By Eric Simons
There are a few things that are most striking about Sachin Tendulkar: His humility, his approachability and his limitless passion for the game.
Sachin is revered like very few I have met and interacted — absolutely grounded. I always sensed a genuine feeling of gratitude for the skills he has been blessed with. He defines cricket in so many ways and has achieved everything there is to achieve. Yet, his thirst for the game and the desire to learn more about it remains unquenched. He played for 24 long years not for the milestones but simply because he loves playing.
When I was with the Indian team from 2010 to 2012 I noticed Sachin’s enthusiasm for the game was infectious. Anyone who watched him prepare and talk about the game couldn’t help but be inspired and humbled. Sachin is naturally a huge presence in any group and none more so than the Indian cricket team. He was an icon to every one of the team, including his fellow super stars. Yet he remained approachable to every member of the group and would spend time discussing broader issues of the game with the youngsters in the team and give them advice about their own game. I genuinely believe he was the inspiration for virtually every one of the young cricketers who play for India. And when they were privileged enough to become his teammate, he didn’t disappoint them.
The consistency of his preparation is something that always stood out for me. He has a record every cricketer in the world aspires for, yet he never compromises on his preparation for the next match. Perhaps that is exactly why he has the record he does. He never compromised the process we always talk about as cricketers. He never took success for granted and recognised that it lay in hard work and dedication.
Having achieved what he had and having played for as long as he did, many would have excused him letting a few seemingly minor things slip a little. But Sachin was different. It didn’t matter if it was the first ball of the day or the last ball of a long Test match day in the field, I never once saw Sachin not do what every youngster is taught from a very young age — walk in with the bowler. If you want to understand the man and why he was as successful as he was and why he played for the length of time he did, you only had to witness and understand that commitment and dedication to doing it right.
There were a lot of cricketers who have been compared with him — especially the likes of Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis and many more. But it is always difficult exercise because each has unique qualities and attributes that made them special. The one thing that is common in all would be the drive to succeed and achieve greatness. Greatness does not happen by accident. Many of them have retired, but the game of cricket always moves on. Even Sachin would understand that while he strode the cricketing arena as a defining player of his era, the game has to be bigger than any individual.
The game is poorer every time a great player leaves the stage for the last time — probably even more so when Sachin leaves. The influence and legacy he leaves, however, will lives on. The young Indian team we see today have picked up the mantle and are continuing to make the nation proud. Besides Sachin’s statistical contribution over the years, his unseen legacy is perhaps the fact is that many of them are there because he inspired them.
I remember during the 2011 ICC World Cup, the team felt tremendous pressure of expectations going into the tournament. And more so because it was a World Cup at home. We workshopped, dealing with the pressure and how they would handle it. Sachin made the point that the players should not see themselves as “carrying a nation’s hopes, but rather a nation carrying the team.” I thought that was a powerful image and words, especially coming from Sachin, which helped the team deal with expectations.
It was an incredible privilege to be able to be a part of the Indian cricket team for two and a half years. Sachin gave so much of himself to India — and, indeed, the world. Now it is his time, although I am not sure he will ever really be able to just live a ‘normal’ life.
Enjoy your retirement, Sachin. You have earned it. And thank you for the memories.
— As told to Shrikant Shankar
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(Eric Simons is a former South African cricketer who played 23 One-Day Internationals as an all-rounder. He was head coach of the South African national side and later India’s bowling coach. He was part of the Indian team’s backroom staff when they won the 2011 World Cup)