Sachin Tendulkar October 18, 2008

Beyond legendary

He has played for two decades, carrying the hopes of a nation, and done it with grace and class. Tendulkar has transcended every other cricket hero there is

This is the first in a new series where Kumar Sangakkara looks at his favourite contemporary players.

Out of this world but down to earth: part of Tendulkar's greatness is how he has stayed humble and unassuming all through © AFP

As an international cricketer of the current generation, the Tendulkar era, I will always have one striking memory of Sachin that will be forever etched in my mind: his thrilling entrance onto a cricket field. The anticipation of him emerging from the pavilion, and his walk from the boundary to the centre, is almost surreal. The sound of a passionate Indian crowd all chanting "Sachin, Sachin" as they wait in anticipation, followed by the enormous roar when he emerges onto the field, is electrifying.

That experience also tells you much about Sachin and his special place in the game's history. He is not just the finest and most complete batsman of the past two decades. In a country that is cricket-mad, where players are deified and worshipped, he stands out and stands alone. In a continent of cricketing legends of the calibre of Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, and in a tradition of cricket that has produced other great heroes, Sachin seems to have transcended all of them and achieved a revered, almost superhuman, stature.

I remember playing in a charity game in 2003 at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. Thousands of people turned out to watch the match and the familiar chant filled the ground as he walked out to take strike with Virender Sehwag. However, two overs later, Sachin's dismissal was followed by pin-drop silence. As he left the field, the only sound was the murmur of the dispersing crowd. For me, that kind of pressure every single day, and the lack of a truly private life, would, I believe, prove too much.

But Sachin, somehow, has taken it in his stride for an incredible 20 years almost. To my mind that ranks as a higher achievement than the long lists of statistical records he has claimed. Playing for India is no easy task. The pressure to perform in every single outing, to win every single match, is tremendous. Magnify that a thousand-fold and that is what Sachin has to deal with.

He may have millions of fans, but he has his share of critics as well. Many times over the years India has failed to convert an appearance in a final into a win, and when this happens the first barbs of criticisms are invariably aimed at one man. "Sachin," they say, "does not win India finals." The man who has been rewriting the record books has been judged by some to have failed India in some crucial games that everyone seems to remember and talk about.

This criticism is totally unfounded and unfair. Sachin is extremely strong mentally. You have to be, to last 20 years at the top. That he is still able to carve out match-winning performances now, despite all the injuries and the physical and mental overload that comes with being a top-flight international cricketer, is testament to his mental toughness. India have not lost so many finals because of Tendulkar; they have lost because of poor team performances.

Therein lies the danger of having individual brilliance in your cricket team. Many are the times I have sat in the dressing room, watching Sanath Jayasuriya single-handedly win matches. However, without realising it, we reached the stage, at one point, where our whole confidence hinged on the rise and fall of Sanath. His early dismissal would sow seeds of doubt, and his continued presence in the middle would fuel confidence. We have succeeded now in breaking free of that dependence. It is a similar battle that India have fought with Sachin.

I first watched Sachin on TV when I was 12 years old, and for me the most striking thing about his batting has been its beautiful simplicity. The picture-perfect stance; the straight, measured back-lift; the neat forward-defensive and the checked-drive have changed little over the years. Of course, he was blessed with enormous natural talent, but that talent has been fulfilled because of a rock-solid technical foundation.

That he is still able to carve out match-winning performances now, despite all the injuries and the physical and mental overload that comes with being a top-flight international cricketer, is testament to his mental toughness. India have not lost so many one-day finals because of Tendulkar; they have lost because of poor team performances

His simple technique has helped him adapt to, and dominate, all formats of the game under all conditions. Use Cricinfo's Statsguru to assess his overall record and you can only marvel at the completeness of his career. He has scored runs in every cricketing country, on every type of pitch, against every bowling attack. Furthermore, his dominance extends from Test cricket to one-day cricket, and even to the newest format, the Twenty20 game.

Various teams have used different tactics against him over the years, probing his technique to find weaknesses. However, even if they did find any, he was always able to adapt and evolve his game to overcome the challenge. That is what great players do. To my mind, his only obvious weak spot has been against the ball that nips back in from outside off stump - a delivery that troubles several of India's batsmen, though for different reasons.

Since 2003, life does seem to have become tougher for Sachin, mainly because of injuries and the physical toll of the international treadmill. I sense that this - especially the injuries - has introduced a more cautious attitude to his batting. Which is why the appearance of Sachin today does not bring with it a cloud of doom for the fielding team, as it used to do. His increased conservatism has dulled his threat, although he remains very capable of compiling match-winning scores.

Despite his great achievements Sachin has managed to stay an unassuming, humble and very approachable human being. He is a family man whose life is steeped in good moral and religious values. His interaction with players, both in his own team and in the opposition, has given many a cricketer a humbling insight into the mind of this genius. He is always ready to accommodate his fellow cricketers in conversations that might range from cricket to his family, food, travel, and his two other passions: cars and watches.

This is all revealing because it helps explain where he gets his mental strength from. His simple private life, his clear values and strong ethics, and a very good support system in terms of his family and close friends, have given him the foundation and strength to be able to shoulder the hopes and expectations of millions. Underpinning him is a natural zest for life, a passion for cricket and also for humanity. To me, he is the embodiment of the gentleman cricketer. He does not need aggressive rhetoric or psychological battles to prove his worth. He has his bat and he lets it do the talking.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • bvlnrao on October 20, 2008, 19:27 GMT

    I was a Sachin critic once. After seeing his innings on last day of first test between Ind and Aus last week, I changed my mind. I realized that even though he did not score a century or half century rather, he still saved the match for India. Ofcourse with the help of Laxman. But if you look at his so called failures in critical matches, I wonder how many support acts you find as that of Laxman in the last match. Viv, Waughs, Pontings who ever you consider a match winner, take their match saving innings and you would find an equally important support performance, be it in batting or in bowling. Its Tendulkar's bad luck that he could not find such support in critical matches else you would have seen more Desert Storm innings. Sun always rises the same way everyday, but you have to have clear sky to savour such beautiful moment.

  • Srijith on October 20, 2008, 18:49 GMT

    'His increased conservatism has dulled his threat' - I do not think that's the case. The way I look at it, Tendulkar remains equally formidable even now. Did he not have about six 90+ scores last year? He can take apart attacks like he used to in the past (recent ODIs in Australia proves that) and if he puts his mind to it, he can accumalate as well. I have not quiet seen any batsman amongst the current crop who has the ability to take apart an attack like Sachin can/used to. Agreed KP is a good player, but he's not quiet Sachin. Having said that, I believe KP is a better player than Ricky or Sangakarra himself... Of course, injuries have had its toll but Sachin still remains my favorite batsman and a true legend.

  • Bharat on October 19, 2008, 14:04 GMT

    Hey Kumar,good you are open mindedness.Okay he is a legend,as cited "...transcended Kapil Dev or Sunil.." Well India would not have cricket at such high levels(WC 83).They tamed the WestIndies and were responsible for opening gates in cricket,and as you know the rest is history.Well,Kumar might have watched Sachin play,he might have been no less that august at that time,but i think i dare say that these are comments in bit of haste.Have you seen Kapil play?I have read in all articles that his effort was always unfeigned.Sachin i agree is a great batsmen.But i feel a batsmen should be judged by his adapdability.Is Sachin good at 4 in an ODI?If he is a great GENIUS,what happened to his captaincy?How many times was he really involved in a terrific runchase?Honestly Kumar, in WC 2007,you must have been in the team meetings , why did you opt for Dilhara Fernanado,immediately after he arrived.Deja'vu,"slower delivery",why were so sure that he was going to get out?AGE is catching everyone!!

  • Gilbert on October 19, 2008, 12:30 GMT

    Wnen a player of Tendulkar's stature has been playing for such a long period, he tends to play for himself by accumilation. This is very important firstly, being an Indian he has to make the record stand for posterity with the most runs and centuries in Test cricket. Now that the Australian, Ponting is sniffing at his heels, Tendulkar wants to play as long as possible or till such time Ponting retires and there is no challenger.There are many in the Indian cricket hierachy that want to see this. But the Australians are just as determined to see their own achieve this honour. Let us wait and see. Seeing Tendulkar's performances in the last four or five years, I doubt he will survive. Ponting is still scoring those runs and centuries and it will be him ultimately. But it is sad to see that these two icons are depriving youngsters of a Test career. For the sake of cricket, it is time for both to hang up their boots and go.

  • Shahul on October 19, 2008, 12:06 GMT

    Sachin is wonderful to watch - the Buddha-like calmness in the middle exhibits his self-confidence, and the strokes he plays is masterful. I just wish he won more matches for india.

  • Anushan on October 19, 2008, 9:19 GMT

    Words cannot describe the Genius that is Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, however if it could, this article by Kumar Sangakara is as close as it could get. It's rare for legends to be so correct in what they do, so courteous, and to still be loved by everyone. Take Muttiah Muralidaran, so skillful, yet so unorthodox, Shane Warne, so good, but yet so wrong, Sourav Gangully (not quite a legend), loved by many, hated by so many more. Yet Tendulkar carries all the pressure of being a godly hero on his shoulders and remains to be a saintly human. He doesn't put a foot wrong, whether it be his cricket, or his modest nature, Tendulkar does everything so proper. When he talks he seems simple, no pride, no arrogance. A lot like his cricket, no pride, no arrogance. Plays every bowl on its merit, and every bowler with due respect. What makes Sachin Tendulkar the lovable champion he is, is the resemblance between his personality and his cricket, a humble little master.

  • Karthik on October 19, 2008, 1:17 GMT

    'His increased conservatism has dulled his threat' This one sentence should be enough to understand what his opponents think of him now. Tendulkar is no longer feared by his opponents. He might be able to contribute runs now and then, but how much the opponents weigh that contribution is clearly minimal.

  • Nitin on October 18, 2008, 23:27 GMT

    Hey Sanga, Maybe one day you will make as many runs. You too are a rare gem.

    - Indian cricket lover

  • Sukhpreet on October 18, 2008, 23:21 GMT

    A well written article just goes to show the professionalism of the writer.

  • Rav on October 18, 2008, 21:37 GMT

    Kumar Sangakkara is a good cricketer from Sri Lanka - I hope Muralidharan will learn some modesty and humility in giving his due to sachin - Often, Murali has put down sachin saying sachin cannot dominate him the way Lara has and such

    Muralidharan is ungrateful to say such after taking the Indian IPL largesse

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