I first heard of Tendulkar in 1987 during my stint in Mumbai. It was a slow afternoon and a friend called to invite me for a schools cricket match that weekend. “You got to watch this boy bat. He is just amazing and his name is Sachin Tendulkar,” he said. I turned down the invite and to this day, I regret the decision. However, Sachin has been part of my life for a quarter of century and some millions others will say the same, especially on this day when the maestro completes 40.
No other sportsperson or athlete has had such an impact on the Indian psyche as Sachin who has lived our dreams and continue to do so. We have celebrated his success and unfairly crucified him for his failures, but each time he came out to bat, we would all move to the edge of our seats and then comfortably recline as he begins to score runs. Such has been the spell he cast on us Indians and though it pains to see him struggle these days, I wish that he continues for a few more years.
Far more than his batting records, what strikes me the most is Sachin’s longevity. Unlike many of us, he has not changed ‘jobs’ nor has he opted for a sabbatical unless it was forced due to injuries for two decades and more. Rather, there has not been an iota of change or decline in his commitment to his profession that he has worshipped with a single-mindedness that is given to few.
It needs no expert to tell us that cricket still drives Sachin who is happiest when on the ground, be it batting or fielding. His enthusiasm and involvement are just unbelievable, given his age. Even during the Ranji and Irani Cup games earlier this year, Sachin was all hustle and bustle. When Mumbai won the Ranji Trophy, his joy was pure and infectious. He barely took his eyes off the handsome cup, a scene reminiscent of April 2011 when India won the World Cup.
The other image that will remain with me is Sachin meeting his idol Sir Vivian Richards in Delhi earlier this week. The well-timed picture beautifully captured the sheer joy in Sachin as he spoke with Richards. His eyes reflected the awe in which he still holds the West Indian master and it also was another statement of Sachin’s humility that over-rides his achievements.
Undoubtedly, Sachin is the most decorated, revered, followed and admired cricketer after Bradman. Perhaps, Gavaskar would have attained comparable stardom had there been as much Media during his hey days. I have seen Gavaskar bat at his peak, taking on the most fearsome fast bowlers you could imagine with minimum protective gear and score centuries. In today’s World, Gavaskar might have become as big an icon as Sachin.
Yet, nothing can take away Sachin’s prodigious achievements and more importantly, the impact he has had on fellow-Indians who simply dropped whatever they were doing when he was batting. I do not think we will see any other cricketer receiving such attention or adulation. Not in our lifetime for sure.
Even more remarkable has been Sachin’s ability to withstand the constant pressure and microscopic inspection on and off the field. He and his family have hardly known privacy. His children Sarah and Arjun are as much subjected to the arc lights as their celebrity parents, though Sachin has always zealously tried to shield his family from public gaze, though not with much success.
Since his days as a schoolboy with curly hair when he gave a new meaning to our lives to a well-rounded father figure who continues to defy odds, Sachin spans a couple of generations that grew up with him. His centuries in Chennai, Australia and England, the stunning blitz in Sharjah against the full might of the Aussies have placed Sachin on a pedestal besides a special spot in cricketing pantheon.
So, on his 40th birthday, it is best to reflect on not just Sachin’s 24 years of international cricket, but so also ours during the period that has seen some seismic changes on our planet. Through it all, Sachin has been the constant, like the sun without which life as we know ceases to exist.
I fear the day when he quits for good for that will leave a void that will never be filled. I have virtually stopped watching ODIs since Sachin’s retirement and when he walks away from Tests, it is time to switch off the live action and live on memories of an era that we will not witness again.
Finally, Sachin is to cricket what Beatles were to music and here’s wishing that more music flows from his SG bat as before. Have a blast, Sachin!