Born on April 24, 1973, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar came from a middle-class Maharashtrian family in Mumbai. Coached by Ramakant Achrekar, Sachin first made his mark in school cricket. He made his First Class cricket debut at the age of 15, and the Test cricket debut at 16. Making and breaking innumerable records, and, taking over the titles of- Little Master and Master Blaster from his idols Sunil Gavaskar and Vivian Richards, Tendulkar played international cricket for 24 years and left a dazzling cricketing legacy that is second to none!
In the 1990s, Sachin Tendulkar rose from being a wonder-boy to a cricketing genius. He bestrode the game like a colossus, scoring heavily across all formats (and sometimes, also, bamboozling top batsmen with his canny bowling!), against all opponents in all conditions. More than the volume of runs, the aggressive, authoritative manner, in which he batted, belting the best of the bowlers to all corners of the park, wowed both, the masses and the classes alike. His batsmanship was classical as well as inventive. Sir Don Bradman- (the Australian legend with the untouchable 99.94 batting average!), paid Tendulkar the ultimate compliment, when he called his wife to see ‘the little bloke’ whose batting reminded him of himself!
The post-1990 era also saw India become a liberalized economy and take steps towards asserting its economic might on the world stage. Tendulkar’s cricketing successes became the shining symbols of India’s emergence as a global super-power. His boyish charm, grounded persona, and the ability to keep scaling new cricketing heights- (Despite the crushing weight of unrealistic expectations!), propelled him to be the darling of the billion-strong nation and its huge diaspora. His mass appeal became the catalyst for cricket becoming a global multi-million-dollar industry. What was remarkable that neither big expectations, nor big money could ever sway him from his continued pursuit of sporting excellence.
The post-2000 phase of Tendulkar’s career was plagued by various injuries, which kept interrupting his career time and again, and, also, forced him to adopt a more sedate, cautious batting approach. The failures began cropping up more regularly, and the criticisms mounted. His failed captaincy stint, his modest fourth innings average, his inability to single-handedly win Test matches, his changed game-plan…the critics kept pointing out the shortcomings, predicting a swift end to his career.
Like a true champion, Tendulkar let his bat do the talking. He came back to silence the critics by piling up more runs and records. The 2011 World Cup victory, where he was India’s top-scorer in the campaign, and the compilation of 100 international centuries, were the two absolute peaks of his many cricketing achievements.
The absolute reverence and love from his teammates showed how important he was as the inspiring mentor, who helped shape the game and the mindset of India’s many top next-gen cricketers. Even his opponents respectfully (and at times, grudgingly!) acknowledged him as someone special, a key player who merited the longest pre-match team discussions. All possible dream teams selected by top scribes and players, included him in the playing eleven.
But more than all his cricketing glory, Sachin Tendulkar’s true iconic value lay in the affection and attachment he evoked in the millions of people, many of whom didn’t even know the basics of the game he played. Such a deep connection between a sportsman and his admirers, has never ever been witnessed, and is unlikely to be seen ever again.
The ‘Sachin…Sachin’ chant that reverberated in the stadiums across the world, whenever he appeared on the scene; the gleeful smile on his boyish face after capturing a wicket, or, taking a catch; and the heavenward look with a raised bat after reaching yet another milestone, they will be the lasting memories of the man who became cricket’s greatest icon ever!