Every time Sachin Tendulkar is among the runs or gets a hundred my mind always goes back to the headline that appeared in a leading national daily three years ago and I allow myself a wry smile. It seemed unbelievable but no one could doubt that it was very much there in black and white and in almost blasphemously large type on the front page.
Every time Sachin Tendulkar is among the runs or gets a hundred my mind always goes back to the headline that appeared in a leading national daily three years ago and I allow myself a wry smile. It seemed unbelievable but no one could doubt that it was very much there in black and white and in almost blasphemously large type on the front page. ENDULKAR? screamed the headline just because the great man had failed in three successive innings in the Tests in Pakistan. The now infamous headline can now 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.
At the time Tendulkar had scored a little over 10,000 runs with 35 hundreds at an average of just over 56. Now three years later the little big man is still very much around having scored more than 2500 runs more, having hit seven more centuries and the average is just over 55. He has scored more runs and more centuries than anyone else in the history of the game. Moreover he has achieved this feat in ODIs too. One just has to marvel at this phenomenon who in his 20th year of international career is till hungry for success and has lost none of his enthusiasm for the game. He is enjoying his cricket and passing on that enjoyment to his innumerable fans. One would not like to hazard a guess as to where the runs and centuries tally will finally end and while records are set only to be broken it is safe to say that some of Tendulkar's marks will stand the test of time even with the proliferation of Tests and ODIs.
Make no mistake. Tendulkar is still ambitious and wants to climb more peaks. If anything his superbly crafted 160 at Hamilton confirmed this. It was his third century in four Tests and some of the strokes were those of a much younger man not one who turns 36 in a month's time. As he himself said unambiguously in an interview some time back in reply to a question about whether he still had an appetite for the game despite having to battle injury problems "If the hunger isn't there I shouldn't be playing. The hunger is there. I want to go out there and perform. There is some cricket left in me as well as plenty of runs." He could not have been more prophetic. One should also not forget that while his great contemporaries have either retired or are out of the ODI team Tendulkar continues to command a regular place purely on merit his dazzling 163 off 133 balls the other day at Christchurch underlining this.
There is little doubt that Tendulkar wields an intangible influence in the dressing room. When Polly Umrigar retired in 1962 Dicky Rutnagur in a tribute wrote: "Even when he did not get runs Umrigar's presence in the side was always a source of confidence and inspiration to the younger players." This is also the case with Tendulkar only that the confidence and inspiration levels are much, much higher. Even though the Indian team is less reliant on Tendulkar these days thanks to the emergence of new talent when he is not playing it is like a missing chord in a symphony.
It is true that Tendulkar is taking a little longer over his runs and maybe some of his sublime strokes have vanished from his repertoire. His knocks are more studious in nature but as events have proved he is getting harder to dismiss. It is not for nothing that a well known sporting adage says that there is no substitute for experience. Even a Tendulkar who is 80 percent of the Tendulkar at his peak in the 90s and the first few years of the new millennium is a treat to watch and his value to the team will in no way diminish. In other words Tendulkar might just be over the hill but only just. The foot of the hill is still a long way off. He still has it in him to contribute immensely to Indian cricket. And when finally the day comes when he has to ride off into the sunset he will do so on his own terms.
Yes it can be stated categorically. One has not heard the last of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. His bat will continue to talk and talk vigorously, subtly and successfully. The cricketing obituaries and the ENDULKAR headlines can be put on hold for an extended period.