Saturday, November 16, 2013

It's stumps for Sachin: India's greatest player lays down his bat after 24 years, 50,000 runs and 200 glorious Test matches

It's like the passing of a beloved grandparent. One knew it was only a matter of time, but we still hoped for the pleasure of his company for a while longer.
On Thursday, Sachin Tendulkar announced that the two upcoming Tests against West Indies on home soil, his 199th and 200th in a landmark 24-year international career, would be his swan song from the game he has loved and adorned for four decades.

The announcement, which came via a press release from Board of Control for Cricket in India secretary Sanjay Patel, put an end to years of speculation about when the maestro from Mumbai would hang up his helmet, which had only intensified when the runs started drying up over the last 30 months.

"All my life, I have had a dream of playing cricket for India. I have been living this dream every day for the last 24 years… I look forward to playing my 200th Test Match on home soil, as I call it a day," Tendulkar said in the statement.
"I thank my family for their patience and understanding. Most of all, I thank my fans and well-wishers who through their prayers and wishes have given me the strength to go out and perform at my best."

To the country's great number of children born in the 1980s, Thursday's announcement is like the fall of the Berlin Wall. An Indian monument reminiscent of all that has passed since 1989 will no longer be on the horizon come November.
Incidentally, it was in the year the Wall fell that a baby-faced 16-year-old made his debut for India against arch-rivals against Pakistan and bagged a duck in Karachi. But starting with a fighting half-century - made despite a bleeding nose - in Sialkot, the Tendulkar phenomenon kept growing with every knock, till barely any statistical milestone remained standing.

The one batting record that no one could touch - Don Bradman's average of 99.94, was obviously out of his reach, but Tendulkar got the next best thing - a compliment from the legendary Australian stating that the Indian maestro's batting reminded him of his own.

In any conversation about the great batsmen of the modern era, the conversation always came down to Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, Rahul Dravid and Jacques Kallis. Lara, whom most consider Tendulkar's lone rival for the tag of the 'greatest' of their generation, certainly was a more accomplished long-innings player, as evidenced by his Test knocks of 375, 400 not out and the first-class behemoth 501. 

But as far as comparisons go, Tendulkar is far ahead of the West Indian in terms of number of Test victories, though their numbers in matches won are quite similar. It was in One-Day International cricket that Tendulkar towered above mere mortals who had played the format before him, taking Desmond Haynes' record of 18 centuries before the turn of the millennium and finally finishing with 49.
Today, as cricket becomes more and more commercialised, it is necessary to remember that Tendulkar was among the sport's first global brands, when his revolutionary management deal with WorldTel made him a multi-millionaire overnight. Yet it always came down to the sight of the little man with a heavy bat striking the ball cleanly through the covers or straight back past the bowler, collecting laurels from every opponent who came across him.

Of course, if you have been undergoing the rigours of international cricket since the age of 16, by the time you turn 30, your body will start to show signs of wear and tear. Tendulkar struggled too, but kept coming back for more, giving infinite joy to the billions of cricket fans across the world, not just in his homeland.

For Tendulkar, playing cricket was never a job – just a matter of habit, like it was for his fans to watch him bat each time and discuss every shot and every dismissal. It's understandable that it took him such a long time to realise it was time to go – there was nothing else he knew how to do but play cricket. 

"It's hard for me to imagine a life without playing cricket because it's all I have ever done since I was 11 years old. It's been a huge honour to have represented my country and played all over the world," he said in Thursday's statement. 

There will, of course, be those who will take the announcement as another example of Tendulkar's alleged quest for milestones. But the legacy he leaves behind in the hearts and minds of every cricket fan, budding player and even those with a passing interest, will possibly never be surpassed. 

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