His career got off to a limp start with two ducks. He remained slowish off the starting blocks scoring his first half-century in his ninth match. His maiden hundred came about in his 79th match. But by then it was obvious that Sachin Tendulkar was going to match his Test deeds in limited overs cricket too.
It didn’t matter whether he was opening the innings or going in the middle order. Absolutely, at home in both positions with the happy ability to adjust his game to the faster tempo of ODIs Tendulkar blazed forth with one dazzling innings after another, running up records that will stand the test of time.
And finally came his crowning glory when he was a member of the World Cup winning squad last year. He always said that was his one remaining ambition – the 100th international hundred was a more personal landmark – and in his sixth World Cup which drew him level with Javed Miandad he finally accomplished whatever he set out to achieve.
Ironically, it was at his most triumphant moment that the first retirement whispers started. He was 38, had been around for over 21 years and however good he still remained with the bat it was crystal clear that he was no more the cricketing great he had been for two decades.
Age catches up with the best of sportsmen and it was a tribute to Tendulkar’s fitness as much as his skill and mental strength that he was able to carry on for so long withstanding the kind of pressure that only he faced among all modern cricketers. Indications of Tendulkar not being the same commanding batsman were evident in the Tests too and one wondered whether it was time for him to call it a day in at least one format.
At the time of the World Cup final, Tendulkar had 99 international hundreds and with no indications of his retiring from the game the focus then shifted to the 100th hundred a mark that needless to say no other cricketer will ever reach or even come near it.
He had scored hundreds No 98 and 99 in the World Cup but even as the nation waited with bated breath and the media followed his every move Tendulkar played 12 innings without getting to the three figure mark.
And then came the great day at Dhaka during the Asia Cup match against Bangladesh in March this year when he finally got to the peak of his manifold achievements.
Naturally there was much jubilation as the nation celebrated the maestro’s great feat and the media went overboard in highlighting his career and his accomplishments. But all this was also tinged with a bit of sarcasm and cynicism. India suffered a shock defeat along the way and followers of the game – and even Tendulkar’s admirers – did not fail to notice that the slowness associated with his hundred had much to do with India losing the match and not qualifying for the final.
Tendulkar took 147 balls to compile his 114 – sluggish by his own high standards and a strike rate of 77.5 is generally below par these days in ODIs. Noticeably too after reaching 50 off 63 balls he took another 75 balls for his second fifty. Opening the innings he was fourth out at 259 in the 47th over. India went down with four balls to spare and that’s when the century, for all its unique landmark, lost much of its gloss.
Tendulkar was almost 39 at the time and this rather laborious hundred coming on top of his slide in form in ODIs coupled with his failures in the Tests in England and Australia made calls for his retirement that much more vociferous. Suddenly, even his most ardent fans turned into bitter critics.
Now it seemed that the cynics outnumbered his admirers. And the calls for his retirement reached a crescendo following his failures in the home Tests against New Zealand and England. His career average and strike rate kept falling and the criticism which became harsh centered round what was left for him to achieve with all the batting records in Tests and ODIs standing assuredly against his name and beyond the scope for any contemporary cricketer.
He is keeping a young player out of the team, he is playing for personal records, he is putting personal interest before the team’s were the most common charges. Tendulkar had obviously not followed Vijay Merchant’s well known adage about retiring when people ask ''why'' and not ''why not''. It was inevitable that whenever the retirement announcement came about the general refrain would be ''it's about time'' and that’s exactly is what is happening now.
I suppose the clamour will now commence as to when he will call it a day in Test cricket too. But that would be unfair to Tendulkar. This is the time to take a joyous trip down memory lane and recall his outstanding deeds in ODIs and to be candid there are far too many to be recounted here.
One’s mind is a blur of happy memories of Tendulkar hitting those 49 hundreds – including the first ever double century in ODIs- and other match winning knocks over a long and illustrious career. The greatest ever limited overs batsman? It has to be him or Vivian Richards. No one else comes anywhere near.