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Updated: February 25, 2010 23:03 IST

Greatness sits lightly on Tendulkar

S. Dinakar
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MILESTONE MAN: Sachin Tendulkar is congratulated by South Africa's Johan Botha after Sachin's unbeaten 200 against South Africa in Gwalior on Wednesday. Photo: S. Subramanium
The Hindu
MILESTONE MAN: Sachin Tendulkar is congratulated by South Africa's Johan Botha after Sachin's unbeaten 200 against South Africa in Gwalior on Wednesday. Photo: S. Subramanium

The humble champion still has the enthusiasm of a schoolboy

Even as a hysterical crowd gradually melted away from the Roop Singh Stadium, shouts of ‘Sachin, Sachin' rent the air.

Fireworks lit the night sky. Fans scrambled for another look at the legend as he neared the team bus. All of Gwalior, all of India, was awash with emotions.

Minutes earlier, Tendulkar had been calm and serene at the press conference. Despite 20 long and glorious years in international cricket and a mountain of achievements, he has remained the same.

The humility of this champion cricketer is striking. His feet firmly on ground, he creates and innovates and continues to scale peaks. And keeps raising the bar.

On a historic Wednesday here, the 36-year-old had batted through the entire Indian innings and then fielded when he could so easily have opted for a period of well-deserved rest in the comforts of the pavilion.

Man of substance

Tendulkar chose the harder option. His integrity has always been his great ally. Above all, he is a man of substance.

The monumental feat of becoming the first man to reach 200 runs in an ODI innings sat lightly on Tendulkar. In other words, greatness sits lightly on the man.

He still has the enthusiasm of a schoolboy. The sparkle in his eyes has not dimmed one bit. Countless hours under the sun have not diminished his love for the game. As Tendulkar often says, he is passionate about cricket. And he enjoys his time in the arena.

At the heart of it all is his indomitable spirit. He still dives full length on the field, even in the dying overs of a high-octane ODI when his mind and body could have been tired.

Tendulkar gives it his all, puts team ahead of self. The manner in which he has shouldered the expectations of millions for over 20 years has been incredible. He has steel in his bones.

Tendulkar travels beyond numbers but then numbers are important. The maestro's 17,598 runs in 442 ODIs at an average of 45.12 with 46 hundreds and 93 fifties mark an astonishing achievement. And his strike rate of 86.26 is a whopping one.

Ironically, he failed to score in his first two ODIs — against Pakistan in Gujranwala in 1989 and against New Zealand in Dunedin in 1990. The gifted teenager, though, did not take long to find his feet.

Turning point

A fitness concern in the Indian team catapulted him to the opener's slot in the ODI against New Zealand in Auckland in 1994. Tendulkar blasted a 49-ball 82. This blistering effort marked a turning point in his ODI career.

On the highway to glory, he often put his foot on the accelerator. Tendulkar's astonishing ‘Desert Storm' innings of 143 against Australia captured the cricketing world's imagination.

He not only made runs, often at a furious pace, but did so with correct methods. Tendulkar found gaps with a surgeon's precision. And his footwork, balance and timing enabled the ball to speed through.

His blood and guts 140 against Kenya in the 1999 World Cup in England, overcoming the loss of his father, underlined his commitment to the team's cause. The maestro's career has been one of sacrifice.

His blazing onslaught on the speedy Shoaib Akhtar at Centurion in the 2003 World Cup is fresh in memory. The quicker Akhtar bowled, the faster the ball disappeared to the fence.

And in 2008, Tendulkar batted through pain and agony to carve out a match-winning unbeaten 117 at the SCG in the first final of the Australian ODI tri-series. He followed this up with 91 in the second final at Brisbane as India achieved a historic maiden tri-series triumph down under.

A feature of Tendulkar's career has been the manner in which he has bounced back from injuries. Some wrote him off, but Tendulkar never lost belief.

More recently, Tendulkar's valiant 175 sparkled in a losing cause against Australia in Hyderabad.

And now, he has done the ‘impossible' in Gwalior. Simply put, Tendulkar is a once-in-a-lifetime cricketer.

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