Sachin Tendulkar will retire from international cricket after playing his 200th Test against West Indies next month. Rory Dollard reports.
In 2002 the most respected of cricketing tomes, Wisden, ranked Sachin Tendulkar as the second best batsman in the history of both Test and one-day cricket.
Ahead of him in the longer form lay the legendary figure of Sir Donald Bradman, while another knight, Sir Viv Richards, was deemed the ultimate limited-overs batsman.
If the poll were to be repeated today it would be hard to argue against Tendulkar standing alone at the summit.
In cricketing circles the names of Bradman and Richards are not ones to trifle with lightly, but then Tendulkar’s achievements are hardly trifling.
Most remarkable among them, of course, is the century of international centuries he celebrated, after a lengthy wait, with 114 against Bangladesh in the Asia Cup. The mark is one that is unlikely ever to be matched.
Tendulkar’s career at the highest level will last nearly 24 years, with his first century for India coming aged 17 and his hundredth aged 38.
The 98 centuries between – not to mention the plethora of records he has hoovered up along the way – undoubtedly form one of the most sustained examples of sporting genius seen in any discipline.
That he has achieved such continued brilliance against a glare of expectation that lesser talents – or indeed less even-tempered personalities – would have found blinding, speaks volumes.
Cricket is present in the very fabric of Indian life and the weight of expectation placed on Tendulkar’s shoulders by the vast coliseums of Eden Gardens, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad over the years has been intense. Time and again, Tendulkar, who, at the age of 19 became the first overseas-born player to represent Yorkshire, has met the loftiest of standards.
When compared against one of his most talented contemporaries, Australia legend Ricky Ponting, his statistics become even more awe-inspiring.
Ponting, having played in and led the dominant Australia side of the era for 16 years, mustered a total of 71 international hundreds.
That places him a comfortable second in the all-time list, but a differential of 29 centuries between him and Tendulkar is remarkable.
True, he has played more international innings than any other batsman in the history of the game – but that is no accident.
To be selected as an Indian Test player at an age when most players have yet to graduate from age-group cricket and to remain the pre-eminent force in the side two decades down the line is not a selectorial quirk or a birthright. It is a reward for an unnatural talent.
In 2010, he became the first man to score 200 – not out, naturally – in a one-day international and his career tally of more than 34,000 runs for India is one few would ever have considered possible.
As staggering as they are, the numbers can only really tell half of the Tendulkar story.
Also worthy of mention is the way in which he goes about his run-making. Few players can claim the mastery over all strokes that he can. Equally at home on the front and back foot, comfortable hitting through the air and along the grass and happy to punish bowlers on both sides of the wicket, there is little he cannot do when in full flow.
As if to prove the point, having decided against pursuing an international Twenty20 career, he nevertheless decided to dabble in the format as captain of IPL franchise Mumbai Indians.
As an old dog never shy of learning new tricks, in the third edition of the competition he set a new runs record of 618 in 14 innings and was named batsman of the tournament.
Cricket is often referred to as a religion by its most avid fans and Australia’s Matthew Hayden – himself one of the greatest players of the modern age – has little doubt about Tendulkar’s status in that analogy.
“I have seen God,” Hayden, a devout Christian, offered after a particularly crushing series from the icon in 1998. “He bats No 4 for India.’’