Imagine. An entire generation grew up with Sachin just like many of us did with the Beatles who epitomized the 'Swinging Sixties'. To further appreciate Sachin's remarkable durability, start counting the number of 'stars' that were born, streaked across the cricketing skies and burnt between 1989 and 2012. The maestro outlived the best of them and still looks good enough for another three seasons at least.
Yes, it has been a year-long wait for the century of centuries. During the period, Sachin was probably the most criticized cricketer as the chorus for his retirement grew with every 'failure' in the course of his 33 non-century international innings. The chorus turned into a cacophony in the wake of Dravid's retirement last week to an extent that Sachin was all but nailed to the cross.
Yet, Sachin, typically maintaining a stoic silence, carried on. It would have hurt his pride that he couldn't get a hundred either in England or Australia when India needed it most. Barring Dravid in England, none of the frontline batsmen succeeded on these two tours, but yet, Sachin had to shoulder most of the blame.
In the past 10 years even when Sachin suffered injuries that drastically affected his batting, the pressure of him was ceaseless. A century was expected of him every time he went out to bat and anything less than a hundred would mean brickbats.
In my book, Sachin peaked in the second half of 1990s and thereafter, was in cruise control mode over the next few seasons before a tennis elbow and a shoulder injury threatened to cut short his career. He went through a dip, but like Muhammad Ali, bounced back to regain the crown as the World's premier batsman. Now, with the monkey off his back, I suspect that he will play freely and we are likely to see a vintage Sachin who will not lift his foot off the pedal.
Sachin is beyond statistics. To speak of him in numbers is to gloss over far more relevant and significant aspects such as his impact on cricket and a whole generation of Indians. Imbibing the best from his two idols, Gavaskar and Richards, he took batting to the next level even as he acquired a legion of fans who seem insatiable to the extent of being extreme in their reactions to his success and failure.
The problem is that we Indians know not how to manage or appreciate a champion. Our expectations are unreasonably high because we do not have enough of World-class sportspersons. In this context, there is certain immaturity in the way we connect to someone like Sachin through whom we try to live our dreams.
Enough and more has been said of his top 10 centuries, his technique and style to bear mention here, but for me, his commitment to cricket and the team is his best attribute. I am also convinced that he is not after personal records, though they do help in the team's cause, for such is the nature of the sport.
Quite a few critics have also unfairly questioned Sachin's contribution to Indian team in terms of playing match-winning centuries as though cricket is all about one man getting runs. The fact remains that 74 of his 100 centuries have either helped India win or draw a match. I rest my case.
Hailing from a middle-class Mumbai family and with his curly hair, Sachin, just 16 and facing the likes of Imran Khan, Waqar Younis and Abdul Qadir at their best, endeared himself to the Indian public like no cricketer before or since. It was fascinating to watch a schoolboy playing alongside men and getting the better of them and the images certainly captured our imagination.
It has been a wonderful two decades and some, and for me, an Indian team without Sachin is unthinkable. I am sure that when the great man retires, a lot us would switch off cricket telecasts for good, for such has been his impact on the Indian psyche.
Indeed, if at all there is a sporting Bharat ki ratna, then it is Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. It is time to savour an achievement that you and I can only dream of.