The Reuters global sports blog
Importance of being Sachin Tendulkar
For 24 years Sachin had been India’s happiness index.
If a common man, while wading through the struggles of his daily life, smiled, it was mostly when Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar took guard for India. All that has come to an end with his retirement.
India may never find another sporting icon who singularly succeeded in making the nation forget its faults – a unifying factor of rare stature. No player, in contemporary cricket, has evoked spells of pure joy with his craft and conduct for so long – 24 years. Life, for the nation of a billion people, will go on but never be the same again.
India, in 1989, was at a crossroads. Decades of Congress rule had come to an end. New hopes and new horizons seemed possible as V.P. Singh took over as the prime minister.
Team India was also on a similar path. Sunil Gavaskar had retired; Kapil Dev and Dilip Vengsarkar were past their prime. On Nov. 15, a 16-year-old Sachin joined the ranks to face the world’s most fearsome bowling attack of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younus and Abdul Qadir.
The beginning was promising, with two half-centuries. More than the runs Sachin had proved one thing to both himself and the world – he was good enough to take on, and be a part of, the heartless and punishing arena of international cricket.
Nine months later, this time in England, Sachin was chasing his elusive debut test century having missed it earlier against the Kiwis, at Napier, by 12 runs. It came in the second Test at Old Trafford at the age of 17 years 112 days. What the teenager had achieved (119 not out) was not just a statistical milestone, he saved India from certain defeat. After being set a steep target of 408 in the fourth innings, India’s top order crumbled like cookies and were 109 for four when Sachin walked in. A mere 18 runs later, skipper Azharuddin perished for 11, leaving India at 127 for five.
With almost two sessions left in the match, even a stalwart would have been shaken. But Sachin had a different script in mind. He not only soaked up the pressure of imminent defeat, a cordon of four slips and a gully and only tailender to follow, he launched a counter-attack. Though dropped at 10 by off-spinner Eddie Hemmings off his own bowling, he batted with remarkable poise and valour. With a frame of just five feet five inches, Sachin often stood on his toes to the rising deliveries of Angus Fraser, Devon Malcolm and Chris Lewis and unleashed scorching drives on the off side.
What impressed the connoisseurs and commentators alike, among them Gavaskar and Geoffrey Boycott, was the purity of his craft – with a bat making a beautiful arc, starting high above the right shoulder and ending well past the left. And yet, he could pull out a shot from his repertoire that was far removed from convention – an audacious slash over a cordon of four slips and a gully to the third man fence. He could also pierce any field with the precision of a laser-guided missile – all at the age of 17.
With an unbeaten 160-run partnership with Manoj Prabhakar (67 not out) for the seventh wicket, the young lad from Mumbai had achieved a dignified draw for India. The home of cricket, England, had witnessed the blossoming of a butterfly, who could sting like a bee.
India had found a batting prodigy who could change the fate of a match with his talent and temperament. Here was a player who respected his opposition but had scant regard for their reputation or history.
Geniuses have a sense of timing deeply ingrained in them. They choose the biggest platform to exhibit their prowess. Sachin was no exception; he chose Australia.
After riding a crest in Sydney with a splendid 148, and in the process becoming the youngest player to score a century in Australia, Sachin came to Perth in the final match of the five-test series. Already down 0-3 in the series, the Indian team was demoralised at the WACA. The team was waiting to capitulate, as it neither had discipline nor defiance.
Sachin, now 18, hadn’t acquired those traits from his team mates – his DNA was designed differently. He was determined to take on the mighty Aussies.
On day two on the lightening fast track in Perth, India were predictably 100 for three when Sachin took guard. What then happened was something Australian spectators, including the great commentator Richie Benaud, had seldom seen. Sachin batted with rare abandon.
Craig McDermott and Merv Hughes were tormenting the other batsmen with their line and bounce but Sachin played to a plan. He ingeniously covered the line and played his shots. He’d come forward and rock back in a matter of milliseconds to adjust to the length and crack imperious drives through the covers and mid-on.
Sachin scored a magnificent 114. Though Australia won the match by 300 runs, Sachin left a great cricketing nation dazzled by his elegance.
Now, Sachin had conquered two of the biggest rivals of the time, England and Australia. Only South Africa were left. Eight months later he overwhelmed them with a fearless 111 at Johannesburg and 73 at Cape Town.
In the first phase of his life, Sachin proved his extraordinary credentials. What he also did, though inadvertently, was sow the seeds of inspiration in the minds of young cricketers such as Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly (who was his room mate at Perth in 1992), V.V.S. Laxman and Virender Sehwag.
By 1997-98 Sachin had reached the peak of his powers. Now, his quest for excellence had added another dimension – the desire to dominate. It didn’t limit itself to personal glory; Sachin now wanted India to dominate as a team. Mission Desert Storm at Sharjah in April, 98 exhibited his idea of a new India. The explosive 143 and 134 against the Aussies laid down a new blueprint for the emerging India.
Now part of the dressing room, Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag and Anil Kumble had bought into Sachin’s quest for excellence. They not only wanted to excel at their craft but they wanted to win for India, both home and overseas.
After a less than successful attempt at captaincy, Sachin went back to what he knew best and what he was born for – batting. Captaincy fell into the lap of Ganguly and he led with vision and aggression.
In the spring of 2001, Ganguly led India to an incredible 2-1 test series victory against the top test side – Australia. At Eden Gardens, India played one of their finest tests and came from behind to win by 171 runs, riding on the sparkling innings of Laxman (281) and Dravid (180) and a newly discovered terminator – Harbhajan Singh (13 wickets). Sachin’s 12 years of inspirational cricket had spawned a new breed of champion cricketers.
The victory had stoked new fire. India, now under Ganguly, and with Sachin at the centre stage, wanted to win abroad. India now wanted to be a world beater. It came against England in 2002, when India, with one of their finest performances on foreign soil, defeated England by an innings and 46 runs at Headingley. Sachin had led the attack with a monumental 193 and Dravid (148) and Ganguly (128) had joined the party with majestic centuries. The series ended in a 1-1 draw but India had emerged as a force to reckon with in test cricket.
Sachin’s legacy of fearless batting was now being carried by the likes of Ganguly, Dravid, Sehwag and Laxman. With the maestro among them, they were feeding off his indomitable self-belief and learning the importance of playing to win. And it was not just limited to batsmen; Kumble and Harbhajan also belonged to the Sachin school of thought.
In the 2003 World Cup, Team India played like a champion side. One of the most enduring memories of the tournament was Sachin’s upper-cut against Shoaib Akhtar during that scintillating knock of 98 against Pakistan. Sachin proved that no one had mastered the art of batting under pressure better than him. The trophy though still eluded India as they fell short in the final against Australia.
The hurt rankled for a while but there were new frontiers to be conquered. Australia had to be collared in their own territory. The Indian team toured Australia, in Dec. 2003, with possibly the best batting line-up of all time. Captain Ganguly’s glorious knock of 144 in the opening test at Brisbane had made their intentions clear. Dravid made the second test at Adelaide his very own. Dravid’s complete domination of the Aussie bowling attack was reminiscent of the spirit Sachin showed in his batting.
Dravid’s gorgeous 233 and 72 not out, Laxman’s sublime 148 and medium pacer Ajit Agarkar’s fine effort of six for 41 scripted a famous test victory. India went into the third test at Melbourne leading 1-0; it had never happened before.
The Aussies came back in the series with an emphatic nine-wicket victory at the MCG. In the last test at Sydney, Sachin played one of the most authoritative innings of his career – 241 not out. Though the test and series ended in a 1-1 draw, India had scored a moral victory over Australia.
Riding high on the performance Down Under, India went to Pakistan. India, by now, had forged itself into a formidable side and in a fine collective effort managed an historic 2-1 test series win. The new India had emerged. And it believed in Sachinism – a fearless brand of cricket.
Though inadvertently and yet quite decisively, Sachin had changed another aspect of Indian cricket – endorsement deals of international proportions. The corporate world wanted to associate itself with ‘Brand Sachin’. Now worth $160 million, it was Sachin who brought serious money into Indian cricketers’ lives.
Another generation of players, who had grown-up watching the exploits of Sachin, was now ready to make their mark. Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir and Zaheer Khan were leading this brigade of young cricketers. They announced their arrival by winning the inaugural World T20 championship in 2007.
Under Dhoni’s captaincy, India ended Australia’s supremacy in test cricket. Team India went on to become the top test side on Dec. 6, 2009, with an emphatic victory over Sri Lanka at Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai, Sachin’s hometown.
Mumbai was to become a theatre of another milestone in Sachin’s career. In his sixth attempt, and after 22 years, Sachin finally became a part of a World Cup winning team in 2011. It was the greatest day of his phenomenal career.
On Nov. 16, 2013, perhaps the most complete cricketer, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar received an intensely emotional send-off from his team mates and the crowd gathered at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium for his 200th and final test – against the West Indies. The image of Dhoni and Virat Kohli carrying Sachin on their shoulders during the victory lap and thousands of fans cheering them on will remain etched in the minds of Indian people forever. And so will be Sachin’s farewell speech.
However, Sachin will be happy to see that another crop of young cricketers in Shikhar Dhawan, Kohli and Rohit Sharma are ready to carry on his legacy of hard work, immaculate conduct, fearless batting and desire to dominate the cricket world.
Thanks Sachin for being an exemplary ambassador of this gentleman’s game. Now India will have to look for another happiness index.