Sachin Tendulkar did not only change the face of Indian cricket, he revolutionised One-Day cricket and gave the average Indian reasons to smile. Arunabha Sengupta says that listing great moments is futile since his whole career has been a saga of brilliance; his contribution goes beyond cricket.
When he made his debut, India had won 71 matches and lost 89. The win loss ratio stood at 0.79.
Twenty-three years later, as he leaves the scene the exchanges stand at 401 wins to 367 defeats. The ratio has been dragged up by the bootstraps and hauled to 1.09.
When he came in, the maximum number of hundreds scored by an Indian batsman stood at four. The biggest collection of runs hovered around 3500.
He leaves the stage with 18,426 runs and 49 centuries.
Sachin Tendulkar has not just left his mark in One-Day International cricket. He has revamped the landscape, adding gigantic peaks where there were gentle hillocks, infinite oceans for pretentious puddles.
True, the era has changed. The dynamics of limited-overs cricket have undergone massive transitions. The rules, the approach, the equipment and the mentality has metamorphosed it into almost a new sport.
However, no one has had such an impact on the game as the Little Champion. The nearest rival stands 4,722 runs behind, 17 centuries short. Ricky Ponting came closest to matching his runs, average and strike rate in all their immensity. Yet, Tendulkar easily scores six runs per hundred balls more than the Australian great.
Jacques Kallis is the only one in the 10,000 plus club who averages fractionally more than Tendulkar, but he scores at 72.97 in contrast to Tendulkar’s 86 runs per hundred balls.
The overall numbers are phenomenal, any which way one looks at it,
And Indian cricket in the ODI scene has never been the same after his emergence.
When he came in, the Prudential Cup had been won, followed by the Benson and Hedges Trophy in Australia. There had been usual voices steeped in the immediate, who had argued about India being one of the best in the world. However, the team continued to be thrashed regularly and resoundingly by superior powers – West Indies, Pakistan and sometimes Australia.
With Tendulkar, the image of Indian cricket underwent metamorphosis. ODI ceased to be a sport in which there were flashes of hope and spurts of giant killing while being forever steeped in the lower rungs of mediocrity. This phenomenal talent introduced the concept that India could be one of the strongest nations in cricket and consistently.
Layers and layers of greatness
In the aftermath of a great, great career, it makes sense to sit back and relive the greatest moments. One remembers Viv Richards playing that incredible innings in the 1979 World Cup final, Kapil Dev scripting that 175 against Zimbabwe without television coverage.
The problem with Tendulkar is that with 49 hundreds and 96 fifties and 234 wins in his career, the entire career is a magical journey. To pick and choose great moments is fraught with a feeling of helplessness. What does one capture and which gems does one leave out?
The valiant 62 against a rampaging Allan Donald to win it for India in 1991? The couple of sand storms in Sharjah that had Tony Greig in delirious ruptures of intoxication? The Centurion masterpiece against Shoaib Akhtar? The two gems of the VB series? The double hundred at the age of 36?
If we file away these moments of surreal brilliance and revisit the two decades and more, we discover innumerable epics that continue to emerge… a series of superhuman feats that would have been the pinnacle of any other career, but is reduced to a footnote in the case of Sachin Tendulkar.
What else would one call that breathtaking 186 not out at Hyderabad or the 163 at Christchurch or the 141 against Australia at Dhaka? Yes, we don’t even remember some of them.
If one scours the memory of the last 23 years, the moments of sublime greatness stand in multiple layers. From the day he stepped out to hit Abdul Qadir for four sixes in an over in an unofficial ODI, to wandering around Wankhede atop Virat Kohli’s shoulders, it has been one saga of supremacy – a stamp of batting genius the world has never witnessed before and has little chance of seeing since.
And lest we hear those mathematically challenged morons clamouring about the correlation of his centuries to Indian defeats, let me point out that scored more hundreds in victories than any other cricketer has scored in his career.
Once in a lifetime
Greatness of this magnitude comes once in a rare lifetime.Yet, his contribution does not end with his runs and centuries and the victories he engineered or even the World Cup.
He not only changed the game and the position of India in the cricketing landscape, he made cricket the symbol of national hope, the spirit of the country that ran through its veins.
Sachin Tendulkar vanquishing foes to win it for India were special days in the life of the average Indian when cricket made him forget the myriads of problems of existence, the borrowed platform which brought smiles to his face while there were thousands of peripheral reasons twisting his forehead into frowns. Thankfully, it happened again and again and again, giving the common man reason to cherish, hope and live.
Every run that he scored bore the millions of hopes and dreams of the nation which stood still to watch him bat. Every boundary from his blade raised the national happiness quotient. Every time he raised his bat it was the spirits of the countrymen that was elevated to ecstasy.
As Sunil Gavaskar pointed out, “It’s not just Sachin Tendulkar’s runs. These are runs the crowd feel are their own.”
With the retirement of Tendulkar from One-Day Internationals, the world loses a champion. Along with it, India loses the national icon, the accepted face of the country, the indicator of the happiness at any point of time.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)