You’ve heard the chant. You may not have heard of the sport, but you’ve heard the chant. The chant - one that a billion people once lived by; one that would originate from the Wankhede and echo across the city and the seas. It is a name that continues to inspire many, not only in India, but all over the world, to take up the sport. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar was that cricketer whose personality and aura upstaged any cricketing contest; yet he maintained that he wasn’t greater than than the game. To the people of India, the 5’5” giant of a man was much more than that. He was an emotion; a symbol of hope in a nation that revered him as nothing short of a God.
Ironically, in the midst of the over-the-top veneration and in spite of the pedestal he has been placed on, it is his humility and the ability to cast it all out that has allowed him to put forth his best performances on the international stage for over two decades. Having played across generations, Tendulkar started playing Test cricket in a white shirt that could just as easily have been used as a school uniform, and scored his last Test hundred in a niche Nike jersey that was impossible to buy over the counter, and would later be auctioned for millions.
In a nutshell
In the midst of all the constant adulation he has received over a significantly transitional period for cricket, commercially and otherwise, and in a sea of statistics that every Tendulkar-centric conversation attracts, it is sometimes easy to forget that he was perhaps the most complete batsman of his generation - one who combined natural talent with hard work and dedication; one who recognized the importance of shaping and polishing the diamond. This uncommon blend of dedication and ability made him stand out in the crowd, and made him the legend that is Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
Tendulkar has been the single biggest factor behind the explosion of popularity that cricket enjoys in India which led to the Indian board becoming the richest and most powerful in world cricket. In a country already predisposed to cricket, Tendulkar gave the people a hero they could look upto regardless of age, colour, creed or sect - and catapulted cricket from a sport to a religion in the subcontinent.
The summit of all things cricket
In a game riddled with statistics, he owns almost every batting record worth owning, including that of the most runs in Test and ODI cricket, the most hundreds in the two formats, and the highest number of centuries in international cricket - a mind-numbing 100. Despite a tough start to his ODI career, Tendulkar found his calling at the top of the order when he was sent to open against New Zealand in 1994 and struck a 49-ball 82, and made the opening spot his own. He went on to compile 49 ODI hundreds by the end of his career - eclipsing the second-best by nineteen hundreds.
A World Cup veteran
Moreover, this career spanned over six World Cup appearances, from 1992 to 2011, in which he made two appearances in the final (2003 and 2011), finally getting his hands on the coveted trophy on that enchanting night in Mumbai on the 2nd of April 2011, getting the swan-song he deserved in front of his home crowd in Mumbai.
"He has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years; it’s time we carried him on our shoulders\"- Virat Kohli’s words after his idol Sachin Tendulkar finally got his hands on the long-awaited World Cup trophy.
Despite all the talk about Tendulkar’s failures under pressure, his performances in big events were difficult to ignore. In his two World Cup final appearances, Tendulkar flattered to deceive with scores of 4 (2003 final vs. Australia) and 18 (2011 final vs. Sri Lanka). Nevertheless, his overall performances and contributions over the course of the aforementioned tournaments played a huge part in getting India to the final in the first place. In the 2003 edition of the tournament, Tendulkar scored an astonishing 673 runs in the tournament, going past his own record of 523 runs in a World Cup tournament (1996 World Cup) - a record that still stands. Moreover, in India’s 2011 victorious World Cup campaign, he was once again India’s highest run-scorer and the second-highest overall, with 482 runs in the tournament at an average of 53.55, with 2 hundreds in the league stages (against England and South Africa) and 2 crucial fifties in the knockouts (against Australia and Pakistan).
With a doubt, though, Tendulkar’s fondest World Cup memory remains the moment he finally received the medal he had been waiting for for the best part of two decades and a bit, and of course, the moment he got his hands on the World Cup trophy.
There are so many tales about how Tendulkar was introduced to cricket, we may never know the absolute truth. According to legend, his half-brother, Ajit, with whom Sachin \"lived the dream”, took him to Sharadashram School in Mumbai and introduced him to Ramakant Acharekar, his first coach, at the age of eleven in an effort to focus his energy on something productive.
Since then, Tendulkar’s life was Eat, Sleep, Cricket.
He changed schools, trained hard, played truckloads of matches, and soon, the name Sachin Tendulkar was famous across Mumbai. There was a whisper, whenever he was slated to bat in a school match, as crowds gathered to watch him bat. From a tender age, he would live up to the expectations too, as he famously scored 326* in a record-breaking partnership of 664 with Vinod Kambli - the highest partnership in any form of competitive cricket at the time.
It was only a matter of time before he was a part of the Mumbai team and made his domestic debut. However, he was certainly too young to be facing senior bowlers, and this raised several eyebrows. However, when Dilip Vengsarkar, India’s captain at the time, watched him bat against Kapil Dev in the nets, the case of the child prodigy was escalated immediately. He made his first domestic appearance at the age of 14, and struck centuries on Ranji and Duleep trophy debut. He continued to pile on the runs, and an India call-up beckoned, a couple of years later.
The teenager on a battlefield
After several performances of note at the domestic level, it was the popular opinion that Tendulkar was ready, at the tender age of 16, to be playing international cricket. He was picked in the Test squad to tour Pakistan in November 1989, and was slated to face some of the greatest fast bowlers of all time in their own backyard.
Ram Singh Dungarpur was said to have selected Tendulkar for the tour, and Sachin made his debut in Karachi, aged 16 years and 205 days. He was dismissed by fellow debutant Waqar Younis for 15, and by his own admission, thought he wasn’t ready for the sheer pace of the international level at the time. However, in the final Test in Sialkot, Tendulkar was hit on the nose by a Waqar Younis bouncer.
It is now a fable of courage for cricketers worldwide, that he declined medical assistance, took his guard, wiped the blood off, continued to bat. He went on to compile a fluent 57 that would effectively help India draw the Test match. Tendulkar, though not prolific with the bat as he was in the domestic level, had shown the toughness for hunger required for the international level by taking body blows and was retained in the Test side.
Conquest of Paradise
After the tour of Pakistan, Tendulkar toured New Zealand, and scored 88 in one of the Test matches, missing out on becoming the youngest Test centurion of all time by 12 runs. He eventually got to the mark when India toured England in 1990, as he ended up scoring 119* in the fourth innings at Manchester, digging India out of a hole and putting them in a good enough position to win the match if there was a session more to bat. After scoring a hundred in Manchester, he continued to score freely in the tour of Australia, starting off with a 148 at Sydney and becoming the youngest batsman to score a Test hundred in Australia, and a 114 on a bouncy WACA wicket, which is popularly regarded by himself and experts, as perhaps his best Test innings.
After a series of fantastic performances in his first cluster of away tours, Tendulkar was hailed as a natural talent and a landmark for adaptability. He continued to perform particularly well overseas, as he toured South Africa in 1996/97, to score a fantastic 169 at Cape Town in a counterattack for the ages with Mohammad Azharuddin. It was a game that India went on to lose, but Tendulkar had picked India up from a terrible situation and exhibited the gulf in batting prowess between him and his peers to the extent that even Allan Donald, who had terrorized the top order of India, admitted that he felt like clapping for the little genius. He had already shown his batting ability in South Africa, having previously scored a 111 (in a team total of 227) in 1992 en route to the milestone of 1,000 Test runs in Johannesburg.
After a plethora of incredible away performances, a solid home record away a given. He scored his first Test hundred at home in Chennai, lacing a fluent 165 against England to guide his team to a dominating innings victory. Little did he know several of his defining knocks would come at the very ground. In 1998, when the Tendulkar versus Warne contest was much anticipated in Australia’s home series against India, Tendulkar custom-built a training method to sweep Warne from the rough outside the leg-stump and unleashed this strategy in the Chennai Test by absolutely pummeling Warne on his way to a match-winning 155 in the second innings. India went on to win the Test series 2-1 against an all-conquering Australia.
"I was very very struck by his technique. I never saw myself play, but I feel, that this fella is playing much the same as I used to play. ”
Sir Donald Bradman, the ultimate batsman, once said to his wife that he felt Tendulkar played the same way as he used to. It was perhaps the ultimate compliment that a batsman could hope to receive.
When Tendulkar started playing Test cricket, the raw talent was evident, but his technique needed some polishing up. With negligible upper body strength as a 16-year-old, Tendulkar would lean on his bat in his stance, resulting in his head falling over into the off-side, particularly while playing the leg glance. Over the years, however, Tendulkar created a technique suited to be used in a batting simulator.
Sachin Tendulkar dominated with the bat in an era that saw some of the fiercest seam bowlers of all time in their prime: McGrath, Fraser, Walsh, Ambrose and Pollock. In addition, swing-bowling greats like Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, spin legends such as Warne and Muralitharan, and express-pacers approaching supersonic speeds including Brett Lee, Allan Donald and Shoaib Akhtar, were at the peak of their powers during the Little Master’s reign. Tendulkar not only survived the ambush across the turn of the millenium, but played his best cricket during this period. How? It was all based on a strong foundation and a rock-solid technique.
The key was playing late. With a stance and compactness built for a typical opener, his partial paranoia and skepticism of the ball until the moment it reached with minimal back-lift and a punchy (almost zero) follow-through to counter that, made his basic technique almost airtight. This allows him to pick up late movement off the pitch and play the ball as late as possible. Add to that the amount of leverage and power he was capable of generating despite using a relatively low grip was one of the several things about the man that dropped jaws.
Sachin’s post-injury technique was exclusive of the pull and the hook shots, but it was more compact and powerful, never allowing the top part of the bottom hand to leave the torso while driving, and allowing him to play the ball under his eyes. The V-shaped bottom-hand grip, although low, allowed him to watch the ball right onto the bat, allowing him to the liberty to find gaps with surgical precision, and executing the shots at the pivotal moment with the grace of a trapeze artist.
The back and across trigger movement and a still head are required to get a good idea of your off-stump and to leave or play accordingly. With his eye on off-stump at the point of delivery, he had a simple and productive method to leave balls outside the eye-line - and outside the line of the off-stump. Apart from the much-hyped stats, this air-tight, versatile technique formed the foundation of Sachin Tendulkar’s legend.
The captaincy debacle
Tendulkar was made the captain of the side in 1996 at the age of 23, but with 7 years of experience behind him. A poor record, the egos of senior players to manage, and an avalanche of internal conflict, couldn’t quite dent Tendulkar’s performances with the bat, as he continued to score runs despite India being blanked by the opposition. In his second tenure as captain, which was thrust upon him without his contest, India lost a Test series to South Africa at home and Tendulkar’s own form was taking a hit, and he stepped down from captaincy. Sourav Ganguly took over as the leader in 2000, with the hopes of building a new Indian team amidst the match-fixing scandal that had taken the cricket world by storm.
Back to business
1998 was Tendulkar’s year as a batsman; a year when he played some of the most celebrated knocks in his career, including two of his most famous ODI innings. He scored a majestic 143 in the league stages of the Coca Cola Cup to get India into the final at Sharjah, and then scored 134 in the final against Australia to single-handedly take India past the finishing line. In the same year, he nearly pulled off another single-handed effort at Chennai, nearly pulling off a 4th innings chase against Pakistan whilst battling back spasms, before departing with India 17 runs short of victory. India went on to lose the match, but Tendulkar was the the man of the match for his breathtaking performance.
Tendulkar lost his father during the 1999 World Cup, and returned home from England. He came back and scored a 140 against Kenya, dedicating the hundred to his father and giving birth to his ritual of looking up to the heavens after a hundred. In 2001, he scored a hundred in the deciding Test of Australia final frontier series in India, leading them to a fairytale win as Indian cricket redeemed itself from the shoddy crevices of match-fixing.
Nevertheless, the next year saw Tendulkar go through an alarming dip in form, as he struggled in New Zealand and West Indies, before notching up a 193 in Leeds to go past Sir Don Bradman’s century tally of 29 hundreds. Tendulkar was back at his best in time for the World Cup of 2003, scoring 673 runs in a Man of the Tournament performance for his side. India ended up losing in the final, but Tendulkar set a record for World Cups that has been hitherto unmatched. Moreover, he played arguably the greatest World Cup innings of all time as he laced a 75-ball 98 against Pakistan in Centurion while chasing 274 against the pace battery of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, and Shoaib Akhtar.
Tendulkar continued to score runs, with the odd daddy hundred here and there to satisfy his insatiable appetite. This included a 194* against Pakistan in Multan, a 241* in Sydney in 2004 and a 141 against Pakistan in the 5-match ODI series in 2004. However, India lost Tendulkar to a tennis elbow injury that kept him out for the best part of a year. He returned at the end of 2004 to play Australia in a dead-rubber at the Wankhede, and led India to a consolation win with a commanding 55 on a minefield of a pitch.
'Endulkar' and its debunking
After ongoing an operation on his shoulder, he returned for the DLF cup in Malaysia in 2006. He scored a hundred upon his return, his 40th ODI hundred, and redeemed his career - allowing his bat to do the talking in the face of the "Endulkar” shenanigans.
After a torrid period in Indian cricket, with the Greg Chappell saga unfolding, India were left ruing a World Cup ouster in the first round in 2007. However, after the sacking of Chappell and the recommendation of MS Dhoni as captain by Tendulkar, Indian cricket found its feet again and Tendulkar started to score runs and achieve milestones every time he picked up the bat.
Sachin Tendulkar went on to break several records over the next few years: he became the highest run-scorer in Test cricket, going past Brian Lara's record of 11,953 runs in Mohali against Australia. In December 2008, he pulled off an unlikely chase on a dry turner in Chennai, knocking down the 387 set by England and scoring the winning runs to get to 103*, and providing the Indian public with some much-needed solace in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai on the 26th of November 2008.
After a historic Test series win in England (2007), Tendulkar contributed handsomely in the controversy-marred tour of Australia, which India lost 1-2, but it was a series which could have been won by India if not for the appalling umpiring, proving to be pivotal in the context of the series. In the CB series that followed, Tendulkar answered all the naysayers with the willow, by scoring a 117* in the 1st final at Melbourne and a 91 in the second final at Brisbane to lead India to their first ODI tournament win in Australian soil. Tendulkar had regained his form of old and continued to score freely in all conditions, scoring his 50th and 51st Test hundreds in South Africa in 2010 - another series that India tied 1-1 but certainly threatened to win in Cape Town where a blistering battle of Tendulkar vs. Steyn was witnessed in all its hostility. He was named the ICC Player of the year and ODI player of the year in 2010.
On 24th February 2010, Tendulkar was the first to reach the ODI summit of scoring a double-hundred, scoring 200* against South Africa in Gwalior, having come close to the mark twice before within a year of the landmark (163 retired hurt against New Zealand and 175 against Australia). The milestone has been eclipsed several times since...
Coming into the 2011 World Cup with a rich vein of form, Tendulkar contributed handsomely to a victorious campaign with 482 runs, the second-most in the tournament, and lifted the World Cup trophy in his homeground. He was paraded around the Wankhede, draped with a tricolour over his shoulders - one of the lasting images of the World Cup and perhaps in the history of World Cup cricket.
The World Cup Hangover
After a dream run in the World Cup of 2011, the hangover followed. Tendulkar, still stranded on 99 international hundreds, seemed to have a long wait ahead as he missed the mark on two nightmarish Test tours of England and Australia, where he got close to the mark but failed to get across the line. After a year-long wait, he finally reached the landmark in an Asia Cup league game against Bangladesh at Mirpur, scoring his 100th international hundred to help India to 290 only for India’s bowling to fail at a crucial time and concede the match. His 51 against Pakistan in the same tournament ended up being his final ODI game as he announced his retirement from ODI cricket on 23rd December 2012, finishing his career as, by far, the highest run-scorer and century-maker in the format.
A nation in tears
On November 16, 2013, 24 years and a day after his Test debut, Tendulkar bid a tearful adieu to Test cricket at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai. His 200th Test match, against the West Indies, culminated in a win for India, as Sachin contributed handsomely with a fluent 74. The Wankhede was stunned into silence when he was caught at slip and had to walk back to the pavilion. However, his rousing speech after the match, wherein he mentioned that the chants of "Sachin Sachin will reverberate in my ears until my last breath”, reinvigorated the crowd into a new spree of the chant - perhaps for the last time ever.
A select few living souls may have even watched the Don bat. The rising pulse, the bursting eardrums, and the blinding tears as one involuntarily starts to chant along with the crowd is this generation's collective cocaine. The whole nation is high, when that show-stopping icon wields the willow and enchants a billion - Sachin Tendulkar....