Sachin Tendulkar at 40: Nothing left to prove, no more worlds to conquer, all missions accomplished

When it’s time to pack up his cricketing kit forever, Sachin Tendulkar can look back at his career with the kind of satisfaction that no cricketer living or dead has, for nobody played that long over different formats and achieved as much as the Little Master © Getty Images

Sachin Tendulkar (born April 24, 1973), the erstwhile boy wonder, turns 40 today. Arunabha Sengupta rejoices in his lasting glory, and wishes that the glow remains undimmed and untampered till the very last day of his career.

The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm Aldous Huxley.

When one looks at Sachin Tendulkar on the field, joy, zest and passion seem to overflow from every act of the man. It is as if time’s arrow had tarried, waiting for the incredible magic to unfold, when Tendulkar had made his way into the ground for the first time. He seems to have remained perpetually at that age of innocence, carrying with him the ecstasy of playing the game for the first time.

In spite of the extreme fanaticism that surrounds the man and his deeds, bordering on worship on one side and near vilification on the other, he has gone about his cricket with a spirit of purity. It seems to have even retained his boyish face, refusing to allow his voice to break. By all counts, he seems still 16, with 24 years of experience.

Now the date on the calendar flips over, and that age dreaded by every man registers against his name. A generation of his admirers, having grown up watching his multi-faceted genius, will perhaps themselves be prodded into feeling the effects of advancing years. Their limbs will feel the strain and their eyes will start squinting, with the realisation has Sachin Tendulkar has turned 40 —wondering where time has flown.

For many, Tendulkar batting for India has been as much a part of life as the rising sun and the rhythmic change the seasons. It may be just a number, but when the name that has reigned over consciousness turns 40, it has the power to make a nation feel old.

His own man?

What about the man himself?

Benjamin Franklin voiced the words of wisdom: “At 20, the will reigns; at 30 the wit; and at 40 the judgement.”

The career of Tendulkar has flowed with the times.

In his late teens and 20s he had been the master of his fortunes, when deeds were scripted much according to the wills of his prodigious talents. When his willow had dominated the world with glory and majesty of the high noon of greatness.

Then there were the niggles and injuries, the doubts and dilemmas of the early thirties. He was written off by many, most famously Ian Chappell. And he had come through the ordeal. Wisdom had found its way. The technique had been adjusted, the game modified, the physical effects of the age countered with the many splendored jewels of experience. The steel in his resolve had been tempered by the ordeals. The period of 2007 to 2011 saw perhaps the supreme period of the great batsman in a state of enlightenment, phenomenal powers touched by the divine.

The will and wit have performed their deeds, now perhaps is the time for judgement.

When Tendulkar sprints around in the outfield even today, scurrying after balls with all the ardour and exhilaration of a teenager, there is little doubt that the game throbs in his veins with the same vim and verve as the day he first played for India. The date claims he is 40, but the heart remains unwrinkled.
Yet, when he goes out to bat, does he relish the moment as much as he did even a couple of years ago? Does the challenge of outwitting the opposition continue to delight him, spurring him on to don the Indian colours again and again?

Do we not see tell-tale signs of worry and weariness? The crowning creativity of his craft exchanged for the mundane struggle for self-preservation? Is it because of pressure, doubts and withering reflexes?  Has the arrow of time finally shaken itself free from the hypnotic trance and resumed its flight?
It is foolhardy to try and gauge a genius of the stature of Tendulkar, a talent of a kind that graces us once in a while across several lifetimes.

The great man may yet find a way back to form, his venerable willow may chuckle yet again with hilarious mirth as critics wipe egg off their faces. No one will be happier if that does indeed happen, and the doubtful voices are reduced to absolute silence — as in 2007.

According to the Franklin quote, 40 is the time for judgement. One only hopes that this judgement about the road ahead will be his own. Not clouded or, worse still, dictated by the many powerful interested parties. By those whose banknotes have been printed on pages borrowed from the Tendulkar story. We hope that small packets of time are not wheedled from the man by manipulative transactions.

One of the downsides of unprecedented success is that it catapults an individual into a public figure, twisting the key of one’s own fortunes away from one’s grasp.

The immortal tale of the gallant hero has been penned in flourishing script on gilt-edged pages. In his 40 years he has provided enough text to provide for lifelong commentary. Yet, the last chapter seems to be proceeding on thinning paper, with dodgy printing and smudge marks.

On the occasion of his birthday, tributes have flown in from far and wide. It is but natural. No one who claims to know the game can deny the absolute greatness of the master and his deeds. And whether or not he stops now, the monuments that he has built along his journey will continue to inspire elegies. However, the recent accolades have been encashed from the investments of the past. There has been very little to show for the efforts of last year.

We have long believed that he will know when his time is up. When the great heart no more desires to go out there and engage in battles, he will himself opt out. We do hope that eventually, when the river of time finally carries him to newer pastures, he will know when to step off the boat.

It will be a pity if the overflowing joie de vivre, that has for so long dispersed the enormous pressures of expectations, flows no more through his veins. It will be sad if he carries on under the obligations brought about by erstwhile achievements. If his ever-soaring career graph is pulled down by the burden that has come with his own unparalleled greatness.

Sachin Tendulkar has nothing left to prove, no more worlds to conquer, hardly a worthy soul to cast doubts on his achievements. As he completes his fourth decade, we wait in anticipation of that final flip of fortune, that glorious twist in the tail, the final masterstroke of the virtuoso.

We hope that the final page of his saga is recorded with the same flair that has characterised his career, and most importantly, authored solely by his own gifted hands.

(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)