such that he was ready to bowl even at the most crucial of moments, especially the last over, even bowling a bouncer at Shane Warne in a Test match.
Adam Gilchrist savaged all bowlers but could never get the measure of Tendulkar, who could bowl spin and pace and everything in between. He could field anywhere; he was a fine out-fielder too, a quality that is often overshadowed by his stupendous batting records.
He married his tremendous talent with rare discipline, always honing his skills. He was always the first to give credit to team members. He often hailed Laxman for his ability to bat with tailenders, and had words of high praise for Zaheer Khan after a record-breaking last-wicket partnership with him. He said a hundred times that it was a “pleasure” to watch Virender Sehwag bat, and how Dravid always inspired him.
Bradman received a standing ovation when he walked back for the final time in a Test. Let us accord Tendulkar, our boy from Bandra, the same respect that the boy from Bowral got, and celebrate his humungous impact on the game. Like Bradman’s average of 99.94, Tendulkar’s 100 international centuries will stand the test of time.
One hears the line, ‘The game will not be the same’ when an icon retires. It had never rung truer.