A fortnight ago, on a gripping night at Nagpur, India thumped Australia thanks to Virat Kohli’s unbeaten 115. Soon, Ravi Shastri and Matthew Hayden were doing their analysis for television. This being the season of Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement, understandably the focus shifted to the maestro and Hayden, the hard-as-nails Aussie melted and said: “Very few players can seem to levitate above the game itself and he has done that!”
There was adulation, respect and awe in his voice and these traits combined usually reside in a die-hard fan’s heart and not necessarily in the big frame of a former adversary, but such is Tendulkar’s pre-eminence that no one is immune to his greatness.
Hayden’s overwhelming praise was just symbolic of the high regard that trails the legend all over the cricket-playing world.
The admiration that Tendulkar evokes abroad is directly linked to the various highpoints that he clocked across the seas over a career that stretched past two decades.
Perth 1992, an incandescent 114 that had youth’s irreverence and the weight of genius mixed into one fine batting exposition. Sydney 2004, where his unbeaten 241 had restraint towards the off-side, a self-denial that may have done any ascetic proud. Auckland 1994, when he walked in as an opener for the first-time in ODIs and whipped up an explosive 82.
Or, how about recalling his first Test hundred, an unbeaten 119 at Manchester in 1990, when he proved that all that talk about him being a prodigy was not hot air?
Tendulkar has essayed innumerable memorable knocks on foreign shores ranging from those ‘Desert Storm’ assaults in Sharjah to the hammering of Shoaib Akhtar in the 2003 World Cup in South Africa.
The above list lays no claim to being exhaustive, but the truth is that Tendulkar has book-marked his career with glittering forays to the batting crease all across the globe.
He has filled venues as diverse and historic as Sydney and Lord’s, where fans thronged because they loved him and because in the last four years, there was always that sad thought about it being his last appearance at that ground.
The love of the public and the respect of peers and rivals is something every sportsperson covets and Tendulkar received that in abundance.
Not for him the bitterness which at times taints the Radcliffe Line that splits India and Pakistan. Across the Wagah border where he had his baptism by fire in 1989, he is revered much like in India.
In Sach, Genius Unplugged, an anthology of articles on the great man, Osman Samiuddin, one of Pakistan’s leading cricket writers, wrote: “Pakistan, I suspect, would love to have Tendulkar as he was in Chennai in January 1999 every time. He fought the good fight that Test, a solitary one.”
If for Sunil Gavaskar, the West Indies holds a special place where he even has a Calypso in his honour, for Tendulkar, it’s Australia, where his biggest fans seem to reside.
The legend around him gained lustre when Sir Don Bradman told his wife that the Mumbaikar’s batting style was identical to the one that he practised. It is not surprising that Tendulkar has a wax statue in his honour at Sydney.
Making a fan out of everyone irrespective of nationality is perhaps Tendulkar’s greatest gift to cricket.
Despite the odd blemish like the Harbhajan Singh-Andrew Symonds fracas in 2008 where Tendulkar’s role was questioned, the master still rules and just one word lingers all over — respect.