By Karthik Parimal
None embodied cricket like Sachin Tendulkar in the 1990s for a kid growing up in India. His stance was relentlessly mimicked by the thousands who gripped the bat — in the backyard as well as representative cricket — and his mannerisms closely followed and emulated. He was revered, not just by the masses in his mystical country, but also by purists with impeccable attire watching from the fine confines of a venue as majestic as Lord’s.
In due course of time, his greatness transcended geographical boundaries. Upon meeting new people from different cultures here in the USA, there have been umpteen occasions of my obligatory “I’m from India” being followed with “Oh! So you’re from the land of Sachin Tendulkar; he’s just amazing.” These people were from other parts of Asia, and some of the countries don’t even play Test cricket. Yet, their respect for the little man was evident; it was genuine, unadulterated.
A punishing work ethic
Very few cricketers have topped the popularity charts globally like Tendulkar. While greatness certainly knows no limits, it knows what practice makes. “At the age of 14, all he knew was batting and he would bat all day; the coach would actually have to pull him out of the nets. I think that’s the reason he has been successful. It’s not just the talent he was born with but what he did with it,” his long-time team-mate Sourav Ganguly reiterated last evening. It wasn’t just one of the many cliché-ridden eulogies. Tendulkar’s affiliation with nets and the maidans of Mumbai are well-documented.
It is this work ethic that propelled him to the fore at a young age. From his house in Bandra (East) to Shivaji Park was not a long commute, but as a schoolboy he was moved to his uncle’s house, which was a stone’s throw away from his cricketing abode. Once there, he practiced for hours together, day in and day out. At one juncture, he played and trained for 55 days in-a-row, pausing only for lunch before collapsing on his sack at night. While the rest of his genre got sucked in by the trivialities, understandable considering their age, Tendulkar would silently perfect his craft, preparing for battle against the best; against men bigger than him. Even if that meant he had to be up at odd hours.
While the rest of the cricketing world watched in awe as this 16-year-old prodigy from India calmly graced the international stage, people from Mumbai were hardly surprised. Tales of his wizardry spread like wildfire in the region — especially after his feat for Shardashram Vidya Mandir, and when he nonchalantly cut, pulled and drove the Australian fast bowlers, it was just an affirmation of what they’d known all along. Krishnamachari Srikkanth, his first captain in Test cricket, too, was amazed by the dexterity of this young kid from the west of India, albeit not for the first time. It was a glimpse of what this steadfast mind would go on to achieve.
Persistence, persistence, persistence…
The long hours of toil that he had put in under the unforgiving sun held him in good stead. Seven years after his debut, Tendulkar was India’s lone ray of hope. He tore apart attacks in limited-overs cricket, was the bulwark of the side in his pristine whites and was even placed at the helm of proceedings. At the age of 23, he’d achieved at the highest level what a few first-rate players could manage after almost fifteen years of cricket. They say matches can seldom be won by just one man. Tendulkar, however, quashed that notion mercilessly. He led a nation of billion people to believe in miracles. He led them to believe that at times, part was greater than the whole. The Australian contingent that toured Sharjah in the summer of 1998 will testify to that. “We did not lose to a team called India, we lost to a man called Sachin,” Mark Taylor emphatically stated.
But through it all, India’s overdependence notwithstanding, the two other constant things were Tendulkar’s humility and his work ethic. During the World Cup of 2003, in South Africa, he would stay back after the team’s practice session, every single day, and have Shayamal — the side’s fitness trainer — throw short pitch balls at him. Although he’d bagged a significant number of feats by that point in his career, his love for the sport was intact. He finished as the tournament’s leading run-getter, averaging almost 62.
One year later, he was struck down by tennis elbow. His career was on tenterhooks, and certain sects believed the end was near. Nonetheless, the same principles that ensured his surge as a player helped him battle his injuries. He learnt about his body, about what exercises were harming and benefitting him, and religiously worked on reshaping his core. He emerged leaner, stronger and fitter and the doctors had no qualms in stating that it was mental toughness that had seen Tendulkar recuperate from all his injuries.
After deservedly basking in the glory of the team’s golden period, he stated there was one unfinished business — the World Cup. And how did he prepare for that? “I think I threw more balls in the nets to him than anyone else. It’s little wonder that he’s been so successful over so many years because he treats every cricketing day with humility and respect and works as hard as he can on his game. He just loves the game. He wants to be out there, he wants to hit balls, he wants to practise. But I think it’s the way he practises which is the key. It’s a great lesson for young cricketers. He doesn’t take one ball for granted in a practice session,” revealed Gary Kirsten, India’s coach at the time.
India duly bagged the 2011 World Cup and Tendulkar was the second highest run-getter this time around. “Sachin Tendulkar has carried Indian cricket on his shoulders for 21 years. So it was fitting that we carried him on our shoulders after this win,” said Virat Kohli after a lap of honour with Sachin perched atop the shoulders of his team-mates. The statement could not have been more apt, and only Tendulkar’s small-yet-colossal shoulders were capable of sustaining the pressure exerted by Indian cricket. His work ethic must be credited, for that trained him to balance gargantuan weights with utmost ease right from a young age.
The final lap
As he takes his final steps towards twilight, the most ardent of his supporters or the staunchest of critics can’t help but pause and express gratitude for this wizard’s tireless service to the game of cricket; to the joy he delivered for over two decades. Tendulkar was a product of talent combined with immaculate principles; one that led him to score over 34,000 international runs, inclusive of a hundred centuries. Like stated by him in an emotional farewell speech, cricket is all he’d dreamt of and he lived this dream every day for the last 24 years of his life.
There is no questioning the fact that Tendulkar’s groundwork for his swansong, his last two Tests, will be as meticulous as it was for the 198 that preceded them, but regardless of his willow performs, cricket’s Mozart deserves a raucous send-off. Can he fade into the backdrop with a few more of those surreal cover-drives?
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)