How did Sachin become the greatest ? Why is he called so ? What makes him so special and keeps him apart from the rest of the players who played with him and before him ? Why does the people worship him like a God all the way ?
Such questions are aplenty. But the answer is only one – because his name is Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
For a boy who took up cricket seriously at the age of 11, scored in a mammoth 664-run partnership in school, and made his international debut 5 years later at the age of 16 after playing just a single season of domestic cricket (scoring a hundred on debut in each of Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy and Irani Trophy), he was nothing short of a child prodigy with a god-given talent. He could have faltered soon, buckling under the pressure of international cricket or losing his touch after the initial spark, like the stories of many others we have witnessed over the years in sports. That is where this kid became special. Not only did he live up to the expectations of his well-wishers and selectors by playing admirably well in his early years with Team India, but he kept getting better ever since and ended up breaking and achieving almost anything and everything out there in the record books. He made a believer out of every cricket fan out there, created new fans around the world and took the game entirely to a whole new level where it’s never been to.
Each sports format strives for a hero, for them to show the world – “here’s the one that played our game in the best way possible”. And Sachin was cricket’s favorite poster boy. He was much more than just a great cricketer who wowed both the fans, peers and opponents equally on and off the ground. He meant much more than that to the people of India and other passionate fans who follows the game like a religion. I need not look any further than my mom. She doesn’t know the game much and never follows it. But, if there ever a time when I say that India is playing, my mom would ask “Is Sachin playing?”. If answer is yes, then the next question directly skips to the end… ‘Is he batting? And did he score hundred?’. I don’t know how many times this scenario repeated itself, but still even today the only cricketer she knows, recognizes and cares about is Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. I wonder who can take that spot now! The only cricketer, who took cricket across the barriers of countries, interests and languages, the true brand ambassador of the game. No one has ever toyed with the hearts of millions of people the way Sachin did, no one really induced so many varied emotions from his fans like him, and that too for 24 years. India has always been mad about cricket, and even crazier when it comes to Sachin. But, the fact that he received standing ovations each time he walked in and out of the pavilion on every foreign ground he played in the last few years, is a testament of how much he is respected around the world.
When Sachin debuted for India, the team was not in a good shape. Those greats who brought the World Cup to India in 1983, had mostly retired, and the team struggled to get things on track to put up a good fight at home and on foreign soil against some quality oppositions. Being a team from the sub-continent, a lot of things were against them. The players melted under the pressure, they couldn’t handle the pace and bounces. Same was expected of Sachin as well who was way younger than anyone in the rest of the team. But he played admirably well, growing in confidence after every match. The trip to Australia in 1992 is remembered for Sachin’s fighting hundreds at Sydney and Perth on the fastest tracks against some of the best in fast bowling. The guard was changing. He showed that he belonged to the big stage. He took over the responsibility, and soon became the lone-fighter for Team India on a consistent basis. There was a time when the entire batting line-up revolved around Sachin. The opposition teams knew that once they get Sachin out, the rest would fall like a house of cards. This probably launched him and his stature to a different level, that of a hero, a savior which stayed with him until today. The period from 1996-2003 was without a doubt, the greatest period in his career as a batsman. Kids like me who were born in the late 1980s had just started watching and understanding the game, and here he was at his absolute best. He was our first hero, and still is the only one.
He got struck with various injuries by 2002-03, most notably the tennis elbow, which tied him from playing a lot of his shots. He had a rather lengthy lean patch where he became inconsistent, scored less, and perhaps less-confident. I lost count of the number of times he got out in 90s during that period. He went back to his former self later, again scoring consistent 100s, including the very first 200 in ODIs, culminating in his ultimate dream come true moment – winning the World Cup in 2011.
Looking, back, it felt like a lot of things fell in place for him and his career. I don’t think there is anyone else who can lay claim to have such a fairytale ending to his career – achieving every single dream he had when he started playing for the country.
It’s been a privilege more than anything to witness the storied career of one of the greatest of all time, walking with him through thick and thin, celebrating each and every runs he scored, every record he broke, every big moment in his career. He inspired millions of people to take up the game, to believe in their dreams, to give your best in whatever they do and to be passionate about it. There is nothing else, but to say thank you, for all the wonderful memories, for all those cruel entertainments you had with our emotions, for all the service you gave to the country keeping the game higher than it ever was. The phrase ‘you will be missed’ is a serious understatement. He will live in the hearts of every single cricket fan. Wishing him a great life with his family, which he so rightfully deserves.