April 24th, 2013
Sachin Tendulkar, a cricketer named after SD Burman- at the time his father Ramesh Tendulkar’s favorite musician- turns 40 today.
Of course, he is more than a mere cricketer to adoring fans all over the world, and will remain so- despite his 2 year long draught towards the twilight of his international career. Many words and millions of articles have been written about the batsman every year on 24th April, right from the day he made his first class debut as a 15 year old schoolboy back in 1988.
If nothing, whether he retires before the South African Test Series in November or not, Sachin Tendulkar will be known as one of the few athletes in the history of sport to play through 4 decades. He has been playing international cricket for 25 years now: a year longer than Kohli’s current age.
He will be known for his longitivity and dedication, passion and determination- even if many may argue about his judgment error as far as retirement is concerned.
And he is not done yet.
Receiving the sportsstar award
Not because he continues to be the best batsman in world cricket, but because he has created an Indian cricket legacy that is difficult to ignore, and impossible to get rid of. He continues to possess the longest rope in the current era, having scored his last test century more than 26 months ago.
But this writeup will be a short analysis of the different periods of an eventful career. The same cannot be said about his life, in most part shielded unbelievably efficiently from the harsh media glare- but tell that to his fans, his admirers who believe that his life is nothing short of a living dream.
His life and career as a sportsman, athlete, idol and a simple boy who loves to bat can be divided into 5 phases. That is already 3 more phases than most international cricket careers that don’t normally span more than 15 years at the most.
Phase 1 (1988-1996)
The child prodigy that starred in a 664 run partnership with fellow prodigy (and the more talented) Vinod Kambli, Tendulkar- believe it or not- wasn’t the prolific run scorer for the first 6-7 years of his international career. While he smashed most records in first-class cricket before most boys hit puberty (the first to score a century on debut in Ranji, Duleep and Irani trophy cricket…as a 15 year old!), Tendulkar took a while to get used to the big bad world of test cricket, and even more while to find his bearings in limited-overs cricket.
That he became the greatest ODI batsman to have played the game down the line, was a scarcely believable possibility when he took 79 ODIs and 4.5 years to score his first ODI century. He had already scored 7 test centuries by then, on his way to greatness, but in no way close to the prolific run-getting of recent test batsmen like Cook, AB De Villiers, Amla and Clarke.
The only difference was- the boy started very early, and never got dropped from a side that was looking for its next international star after Kapil Dev. He survived the first few years with great distinction, and has never looked back since.
– Tendulkar scored his first test hundred (119*) against England at Old Trafford in 1990- as a 17 year old boy saving the test match single handedly. This was only his 9th test match, ALL of which were played abroad till now. Karachi, Faisalabad, Lahore, Sialkot, Christchurch, Napier , Auckland and Lords before Old Trafford. Trial by fire, in the purest sense of the term.
-Not many know this, but Tendulkar played ONLY ONE home test match between 1989 and 1993- where he played his first full fledged home series against England. That one single match was against Sri Lanka at Chandigarh in 1991. He had already scored 4 test centuries- in England, Australia and South Africa- by the time England toured India in early 1993.
-In the 1992 World Cup, he became the first player to be given out by the third umpire.
-He scored 3 half-centuries in his first World Cup in 1992.
-He scored his first home test century at Chennai (165) against England, again, in 1993.
-His first ODI century finally came in 1994 in Colombo against Australia.
-Tendulkar had only 4 ODI centuries before he started playing the 1996 Wills World Cup, where he ended up as the highest run getter (2 more centuries).
Tendulkar ended phase 1 of his career by reaching the semi-final in the 1996 World Cup before being stumped, in what was to be one of several ODI games where India collapsed after his dismissal.
He was already one of the greatest modern players of the game by now, but second to a certain Brian Lara- who had gotten some huge scores in test cricket.
Phase 2 (1997-2004)
This was the phase when Tendulkar established himself as the premier batsman in ODI cricket- and formed the greatest ODI opening pair with Sourav Ganguly, and one of the greatest test partnerships with Rahul Dravid.
-Between 1993 and 1998, when Tendulkar scored back to back centuries against Australia at Sharjah, he scored 20 ODI centuries. In 1998, Tendulkar reached peaks of immortality, scoring 1894 runs in 34 ODIs during the year- with a mind boggling 9 centuries. A year later, he made his 20th Test ton against New Zealand at Mohali. At age 26, Tendulkar was already 40 tons old in his international career.
-He scored his first test double century in 1999 in the same home series against New Zealand in Ahmedabad. It took him 10 years- one of the reasons why he was still not considered a test batting great, whereas his best friend and forgotten prodigy Kambli had scored 2 back-to-back double tons in 1994 in his short lived test career.
-By 2000, he had scored 50 international tons. At this rate, by 2010- he should score 100, they said.
-He became the first ever batsman to cross 10000 runs in ODI cricket in 2001. In 2002, he crossed Don Bradman’s 29 test tons in his 99th test at Headingly against England.
-The second half of 2002 was a tough period for Sachin, as well as his team. He scored 0,1,0 in the 1-0 test series loss to West Indies overseas, and the team was mauled 5-2 (ODIs) and 2-0 (Tests) in New Zealand leading up to the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. By now, a young man named Virender Sehwag was taking world cricket by storm.
-Tendulkar defied the odds and scored 673 runs in the 2003 ICC World Cup and was Player Of The Tournament, where India reached the final.
-In 2004, he equaled Gavaskar’s record of 34 Test Centuries.
Phase 3 (2005-2008)
Technically, this 4 year phase was the leanest of his career. It was also the time Ricky Ponting became Superman and Australia dominated World Cricket like never before, and everyone questioned Tendulkar’s ability at the top.
-Between 2004 and 2005, Tendulkar failed to pass the 34-century mark in tests. He scored his 35th against Sri Lanka in Delhi. He scored his 40th ODI ton against West Indies in 2006 at Kuala Lumpur.
-He played his one and only T20 international of his life against South Africa in 2006. He scored 10, and took one wicket.
-2007 was the most forgetful year of his career. He did not play in the T20 World Cup that India won under young Dhoni.
-He started 2008 on a positive note, where India won the CB series Down Under for the first time, and he scored a ton and a 90 in the two finals to destroy Australia once again.
-Brian Lara retired from all forms of cricket in late 2006, as the highest test run-getter in history. Sachin Tendulkar took 2 more years to surpass that, in Mohali in 2008 against Australia- in a series that turned around Indian cricket for good. This was the time Mahendra Singh Dhoni took over reigns of the test squad from interim captain Anil Kumble after 2 drawn tests in the series. India won the 4-test series 2-0.
Phase 4 (2009-2011)
His third wind. He scored runs with vengeance in all forms of the game. His 3 year lean patch was forgotten during this phase, which ended with the greatest moment of his career. A career that should have ended on the day.
-Tendulkar had a phenomenal 2009, where he scored plenty of runs in ODI cricket, coming close- twice- to the first ever double in ODI cricket.
-In February 2010, at the age of 36, Tendulkar became the first ever ODI double centurion- his most phenomenal record till date. A third wind was well and truly on course.
-Later in 2010, he became the most capped player in test cricket, passing Steve Waugh’s 168 Tests.
-A few months before the 2011 World Cup, he became the most capped player in ODI cricket passing Jayasuriya’s 444 matches.
-He became the first ever played to score 2000 runs in World Cup cricket in 2011, where he ended as the tournament’s second highest run getter behind minnow-killer Dilshan. He also scored his 99th International ton in a group stage match against South Africa.
-He fell 15 runs short of his 100th ton in the semi-final against Pakistan- an event that was going to cost the entire country its sanity for more than 365 days.
-His greatest day as a cricketer came on April 2nd, 2011…22 years after he made his international debut.
Phase 5 (2011-?)
He took more than a year to reach that figure of 100 tons. It finally came against Bangladesh in the Asia Cup in 2012, a match which India lost due to his poor strike rate. Finally, the weight was off his shoulders. By now, India had lost 8 consecutive away test matches in England and Australia- with Tendulkar coming close a couple of times, but never really converting his starts.
By then, Dravid called time on his career. Laxman called time right after that, and Tendulkar found himself alone at number 4- struggling to keep the ball from hitting his stumps against the likes of New Zealand.
His last test ton came before the World Cup in 2011, in South Africa- where he played arguably his greatest test innings in the drawn Cape Town test against the likes of Steyn and Morkel. It has been 27 months.
While Phase 5 of his career should never have happened, it only proved that Sachin Tendulkar was a human being. Success makes one yearn for more success, and only the man knows when he has had enough. Even he will admit, though, that he is lucky to have billions of worshippers behind him- ready to plunder, argue and murder if he is ever dropped by an unfortunate selection committee that seems to have dropped every other senior player but him.
Let’s hope there is no phase 6, good or bad, and that he retires as a content 40 year old cricketer who has achieved everything there is to achieve in International cricket.
Till then, let us celebrate one of the longest active careers at the top in world sports.