Sachin - From India's Boy Wonder to world cricket's revered senior citizen

The ones who have followed the career of Sachin Tendulkar since those days do find it difficult to digest that the Boy Wonder who peered out of the pages of Sportstar is now the oldest cricketer in international cricket, turning a ripe old 39 today. © AFP

 

Sachin Tendulkar celebrates his 39th birthday today, 23 years after he started playing for India. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the journey which made the Boy Wonder the biggest name in world cricket.


 

February 1988. A sterling image is published in the pages of The Sportstar. A rapt conference in progress in the middle of the pitch during a hard fought Ranji Trophy knockout match. There is plenty to discuss. Batting second on a turning Secunderabad Gymkhana track against the seasoned Arshad Ayub and the skilled Venkatapathy Raju, four down with not too many on the board.

 

On one side of the picture towers a battle-scarred Dilip Vengsarkar, captain of Bombay and India, every inch the hard-core professional, with the celebrated Bombay abhorrence for defeat. However, even in the heat of combat, the hint of a smile seems to break through his visage, a whiff of amusement in spite of the determined men from Hyderabad who hover aroundoutside the frame.

 

Dwarfed by the tallest of the great Indian batsmen stands a 15- year old schoolboy, hardly amounting to five feet three in his cricket shoes; a pensive expression merging into cheeks still pudgy with baby fat, naughty curls desperate to break through the tightly fitted seriousness of a county cap.

 

No one can look at the picture without sharing the obvious mirth of Vengsarkar. That day, the senior statesman and the schoolboy added 118, posting half-centuries, and Bombay sneaked ahead by 13 slender runs – ultimately triumphing by six wickets.

 

Nine months later, the diminutive kid was plundering sixes off Abdul Qadir. One and a half years down the line he notched his first Test century. And within a few seasons, the boy had burst into the man’s world, turning it upside down, stamping his signature as the best in business.He would remain at the peak for decades, conquering obscure summits that lay beyond the realms of cricketing fantasies when he started his innings.

 

The ones who have followed the career of Sachin Tendulkar since those days do find it difficult to digest that the Boy Wonder who peered out of the pages of Sportstar is now the oldest cricketer in international cricket, turning a ripe old 39 today.

 

The journey through time has left golden dust in its wake, mixed with traces of as yet undiscovered precious metalsto be realised and lamented once he no longer takes the field. Milestones have been transcended and many new ones carved with the gilt edged tools of a master craftsman. A total of 33,000 runs and a century of centuries have rewritten and transformed the annals of Indian cricket, from after-words and appendices to leading chapters. When he emerged on the scene in the 57th year of India’s Test cricket history, the country had won 43 and lost 89 Tests. In the 23 years that have followed, the win-loss ratio has received a hurtling tug towards the positive axis, with 69 victories and 58 losses. The changes in the ODI fortunes have been equally spectacular. The asinine bunch of curious carpers may continue to suffer delusions about his match-winning abilities, but facts and figures get more and more difficult to ignore.

 

For many, Tendulkar has been the lodestar that reassures one with constancy, a vindication that nature’s laws continue as usual. The rhythmic screams as he emerges from the shades of the pavilion, the signature glance at the sun, the deafening roar as he leans into a drive … a world without these universal constants simply does not exist in memory and imagination. The concept is frightening, the unfamiliar alternate universe fraught with the unknown.There are cricketers who play today, scribes who chronicle the game, none of whom had seen the light of day when the young Tendulkar had donned the national colours for the first time. He seems to be eternal, as true and everlasting as Old Father Time who removes the bails at Lord’s.

 

Yet, the genius behind the permanence has changed through astute tuning of his brilliant game. As the body has aged, as expectations have taken their toll, as the lower back and elbow have been overworked and eroded, the technique has been modified to take time in its stride. Fraying of hand-eye coordination has been compensated by the riches of experience. The pulverising pull shot has become rarer while the pace of the ball is used more and more to dispatch short deliveries to the far corners of the fine third man. More runs come square of the wicket than down the ground, persuasion of maturity replacing directnessof youth. While it was foolhardy go in search of a beer while a young Tendulkar was at the wicket, every absent minute amounting to missed strokes of creativeinspiration, nowadays one can leave with the guarantee of stability that he will be still there when one returns. The marauder, the destroyer has turned compiler. And Indian cricket has been the one to gain.

 

A curious statistic shows that if age-wise scores of all specialist batsmen in Test cricket are considered, 39 ends up with the highest average. Not really surprising, since very few play till that age and the ones who do generally answer to the names Jack Hobbs, Don Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar.

 

So, should our insatiable desires hanker after yet another chapter of unprecedented glory in his mammoth book of accomplishments?

 

For now, let us just doff our caps to the great man and rejoice in the happy chance that we have shared our allotted quantum of time with his playing days.

 

(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful but sadly cricket-ignorant country of Switzerland. His author site is at http://www.senantix.com, his cricket blogs at http://senantixtwentytwoyards.blogspot.com and he can be followed on twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)