The ICC World Cup 1996 came about; Sachin Tendulkar was magnificent for India; the team clicked whenever he delivered © Getty Images
Sachin Tendulkar is arguably India’s greatest cricketer and one of the best of all-time in the world. His name generates the kind of fanfare unseen in most parts of the world. Tendulkar is a cricketing God to us mere mortals. To Shrikant Shankar it is no different and the author explores the reasons why the Little Master is his favourite cricketer.
There is a moment in every human being’s life, where he or she will take a liking to a particular aspect, event, person, or even a concept. The term “love at first sight” may sound a cliché out of books for young adults, but taking a liking towards anything on first impression is actually not rare. There are, of course, some who dispute that role, while others believe in it wholeheartedly. I have had many such moments as a human being. One of the earliest moments I can remember is me becoming a fan of the first cricketer I came to know — Sachin Tendulkar.
It has been months since has been tagged a “former cricketer”; however, there are reasons of his remaining my favourite sportsman, let alone cricketer. Journalists are supposed to be neutral: however, even they are human, and on April 24, 2014, I write not as an author but as a fan. There are many emotional reasons why Tendulkar is my favourite sportsman, but I try to cast emotion aside today. Like mentioned above, all it took me to become a fan of the Little Master was a moment. From thereon, he has always been my favourite.
The first memory I have of Tendulkar goes way back in the early 1990s. Children playing cricket in India is akin to a duck in water. I was already playing gully cricket with many friends, but at the time the game was all about hitting a tennis ball as far as you can. One of my earliest memories of watching television also is the same as watching Tendulkar. While I do not know which year it was to be precise or which game India played and which team was it against, I do remember that Tendulkar was a very young cricketer. For all his batting prowess and the records he has set, it was actually his bowling that got me interested.
Someone had thrown him the ball and he walked to his bowling mark, all the while smiling (have you ever seen a smile more innocent on the field?). Tendulkar was bowling right-am mediums-pace, and his first ball had beaten the batsman moving away. He walked back to the beginning of his run-up. All the while that childlike exuberance and smile had not gone away. Tendulkar had given me an impression that he was truly enjoying his game.
That is what sports has always all about. It iswork for some, but it also a dream and people should enjoy their game. Thus started my true love for the sport: first by watching cricket on the television and then playing wherever we could.
It did not take long to understand that Tendulkar was actually a batsman who bowled. The years went by and Tendulkar had become a household name. Every single friend of mine had been converted into a fan. There was only Tendulkar. We all wanted to bat (even the left-handers!) like Tendulkar
The World Cup 1996 came about; he was magnificent for India; the team clicked whenever he delivered, but the tournament ended on a sour note and Tendulkar had been stumped in a freak incident. He could not take it to the level he would have loved to. At the same time had grown dearer to me (along with millions of others) as a cricketer, for the simple fact that he was India’s only hope. This is no disrespect to the other cricketers around, but as a young kid I got the feeling that India ticked when Tendulkar did.
Then came the likes of Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag. Much of the burden was lifted from Tendulkar’s shoulders. There came others who could win matches on their own for India. The team had become better and kept improving as the millennium embraced cricket. Tendulkar’s wicket, however, continued to remain the one most cherished by the opposition. As long as he was in the middle there was hope. Sportspersons have come and gone, but not many have enjoyed the kind of adulation Tendulkar has. Even when he stepped down from captaincy after a two-Test series against South Africa, there was more admiration that came his way.
India had entered the ICC World Cup 2003 with form not on their sides. Tendulkar was batting at four, but Ganguly had made the switch and promoted the Little Master to his preferred opener’s slot. After two difficult games (both of which witnessed Tendulkar deliver), India started to click.
Then came the tie everyone was waiting eagerly for: India took Pakistan on at Centurion. Despite all the expectations and pressure, Tendulkar played what is widely considered as his best innings in One-Day Internationals (ODIs). It is an irony that for a man who scored 100 hundreds, an innings of 98 is his best, or at least one of his best. That innings is right up there with his two “desert-storm” knocks. The second of which was on this day in 1998.
Australia rightfully deserved to win the World Cup and Tendulkar was the best player of the tournament. Again my belief in Tendulkar had grown. His numbers in World Cups is far greater than his otherwise brilliant records. The 2007 World Cup was one to forget for India, but not Tendulkar. His form just soared from then on. He had one of his finest years in 2010. Tendulkar became the first batsman to score a double century in ODIs. He then had a brilliant 2011 World Cup and finally realised his dream.
There could have been nothing sweeter for the fans than India and Tendulkar winning the World Cup on home soil at Mumbai. His form took a dip after that. There were clamours for his retirement, but we thought differently. We knew he was well past his best, but always wanted that one innings to silence his critics and the cynics.
To see him not perform was painful, but it pained us more to imagine what the man would have gone through. The people, who throughout his heydays chanted his name, wanted him to go. Fans are, after all, meant to be fickle. Tendulkar had deserved a chance to decide when to walk out of the game. He did so not very long ago. The reception and adulation he got on November 16, 2013 at his home ground at Wankhede Stadium was something to behold. The speech he delivered had moistened our eyes.
Tendulkar had entered cricket as a prodigy and retired as legend of the sport. What the scoreboards do not tell us is about his humility. It is not easy for fans to gauge how true that is without experiencing it firsthand.
I have been fortunate to have experienced it. Back in 1998 there was a drawing competition in his housing society in Bandra. I had gone there with my family and friends. Tendulkar was around and he came to visit as there were many children taking part. As soon as he had arrived the focus from the competition had gone. He realised what was going on and decided to move away with his childhood friends.
The child in me refused to understand why the great man would do such a thing. It took me years to realise why he had acted that way. If one is keen on doing something, Tendulkar’s advice has always been to do it the right way. He had taken himself away from the spotlight that day because it was a competition organised by a lot of people and it was their time and money. He respected their efforts.
Once the competition was over, he willingly posed with numerous children for photographs and gave them autographs. Star-struck as we were, we asked a lot of questions and to our delight Tendulkar answered them with a lot of enthusiasm. He did not seem as a person who thought he was better than the rest. He spoke as a person who was grounded and humble. That is why he gets the admiration and fanfare wherever he goes. His humility sets him apart.
That is why I, like over a billion others across the globe, am a fan and Tendulkar remains my favourite cricketer — and even my favourite sportsman (which is saying something, since cricket is one of the sports I am hooked to!). For us mere mortals, Sachin Tendulkar is immortal.
Many happy returns of the day, Sir!
Read more here: Happy Birthday, Sachin Tendulkar!
(Shrikant Shankar is a writer/reporter at CricketCountry.com. Previously he has done audio commentary for various matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20 for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)