S. DINAKAR

Despite his enormous achievements, success sits lightly on him. At 32, Sachin Tendulkar is still going strong.

Milestones

Test debut: vs Pakistan, Karachi, 1989, age 16.First Test century: 119 not out vs England, Manchester, 1990.5000 runs: 67th Test, vs Pakistan, Kolkata, 1999.10,000 runs: 122nd Test, vs Pakistan, Kolkata, 2005.34th century: Equals Sunil Gavaskar's Test record of hundreds, 248 not out vs Bangladesh, Dhaka, 2004. Also Tendulkar's highest Test score.35th century: 109 vs Sri Lanka, New Delhi, 2005. Breaks Gavaskar's record.Tendulkar Test record: Matches 126; Runs 10323; Average 56.71; 100s 35; Wickets 37; Catches 77.

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IT is the fire within that has fuelled Sachin Tendulkar's quest towards greatness and beyond. In many senses, his journey has been a rage for perfection. Wrapped around his considerable natural ability is the kind of commitment and discipline that creates legends.Tendulkar has gobbled up miles and milestones on the cricketing highway. And when he lands in Pakistan in the first week of January, he will do so as a batsman with most Test hundreds - 35.Even more remarkable than his three-figure exploits is the fact that he has shouldered the expectations of a nation for 16 years. The enormous pressure to perform can weigh down on a person, but Tendulkar saw it as a motivator, not a burden. His positive thinking is reflected in his batting. He picks the length of a delivery earlier than most, and with footwork that is precise, is perfectly poised for the appropriate response; this is the essence of his batsmanship. And the extra split second he gains enables him to find the gaps.Tendulkar's body balance ensures that he shifts weight effortlessly, to the front or the back foot. While his batting is cast in the classical mould, his ability to innovate seizes the initiative from the bowlers. With calculated risks, Tendulkar invites the bowlers into a contest of the mind. They are forced to alter their lengths, and in the process, the Mumbaikar clinches the psychological duel. Years of cricket have taken their toll on him physically. He has suffered a career-threatening back injury and has grappled with a tennis elbow. There have been occasions when he has struggled for timing and rhythm, but even during these stints, the character of the man comes through strongly.His knock of 136, when he withstood shooting pain along his spine in the cauldron of an India-Pakistan humdinger on a wearing pitch and against an attack of varied brilliance at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium, 1999, was an epic.The Mumbaikar's 114 on a typically lively Perth pitch in 1992 saw him meeting fire with fire. Tendulkar's 122 on a wickedly seaming surface in Birmingham,1996, revealed a tight game and a clever cricketing brain. During his 169 in Cape Town, 1997, Tendulkar tore into the South African pacemen, Allan Donald included. Courageous, he certainly is.He averages 56.58 in 69 away Tests, and has creditably, more centuries, 19, on foreign soil. These include four hundreds in Australia and three in South Africa, where pitches offer pace, bounce, and disconcerting seam movement. In England, where the conditions assist swing, he has notched up four centuries. On the sub-continental tracks, where there is purchase for the spinners, he uses his feet with aplomb. He has, clearly, been able to adapt.

Face off

Along the way, he has been involved in some famous face-offs. Wasim Akram probed him with swing and cut, Tendulkar was equal to the task. The fast and furious Donald bounced at him, Tendulkar responded with scorching strokes square off the wicket. Glenn McGrath tested the Mumbaikar with shoulder high deliveries in the corridor,Tendulkar's judgment and methods were often immaculate; the Aussie also had his moments in this showdown, especially when he nipped the ball back to catch the Indian on the shuffle. Tendulkar and Shane Warne have increased the cricketing heat in the arena. Ahead of the home series in 1998, the Indian prepared for the champion bowler by getting leg-spinners to pitch at an artificially created rough outside the leg-stump during practice sessions. When Warne targeted the rough in the Chennai Test, Tendulkar pulled him against the spin, rolling his wrist over the ball to keep it down. This was a stroke high on the scale of difficulty, but Tendulkar's technical expertise saw him pulling it off. When Tendulkar went past Sunil Gavaskar's 34 centuries in the second India-Sri Lanka Test at the Ferozeshah Kotla, he had kept his date with destiny. It would be unfair to indulge in comparisons since different eras bring with them different demands. Gavaskar (10,122 runs in 125 Tests at 51.12) opened the innings on fresh and often green wickets and his technical purity enabled to face some great fast bowlers - from Andy Roberts to Malcolm Marshall, from Imran Khan to Richard Hadlee - with assurance. The dynamics of the game have changed since, and Tendulkar is more aggressive in his approach and attitude.Astonishingly, after so many years in the circuit, he retains the enthusiasm of a rookie, enjoys his cricket, and celebrates with passion. Glimpse his eyes as he runs in to bowl, and they radiate joy and desire.Despite enormous achievements, super success sits lightly on him. He remains a charming, simple and caring man, who stretches out his arm for the needy, in most cases without making an announcement. He loves a laugh and has a wonderful sense of humour. He is seldom short of words of encouragement or advice for his teammates, irrespective of their age or experience. And his presence in India dressing room is inspirational. At 32, Tendulkar continues to win hearts... and rattle up centuries.

Dedication

Tendulkar's natural ability was backed by immense commitment. His passion for the game could light up a dark alley. On a cold, wintry night in Sialkot, Pakistan, a young cricketer was discovered making noise in his hotel room by team manager. But this was no case of outrageous behaviour. It was only the 16-year-old Tendulkar rehearsing lessons he had picked up at the nets in front of a mirror! Each time he took an imaginary stance, he knocked the floor with his willow producing sounds that woke some from their sleep! Recalled former India captain Chandu Borde, "It was 10.30 at night, and I was stunned to see such dedication from someone so young. I knew this boy would go places." To the journalists, he is a man who keeps his promises. Pressed for time he might be, but 'word' is everything for Tendulkar. He once spoke to The Hindu when his Mumbai teammates did the packing for him; Tendulkar was in a rush to catch a flight. On another occasion, he shared his thoughts with this newspaper, standing at the back of an aircraft, unmindful of a bumpy journey on a day of cloudy skies. India coach Greg Chappell often dwells on his 'integrity.' Skipper Rahul Dravid speaks about his inspirational presence. Tendulkar contributes to the side with his wealth of knowledge, and the idea to send Irfan Pathan as a pinch hitter at No. 3 in the Nagpur ODI against Sri Lanka was his. Looking back, this was a significant move.