If anyone asks me to name an icon I have admired throughout my life, the name of Sachin Tendulkar will flash in my mind before anybody else. And it is not only the story of just one or two individuals but even a generation or two. I really feel amazed by the fact that a man has carried the expectation of a billion-strong nation every day on his shoulders for 23 years! The impact of Sachin Tendulkar is so much so that in times to come, analysts of Indian or even world cricket history may demarcate the period before 1989 as pre-Tendulkar and that after he formally retires as a post-Tendulkar era.
There was a time when I used to see Sachin bat for the entire day, ball by ball. He had raised twin storms against Australia in 1998, scored a valiant 136 in Chennai in 1999 that almost snatched victory against Pakistan but yet could not and left the nation in a shock or even before those epochal innings, the Master Blaster made a heroic 104 against Zimbabwe in 1997 off just 97 balls that took his side into the finals by beating all odds.
I particularly remember these innings among his 100 international centuries for they had instilled a tremendous sense of nationalism among us as youngsters. It was not that India was among the best teams in the world till about 2000 when Sourav Ganguly took over as the skipper of the team but just the sheer presence of Tendulkar made us feel that we could also be the world-beaters one day. Many TVs were switched off once he had gone out for that almost meant a national disaster. The man had kept us mesmerised in such a way.
But after seeing the great man beating all opponents all these days, it is really heart-breaking to witness how the champion batsman is struggling to overcome the ultimate challenge that a player meets in his career, i.e., age. The 16-year-old prodigy of 1989 had scaled the Everest and now in 2012, the 39-year-old is looking fragile and is sliding downhill. It causes great pain to witness the media pouncing on him but there is only one person who can end our agony and it is Tendulkar himself. Words like ‘Drop Sachin' from all and sundry are sounding so cruel to our ears.
The man hasn't scored a 30 in the last six innings, leave alone a 50 or 100. His last Test century came in January 2011 while his much awaited hundredth international ton came earlier this year against a lowly Bangladesh. A man who is known for his exquisite footwork and timing is struggling to play spin in his home soil and is getting either bowled or trapped in front of the wicket. The feet are clearly not moving while the bat is not reaching the delivery on time. The age is catching up and the reflexes have got slower.
Quitting is a big issue for sub-continent cricketers
There is a perennial problem for sub-continent cricketers when it comes to call it a day. Barring Sunil Gavaskar and Imran Khan, I can't remember any other great player from these parts of the world quitting the 22 yards still while in form. In our time, Rahul Dravid still can be credited for taking his call on time. But the Master Blaster is in no mood to retire still. He said during a recent interview that a man should not quit when he is at his prime. This might be his philosophy, but the fact is Tendulkar is not at his peak at this moment and with his age set to touch 40 in another five months, there is little chance that the magical touch will come back. It is high time that the man, about to complete 34,000 international runs, hangs up his boots before the monument that he has erected over a span of 23 years, gets dented by unnecessary controversies.
Tendulkar has been an icon for the post-Gavaskar generation
I used to argue with my father, who had also played first-class cricket for his home state, on whether Gavaskar was ahead of Tendulkar in the all-time greats list or whether Brian Lara was a better competitor in contemporary cricket. True, Tendulkar did not have to face the mighty West Indian bowling of the 1970s and 1980s as an opener and nor did he have the patience of scoring a 375 or 400 in one innings, but what had made him special than Gavaskar and Lara was his durability and consistency. Playing for 23 years at the highest level is not easy and that too in a country like India where a single failure can end one's dream for ever. Neither Gavaskar nor Lara or for that matter any other competitor had to bear the pressure that Tendulkar has done since his debut. This puts him at par with the great Don Bradman. If one had a test average touching almost 100, the other has 100 international 100s. Repeated injuries never deterred him and he was perhaps the best soldier the country had who won several battles without firing a single bullet.
It is necessary to know where to stop for super-achievers are also human beings
Sachin Tendulkars are rare talents but the more important factor which differentiates them with the Vinod Kamblis is that they make their talent count bit by bit. But at the same time, it is also necessary to know where to stop. All great achievers have had to stop somewhere because they are human beings. Tendulkar has given us immense happiness and has also received every possible honour on the cricket field, the prestige exceeding the monetary rewards by far. But if the man, just because he has been bogged down by a slump of form, suffers from a mental crisis that makes him more rigid and continue to play to damage his image, it will not befit the man's stature.
The man has kept all his records perfect both on and off the field. He was known to have turned furious once for failing to complete his double century against Pakistan because skipper Dravid had declared the innings, but that one 200 less from his batting statistics never made his stature look an insignificant one. If Tendulkar stops short of playing 200 test matches, again a ‘first-ever' feat in the history of the game, his greatness will still be reckoned.
Endorsements will undoubtedly take a beating the day Tendulkar retires, and so will drop the TRPs of Indian cricket, even if it is by a notch. But is that all for a giant called Tendulkar? His father Ramesh was a man of great integrity and the worthy son has always been a perfect flag-bearer of the values of the Maratha middle-class family. Aren't those well-taught values ringing to the great man's ears at this hour if he is really finding it difficult to take a decision? Why didn't he take the mega call soon after India had won the World Cup at his home ground last year. That would have been a perfect farewell to a glorious carrer. We want to remember Sachin Tendulkar not just as a great player, but an immortal era which had given us so much to rejoice and take pride about. We hope he leaves the park with his head held high.