Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar come to my mind as contenders for the greatest sportsmen of independent India. It's a difficult task to compare the three, but, finally, Sachin beats the other two. Because he is the best batsman in the world, and is good in both one-dayers and Tests.
What do I like about Sachin? His humility despite the tremendous popularity he enjoys. Then there is his ability to steer clear of any kind of controversies.
More than his batting technique, I am a fan of Tendulkar's mental attributes—he's tough on the field, and so very calm off it. He has handled his career very well and has never allowed all the centuries he's scored, or the records he has helped rewrite, to distract him from the game. His single-minded devotion to the game is indeed unparalleled, and it is even more important in a country like India where most of our sportsmen tend to rest on their personal glories and goals. One is reminded of so many names who've never reaped their full potential because success spoiled them. Sachin belongs to a different league. He still loves his game, and his hunger for runs remains unsatiated. Not because it promises more popularity, but because he wants his team to win.
I remember meeting him briefly a couple of times during some cricket matches, and in a social gathering in Mumbai once. He came across as a very simple person, a sportsman who's focused on the game. He is a born cricketer and has a sound technique. It is a pleasure to watch him play. I have been watching cricket from my childhood and will say without hesitation that he is one of the most graceful cricketers.
The BCCI's strenuous schedule has taken its toll on Sachin's game. Unless the board strikes a balance between the number of Tests and one-day matches played in one single season, our Little Master will not be able to do justice to his immense talent. He must be given a choice to rest in matches, specially those played against weaker teams like Kenya or Bangladesh, so that he's match-fit for teams like Australia or South Africa. He should be allowed to pace his schedule in such a way that he peaks for the World Cup next year.
In my opinion, Sachin should not be burdened with captaincy in the World Cup because the pressures on the field will have a negative effect on his game. This is not the time to experiment on him. I think he should carry on, irrespective of records that fall on the wayside. People will realise his contribution to Indian cricket only after he retires. There may be too many critics now, giving their verdict on some odd matches, but his contribution to cricket will be realised after, say, 20 years.
(Prakash Padukone, the first Indian to win the All England championship, presently heads a badminton academy in Bangalore)