Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar announced his retirement from Tests on Thursday. The entire cricketing fraternity has been on standstill ever since. Tributes have been pouring in from all corners of the world, which was sort of expected, but somehow it does not quite sink in. Shrikant Shankar explains why this is still a surprise and a shock to one and all.
Sachin Tendulkar has been the torch-bearer of Indian cricket for the last quarter of a century. Ever since he made his debut all those years ago against arch-rivals Pakistan in 1989, he has been destined for great things. He came into the Indian team at a time when the 1983 World Cup-winning squad had all but retired. India faced a true test in international cricket and Tendulkar was the man seen to guide them through. The 1990s were not the best period for Indian cricket. At the time, the general consensus was that if Sachin Tendulkar scored, then India would be OK.
For large parts this was true. The 1996 World Cup was evidence that only if Tendulkar performed, did India win. He literally carried the Indian team for the best part of the 1990s. Then came a phase in Indian cricket that relieved some pressure off Tendulkar. Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid announced their arrival in grand manner in 1996. The trio were seen as the men, who would lead India into a new era. In all this while, he was also made captain of the Indian team. Although, captaincy never brought out the best in him, his performances in Australia in 1999-00 only reaffirmed the fact that India depended very heavily on Tendulkar.
He handed over captaincy to Ganguly and then began the rise of Indian cricket. Free from captaincy duties, Tendulkar could focus on his batting. After a tough beginning to the ICC World Cup 2003, Tendulkar led India all the way to the final. They lost to a superior Australian team, but Tendulkar had again showed that he was the best in the business as he finished as the leading run-scorer. The next few years saw a few hiccups along the way, but with the likes of Dravid, Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, batting responsibilities were shared.
The ICC World Cup 2007 was a disaster for Indian cricket. But soon after came the glory years. India were led by the brilliance of MS Dhoni and Tendulkar found a purple patch for the next four years. His batting was at an all-time high as centuries after centuries flowed. Tendulkar scored 16 Test centuries between the 2007 World Cup and the 2011 World Cup. He also became the first batsman to score a One-Day International (ODI) double-century. All this saw him win the ICC World Player of the Year award for 2010. India also became the No 1 team in Test cricket.
He was in sublime form as India won the ICC World Cup 2011. His childhood dream was fulfilled. Then began the downward phase in his career. Heavy losses in England and Australia saw the likes of Dravid and Laxman call it a day. He scored his 100th international century in 2012. He announced his retirement from ODIs by the end of 2012. People were expecting him to announce his retirement from Tests in the near future. A 4-0 whitewash of Australia was seen as the ideal way to call it a day, but he did not announce any decision.
For the past five-six years, he had picked and chose the series he wanted to play, especially in ODIs. Many felt that this was to ease the shock that would follow if he retired abruptly. As his form did not seem to improve, there were voices beginning to rise that Tendulkar had to retire. Well the announcement has arrived and the day Sachin Tendulkar would no longer walk onto the field is not far away. West Indies will be the team that he plays the last two Tests of his career, thus completing a grand 200 Tests.
Tendulkar’s best years as an intimidating batsman came in the 1990s. Although he scored a lot of runs in the 2000s, he was not the Tendulkar of old. It is an irony that Tendulkar’s best came when India struggled. He holds all sorts of records that a batsman would dream of having. As said before, Tendulkar carried the Indian team through thick and thin. People worship him as a God. He is by far the most celebrated and renowned cricketer the world has ever seen. Cricket will be poorer without him.
Now you know why it still remains as a surprise and a shock. It might take several days for this to quite sink in. One thing is for certain — Sachin Tendulkar will be missed. The game will never see another Sachin Tendulkar again.
(Shrikant Shankar previously worked with Mobile ESPN, where he did audio commentary for many matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20. He has also written many articles involving other sports for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)