Sachin Tendulkar completes 40 on Wednesday but there are no signs that he is quitting Test cricket. Of course he has already retired from limited overs internationals but at the moment he is displaying the enthusiasm of a teenager while turning out for Mumbai Indians in the IPL.
The point is that barring any unfortunate occurrence he should be turning out in the Tests against South Africa towards the end of the year and it very rare for a cricketer past his 40th birthday to be still around playing cricket’s traditional format.
The last 40-plus Indian cricketer was Vinoo Mankad who was a couple of months short of his 42nd birthday when he turned out for India against West Indies way back in February 1959. The great all rounder finished on a limp note with figures of no wicket for 167 and a duck in his final innings. One cannot see Tendulkar end his Test career on a similar unhappy note.
Today with the non stop international cricketing calendar comprising three formats, the various T-20 leagues, first class cricket and so on it is almost impossible for a cricketer to be around for 25 years. But that is what the ageless Tendulkar has done for he made his Ranji Trophy debut - with a century – against Gujarat in 1988 and as everyone knows a year later he was playing for India in Pakistan against Wasim Akram, Imran Khan and Waqar Younis as a 16-year-old.
Tendulkar is now in his 24th year in international cricket and even though there are distinct signs that he is past his best, no one can say with certainty that he should not be in the Test team. That is the greatness of Tendulkar for even at around 80 percent of his old self he is still good enough to be around.
No issue has divided the nation more than that of the timing of Tendulkar’s retirement. It is true that his average has fallen of late, that the big scores seem to have deserted him, that he is no more the commanding batsman he was for more than two decades, that he is falling to nondescript bowlers. But even when he is not among the runs his presence in the side always remains a source of confidence and inspiration to the younger players.
In South Africa he will be the first to play 200 Tests. Even with the proliferation of Test cricket it is a phenomenal achievement, particularly when the next best is Steve Waugh who retired having played 168 matches. Among the active players Jacques Kallis is way behind with 162. Despite his burly frame it is difficult to see him getting to play 200 Tests given his workload as an all rounder.
Moreover Kallis is in his 38th year and though he has made clear his intentions of wanting to be around till the 2015 World Cup a double century of Tests seems beyond even his incredible capacity to do the unexpected.
All this puts Tendulkar’s longevity in proper perspective. And it’s not that he has just been around for almost quarter of a century for during the period he has run up a mind boggling and eye rubbing record in Tests and ODIs with some of his feats bound to stand for all time.
One just cannot see any other player surpass his marks of most runs and centuries in Tests and most runs and hundreds in ODIs for a start. It is virtually impossible for any other cricketer to even come close to his feat of 100 international hundreds. And of course there have been several comparatively minor marks which can be found on many pages in the records section of Wisden.
Of late Tendulkar has been facing more criticism than ever before. Particularly after the retirements of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman – who made their debuts well after him - the calls for him to call it a day have grown more vociferous. But can anyone ever write off Tendulkar? Should one even take this risk, stick his neck out and be proved wrong?
That has not stopped the critics who have kept his cricketing obituary ready. Age is one process no one can overcome. Sooner or later the reflexes start slowing down, the adrenalin may not flow like the younger days and the old enthusiasm for the game may be lacking. It is a tribute to Tendulkar that at 40 he is still as keen on the game as he was in November 1989 when the whole remarkable saga began.
Yes, one must be cautious in making predictions about the little big man. A national newspaper came out with the now infamous headline `Endulkar?’ after a few failures in Pakistan at the start of 2006. This could be brushed aside as sensationalism or a vulgarly irresponsible job by a deskman who tried to be too clever but was made to eat humble and distasteful pie. Since then Tendulkar has gone on to make many more hundreds and thousands of runs in both formats of the game.
Ageless is perhaps the best way to describe Tendulkar’s art and craft. It really is quite unbelievable that at his age Tendulkar is still able to retain his keenness and enthusiasm. The manner in which he takes off for a quick single, is willing to come back for a second and is still able to hold his own in the field despite being surrounded by much younger teammates belies his age.
Yes, it can be stated categorically that one has not heard the last of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. As he commences his 41st year it is clear that his bat will continue to talk. The cricketing obituaries and the END-ULKAR headlines can be put on hold - for a start at least till the end of the tour of South Africa!