New Delhi, November 13, 2009
If you quiz the youngest, the oldest, the staunchest or even the latest cricket convert with the following statistics, chances are that they will take no time in guessing who they belong to: 29,951 runs in 595 Tests and ODIs, 87 centuries, 144 half-centuries, and 198 international wickets.
Simple. These figures belong to Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, the most decorated cricketer the world has ever seen and one who has ruled the hearts, minds and bodies - remember the familiar flag-waving fan who paints his body in Indian flag colours with 'Tendulkar 10' emblazoned on his torso and who is present at all matches - of his millions of fans. That man is Muzaffarpur-based Sudhir Kumar, who sends him 1,000 litchis every year in gratitude for receiving match passes from the maestro.
Tendulkar, now into his 37th year, has achieved the mind blowing figures mentioned above through not just hard work, but also by keeping his focus firmly on his profession and feet firmly on the ground. He has gone about achieving his stated and undisclosed goals with perhaps the same zeal that he showed at Sharadashram Vidyamandir School in Mumbai. And he has now set his sights on perhaps his one last big wish:
holding the 50-over World Cup. He came close to achieving that in 2003 in South Africa - he tallied 673 runs to win the Player of the Tournament award - but India fell at the last hurdle. As the maestro from Mumbai completes 20 years in international cricket on Sunday - it was November 15, 1989, when he made his Test debut against Pakistan in Karachi -- he looks set to smash many more records in the upcoming months and years.
He has stated his desire to be part of a World Cup-winning team. And, luckily or not for him and the Indian team, the 2011 World Cup will be held in South Asia with the final slated in his home city. It is an advantage to play on familiar pitches and home conditions, but when you factor the fan pressure, it is perhaps not always desirable to attempt to win the most sought after title in front of highly optimistic and sentimental fans.
Son of a professor and an extremely cultured mother, Tendulkar pursued cricket excellence from the very beginning with elder brother Ajit playing mentor. Tendulkar was also very fortunate that people who mattered in Indian cricket spotted him and appreciated his talent while others gave him the break at the right time. That's how he was able to make his Test debut as a 16-year-old prodigy. While announcing that squad, selection committee chairman Raj Singh Dungarpur had famously said that it was the "team of the 1990s". What even Raj Singh perhaps did not foresee was that Tendulkar would go on to play for an additional 10 years and more. In less than a year after his first-class debut - during which Tendulkar played just eight first-class matches and scored only two centuries - he was on the flight to Pakistan.
Although Tendulkar scored only 15 off 24 balls in his maiden Test innings in Karachi, his talent was abundantly clear in those 28 minutes that he spent at the crease at the National Stadium.
During his long journey, he has broken many records, won innumerable awards - he is the only cricketer to have won the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest Indian civil award - penned millions of signatures and spent more hours on the field than at home.
And now, Tendulkar is set to do what no other cricketer has ever done: give his blood and select bats for the most expensive cricket book ever published. The Tendulkar Opus will also contain his photographs with a tiger to be shot during a special session at Eden Gardens, Kolkata.
Tendulkar has also been affected by injuries, which are part and parcel of a sportsperson's career. In a long career that began with an unbeaten 100 for Mumbai against Gujarat at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on December 10, 1988, his toe, elbow, head, shoulder have all borne the brunt of the grind.
Heart of gold
Tendulkar has won as many hearts with his attitude, conduct, mannerisms and his down-to-earth demeanour as with his batting style. He has never been heard raising his voice; at least, it has not been recorded in print or on video. When he gets overly pestered by fans or the media, he only smiles.
His innovative fans approach Tendulkar in a variety of ways. The most amusing sight of his admirers reaching out for his autograph was witnessed by this reporter during a Lahore- Karachi flight on India's 2004 tour of Pakistan.
The fans - they were actually doctors - unashamedly but patiently queued up outside the toilet for him to come out. The moment Tendulkar emerged, they thrust their autograph books in his face. Although he was taken aback for a moment, he obliged them all.
Even when his excited fans exceed all limits, Tendulkar never loses his calm. On the Indian team's tour of Pakistan in 2006, a young couple at the Lahore airport wanted Tendulkar to hold their newborn baby so that they could click a photo with him. He politely declined to lift the baby, but agreed to pose with them. That is the cultured and principled Sachin Tendulkar for you.
(Source: India Today)