For 19 years Tendulkar has inspired his countrymen, writes Peter Roebuck
Sachin Tendulkar is an extraordinary cricketer whose durability and skill have for many ears uplifted his country’s cricket team. Now he holds the game’s most prized batting record. It has been a magnificent, underestimated achievement. Ever since he first appeared as precocious teenager Tendulkar has known nothing except exorbitant expectations.
It is no small thing to become public property at 16. Nor has there been any hiding place. Not for sportsman the luxury of private studios. Every time he leaves his home it is an appearance; he loves swanky cars but can drive only in the dead of night. It is against this background that his career must be judged.
Spirit still intact
Remarkably, Tendulkar has managed to retain his health and reputation through it all. His body might be complaining but his spirit endures and he seems immune to stress and sickness.
During the course of his tumultuous career Don Bradman suffered several serious setbacks. Tendulkar has even managed to retain a semblance of normality in his life, a wife, children who tease him and egg him on, friends, a restaurant, and the same smile.
Throughout there has been something in Tendulkar that set him apart. Partly it is the purity of his style. From the outset he could bat in the classical way. Contemporaries insist that he was not taught the game; it came from within, like an underground spring.
From the outset it has merely been a matter of correcting the bad habits that creep in the moment the brain sleeps. His strokes are played with a bat somehow broader and straighter than any other, and his feet seem to move effortlessly into position.
But it goes beyond facts and figures, style, sportsmanship, or else others could join him in his acclaim. Tendulkar has been the hero his country needed. Indians spend billions of dollars every year trying to lighten their skins. Advertisements for the appropriate creams are shown between overs. India knows that its film stars have not crossed cultural lines.
Booker prize winners cannot inspire a nation half as well as the sight of a demonstrably Asian boy repeatedly cracking feared bowling around. It was his combination of aggression and productivity that defined him. And he has been untarnished by scandal.
For 19 years Tendulkar has inspired his countrymen. Supporters cherish his introductory masterpieces, daring and almost cheeky, his hundreds scored in adversity, and his later more restrained efforts. It is idiotic to expect a man to be the same at 36 as at 16.
They remember his superb strokes, resounding straight drives, hooks and the back-foot punches past point that tells him everything is in its proper place, and his duels with Wasim Akram, Shane Warne and Brett Lee.
Accordingly it is fitting that he should become Test cricket’s highest scorer. Ordinarily the number of runs a player scores is not regarded as definitive. Apart from skill, the amassing of vast career tallies requires an ability to avoid injury, war and whim. But runs are hard-earned in Test cricket besides which longevity can be as much a bane as a boon.
All the more reason to respect this record for it tells a tale of many things, the boy who grew up before our eyes, the batsman who survived everything the bowlers or life could send his way.
Tendulkar may be in decline but he has been a constant champion for 19 years. He has had more on his shoulders than any contemporary and has managed to remain intact. Oh yes and he has scored a few runs along the way, and given immense pleasure to millions of people, Indian and otherwise.