The lynchpin of Indian cricket, and undoubtedly the world's best athlete, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar continues to carry the burden of 1 billion people even after two decades.
The maker of ton of tons, the most hallowed cricketer of all time, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar is a modern day icon, not just for cricket , but for sports in general. In a country where cricket is simply not a game, but an all consuming passion that evokes strong nationwide emotions and hysteria, the unflappable manner in which he has shouldered this immense burden of a billion dreams, for more than two decades , is simply stupendous – a shining example for other sportspersons to follow. Thrust into the limelight at a very tender age, Tendulkar’s brilliance on the cricket field had an entire nation detify him. HHe became the ultimate poster boy of Indian cricket. But Tendulkar, unlike many other contemporary sportspersons, did not let this adulation adversely affect his game. He has remained steadfast in his dedication to the beautiful game, and the commitment and passion he still displays on the field is simply phenomenal .
The national sports culture in India, is heavily skewed in favor of cricket. Even though, officially hockey is the national sports of the country, it is cricket and cricket only that manages to galvanize this fragmented nation , known for its strong regional moorings. It is downright impossible to think of any other nation, where the sporting culture is defined by a single sport only. If you ask any average Indian about the top 10 sports in the country he will likely rank cricket from the 1st to 9th spot and wouldnot care or know about what follows cricket.
Imagine how Americans will feel about Michel Jordan, if they followed no other sport apart from basketball. Then imagine if Jordan’s team represented not merely Chicago but the entire country. If you can comprehend this poorly stitched analogy, then you will realize that the loosely toss around sayings in cricketing parlance –“Cricket is a religion in India” and “Tendulkar is their God” are not spoken frivolously. It is indeed a massive burden , that this legend has to bear, every time he steps on the cricket field. This colossal weight of expectations could have easily crushed any mortal. But, then again, Sachin Tendulkar is not your run-of-the-mill average superstar, who will get bogged down by such impediments.
Born in 1973, in a middle class family of Mumbai , Tendulkar’s flair for sports was evident from an early age. In school he was an unruly bully who used to regularly bash up his weaker peers. But even then telltale signs of his prodigious talent was apparent to everyone. Studying in Sharadashram Vidyamandir high school , Tendulkar embarked on his illustrious cricketing journey under the tutelage of cricket guru Sir Ramakant Achrekar. Very few are actually aware of the fact that while growing, Tendulkar always dreamt to be a tearaway fast bowler. Consequently he auditioned for a spotin MRF pace academy , headed by fast bowling legend , Denis Lillee. Unimpressed by his diminutive stature and prowess with the ball, Lillee advisesd a young Sachin to concentrate wholeheartedly on his batting instead.
He earned the reputation of being a child prodigy at a very tender age , with many experts billing him as the next big thing of Indian cricket. On his debut first class season, he made mincement of every bowler and soon it was pretty evident for everyone , that this dimunitive kid from Mumbai cut out from a different stone and destined for greater glories. His prolific debut season , got him selected for the Indian team in 1989 at the age of just sixteen years. And the rest ….created history …
Tendulkar made his debut against arch rivals Pakistan at Karchi in 1989. Pakistan at that time sported a coterie of menacing fast bowlers , which contained the likes of Wasim Akram, Imran Khan, and a young tearaway fast bowler, who incidentally was also making his debut in the same match– Waqar Younis. This was literally a baptism by fire for Sachin, which could have made or break his budding career. Though he only managed to notch up 15 runs , his mental fortitude and gutsiness and the dexterity with which he handled the fearsome pace attack, earned him plaudits from numerous corners. His body kept getting pummeled by the barrage of short pitch deliveries hurled at him, but Sachin remained unfazed and unflustered.
In an exhibition match in Peshawar , this fearless sixteen year old boy decided to take on the world’s best leg spinner , Abdul Qader and clattered him without much hassle,all over the park. So mesmerized was Qadar himself by the artistry , that he started clapping after completing his over , tacitly acknowledging the genius on display.
Rise To Fame
Sachin’s meteoric rise started in the 90’s, when he was at the peak of his physical prowess. His fantastic displays both at home as well as on hostile overseas conditions, captured the imaginations of the masses and pundits alike. He scored profusely not only on benign domestic pitches, but also in Autralia and England, which catapulted him into instant stardom in the pantheon of Indian cricket. His pyrotechnics on the field , won him a global cult following and a demigod status in his native country and had his teammates as well as his opposition gushing about him. In Australia’s tour of India in 1998 Mathew Hayden famously said-“ I’ve seen God . He bats at no 4 for India”
In the 1996 World Cup, hosted in India , Tendulkar was the highest run scorer of the tournament and singlehandedly dragged his team into the semifinals –before the debacle of Eden Gardens against Sri Lanka.
His unshakeable dedication and passion for the game and for the cause of his country was again on display in the 1999 World Cup. Tendulkar’s father tragically passed away in the middle of the tournament. Consequently, he had to rush back home to attend the final rituals of his father. However, like a true champion he came back all guns blazing and scored a century in the very next match ,which he dedicated to his father.
The Dark Years Of Captaincy –
After the 1996 World Cup, there was a nationwide public outcry to oust the then incumbent captain Mohammed Azaharuddin and pass the mantle of captaincy to Sachin Tendulkar. People and experts believe this was a natural progression for an outstanding cricketer, who was also an astute student of the game. Tendulkar, of all people was expected to lead his team by example and take Indian cricket to loftier heights.
Alas, the script did not pan out as planned. Indian cricket, hit its nadir performance wise, during his tenure. His captaincy is perhaps is perhaps the only blot, in an otherwise impeccable career. Although his cause wasnot helped by the ragtag group of mediocre players around him, it is undeniable that the burden of captaincy, shackled Tendulkar’s characteristic flamboyance with the bat and had a telling effect on his performance. After a spate of humiliating losses , Tendulkar voluntarily resigned in the wake of a series whitewash against South Africa at home, and Sourav Ganguly was ushered in in his stead.
Return To Old Form And Consitency
Not only did he lose his captaincy, Tendulkar was also afflicted with a severe back problem, which had an adverse bearing on his game. Because of this affliction , Tendulkar had to accordingly adjust his entire gameand for a brief period his form with the bat, dipped alarmingly. Poor form and inconsistency had critics writing him off as an old relic. The media was more than ready to write his edifice. The public enamored by the rise of new stars like Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh, also felt that the time is nigh for Sachin to call its quits.
But like the saying – Form is Temporay but class is permanent – a fit and rejuvenated Tendulkar once gain proved his detractors wrong. In the 2003 World Cup, hosted in South Africa, saw Tendulkar at his rampaging best winning the most valuable player in a tournament , where his team came second best to Australia.
In the series against England and Australia, Tendulkar proved himself to be a vital cog in the team’s wheel and India’s unprecedented brilliant showings on those two tours were largely down to Tendulkar’s brilliance.
The 100th Ton
2011 World Cup & 100TH Ton
The World Cup was one trophy that Tendulkar coveted most , something which had eluded him in five previous occasions. In 2011 India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh co-hosted the 10th edition of cricket’s biggest tournament. Fully aware that this maybe his last and perhaps the best chance, to get his hands on this trophy, Tendulkar left no stone unturned to help his team, hoisting the cup. Amassing 482 runs at an impressive average of 55.82, Tendulkar was his team’s leading run scorer , helping India to lift the trophy after nearly three barren decades.
Post World Cup, the final milestone awaited of 100 centuries awaited Sachin. However, scoring the final century proved to be a gorilla on his back. The entire cricketing world had to wait for an inordinate amount of time for this stupendous feat and after nearly one year since he scored his 99th , the historic landmark was achieved against Bangladesh in March 2012, opening the floodgates of relief both for Sachin as well as for his countless fans.
Brought up in a country, where there is a real dearth of sporting icons, Tendulkar provided succor to an entire, success starved nation of one billion people. He showed that the notion of Indians being physically inferior to other races and are genetically disposed to the pursuits of brains over brawn – to be utter hogwash . His calm no nonsense demeanor, and impeccable integrity have made him the perfect ambassador of cricket and a global icon.
At last being freed of the massive burden of singlehandedly carrying the team forward, Tendulkar can now simply pursue the sheer enjoyment of a sport he has enriched, in an unbridled fashion. History is testament to the fact that an unshackled Tendulkar is a prolific Tendulkar. So bowlers beware – there is still life left in this grand, old warhorse of Indian cricket.