For long the most startling thing about Sachin Tendulkar’s iridescent career was its inevitability. Great deeds were foretold when he made his Test debut at 16, the admiration and optimistic predictions scarcely allowing for sport’s inherent caprice. Yet, for the best part of two decades the little master from Mumbai dutifully enacted the heroic deeds expected of him. Recently, however, after Tendulkar’s failure in Sri Lanka, critics suggested that age and injury had caught up with the great man. But such a judgment would seem premature, considering what the 35-year-old had done in the two preceding away series. In England last year, Tendulkar seemed to have reconciled himself to the inevitable slowing down and dimming of his prodigious physical talent. He reinvented himself, subjugating his ego, taking blows on the body, and eking out runs. But just as the experts proclaimed that the newer version of Tendulkar, while less striking, was only marginally less effective, the master did what great champions do. He challenged popular perception by reprising in Australia the brilliant, spontaneous style of his early years. It is fitting that he achieved the honour of becoming Test cricket’s highest run-scorer — Tendulkar went past Brian Lara’s aggregate of 11,953 runs — while playing against Australia, a country where he is revered as the greatest batsman since Sir Donald Bradman. Not only did the knocks at Bangalore and Mohali add to his impressive record against the world’s best side but they also brought into relief the most recent impressions of his combativeness and genius.
Where the genius of Lara expressed itself more visibly in rococo excess, the Indian’s finds articulation in purity and understatement. Together they have provided the connoisseurs rich, varied entertainment — particularly remarkable because they have answered to two of cricket’s most demanding groups of fans. Until Rahul Dravid established himself, Tendulkar was India’s lone reference for excellence in testing conditions abroad. The essence of Tendulkar’s greatness lies as much in his preternatural ability as in his handling of the pressures of being cricket’s biggest icon. In an era of hard selling where the merely good masquerade as the truly great, Tendulkar’s humility and equipoise have stood out. Ricky Ponting, whose career aggregate stands at 10,244 runs after the first innings of the Mohali Test, is in hot pursuit of the Test record. Considering the Australian captain’s supreme fitness and the volume of Test cricket Australia plays, he may well ascend the throne at some stage. But Tendulkar isn’t done yet, and the cricketer who breaches his marks in both Test and one-day cricket can only be a genius of the highest order.