He was awesomely talented and ambitious, nursing a dream to play cricket, to play at the highest level. When he did, he just set benchmarks that took the game to the next level.
A performer born to craft runs, win battles single-handed and conquer hearts. Never slack at the crease, never short of drive, fighting to the last drop.
Failures only meant motivation, source of strength to strive for success. He shared celebrations with the nation but grieved silently. Every defeat was a personal blow but a win meant Sachin Tendulkar was aglow.
The Wanderers, Dec. 13, 1992, is vivid. The one-day match over, the Indian team, soundly beaten, was limping back.
From the comfort of the press box one saw Tendulkar take off suddenly, chasing a burly South African supporter. That night he would have outpaced the fastest man on earth. He closed in on the prankster and brought him down in a flash. Soon he was joined by Ajay Jadeja and a scuffle ensued. A few blows and the South African lay flattened. Our man emerged triumphant, mission accomplished in style. I asked why the fuss?
For this, a livid Tendulkar pointed to his India cap. He was just 19. He is much mellowed, and, much mature now. But can outrace anybody if he were to snatch his India cap.
Disrespect and impudence are not known to this mighty cricketer. Not even for the bowlers he slays.
Magnificence is embossed in his deeds. He is the only man in contemporary India who can bring the nation to a stop.
Milestones, incidentally, have no place in Tendulkar’s dictionary. Comparisons make him laugh. Don Bradman was so different from Sunil Gavaskar, Viv Richards from Barry Richards, and Tendulkar from Brian Lara. “He bats left-handed. I bat right-handed. Where is the comparison”, Tendulkar once said. For the record, Tendulkar rates Lara better. If you ask Lara, he says Tendulkar is better.
Such sportsmen are rare. He is measured in his reactions, not the one to bring disrepute to the game, not the one to hurt someone.
Well, he even makes his runs in a manner that the bowler is rarely offended. You don’t mind bowing to a master, do you? If the master is Tendulkar, you cherish the punishment too. “You get him, you get the match”, was how Wasim Akram once put it. This was in the early 90s when India had one of the most compact batting line-ups in the world. Get a man and get the team. That is what transpired on many occasions. It actually hurt Tendulkar.
“No point in individual conquests if the team loses”, was his view. It has not changed. He did not cut the cake to celebrate his 17,000 runs even as the world raved about his 175 at Hyderabad. He must have shed tears in silence. Just as he did at Barbados the night India failed to make 120 to win the Test.
On the same tour, in 1997, he smelt a rat when India lost a one-dayer at St. Vincent. He chose to remain silent.
He has enriched the game with his presence. “Shining jewel of India”, was how the great Bishan Singh Bedi once described him.
What makes him so special?
Technical excellence, consistency, loyalty, passion, one can go on. The weight of his bat, grip, balance, range of strokes, divine cover-drive, silken flicks one can just go on. The more you see him, the more you admire him, the more you revere his deeds.
Tendulkar’s longevity is a tribute to his devotion to the game. Talent was innate but he honed his cricket with hard work. The shots were perfected from his desire to be the best.