Sports careers can be long, they can be illustrious, they can be popular and they can be successful; but if you wish to have all these facets rolled into one - don’t look too far beyond Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar’s cricketing career! He is every budding cricketer’s ideal, a treat for every spectator, a reliable team-player, a senior statesman in the (Indian) cricketing set-up, a dream for every statistician and yet a humble individual who has mastered one dimension of the gentlemen’s game viz. batting like no other. Nobody doubted Tendulkar’s talent during his early days; they only doubted his temperament & endurance. 22 years down the line, you wouldn’t find many people wanting to ask questions of him (“He has been in form longer than some of our guys have been alive” - Daniel Vettori. “If I had to last 20 years, I would probably be batting in a wheelchair”, Ricky Ponting).
Very often we limit the legend of Tendulkar to merely his astounding stats, overlooking the abstract things associated with those numbers. Stats don’t reveal the magnitude of pressure of a billion people that he carries every time he walks onto the centre. His humble & quiet nature has allowed unwanted controversies to remain aloof from his glittering journey (“The archives recall not one single incriminating incident, not one drunken escapade, not one reported affair, not one spat with a team-mate or reporter ... As Matthew Parris wondered of Barack Obama in these pages recently, is he human?”, Michael Atherton). A generation which grew up idealising Tendulkar is now playing alongside him and learning the nuances of what goes into the process of forming a legend. Often a sport needs heroes not only to advertise the game itself but also to build potential talents who follow that hero. (“Tendulkar has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years. It is time we carried him on our shoulders” - Virat Kohli). Some players revel under pressure, deliver exceptionally better than on other occasions, Tendulkar has managed to use the pressure of expectations as a tool to equip himself for the long haul.
His 100th ton is a celebration of his hardwork, work ethics and talent that translated into a success story; the grind to the 100th itself has been a separate tale of its kind! Merely watching him bat makes an ill person feel good, brings a smile to tired faces, soothes a depressed person and makes the day for the rest! People flock into cricket stadiums to watch him bat, even if it is an IPL game, to capture the image of the magician in their minds, to tell the generations to come that they witnessed the legend bat live infront of them (“Commit all your crimes when Sachin is batting. They will go unnoticed because even the Lord is watching”, a placard held by a fan in the crowd). Sachin’s story is a complete circle in which he has had his share of ups & downs, but each trough has always been followed by a stronger & sharper crest! This underlines the point that he is human afterall, and thus his achievements glitter even more pronouncedly.
If Sir Don Bradman’s average of 99.94 was unthinkable, Tendulkar’s tally of 100 tons is beyond imagination. Like Bradman’s average, Tendulkar’s tons have raised the bar for the batting fraternity to emulate. More than 50+ world records belong to Tendulkar. India’s success in the world cups of 1996, 2003 and the ultimate glory in 2011 are parallel to Tendulkar’s success in those editions. Tendulkar’s stats demand a separate write-up as the list is too long to be compressed into a paragraph! Yet you cannot resist yourself from mentioning about stats when you speak about Tendulkar. 100 international tons is a monumental landmark and only he would know how it feels after scaling the summit.
It would intrigue non-cricket followers as to how much a single player has had an impact/following when he is a part of a team-sport (“He is a bridge, and it is vital to the psyche of a nation that he remains intact. He gets it. That's why he never loses focus”, American writer for ESPN.com Wright Thompson in his write-up ‘In Tendulkar country’). The pressure of expectations is incomparable to anybody else (including Sir Don and modern legends viz. Federer, Messi etc.) and to perform under such a huge burden of expectations is a big achievement in itself; Tendulkar has managed to fulfil that consistently over the past two decades! His contemporaries have often hailed him as the best player they have faced, not only for his batting but also for his temperament & ability to handle pressure with ease (“Sachin Tendulkar is, in my time, the best player without doubt - daylight second, Brian Lara third”, Shane Warne. “I now know what Sachin Tendulkar feels every time he bats in India", Adam Gilchrist after batting in his final T20I infront of a packed MCG.) Like every other Tendulkar fan/admirer, I wouldn’t hesitate to confess that his entire career has been an infinite source of joy & pleasure. You wouldn’t want this journey to end, but like all fairytales this too will have an end. Until then let us hope to watch the big broad bat scores has many more tons in store for us!