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Sri Lanka v India, 3rd Test, P Sara Oval

Tendulkar relishes the ache of endurance

This blazing comet of a cricketer is a long-surviving Test titan

Sharda Ugra

August 3, 2010

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Sachin Tendulkar drives
If Sachin Tendulkar's other records are about skill, this one, 169 Tests, is about his hunger. © Getty Images
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It is a record Sachin Tendulkar was expected to break. Opening his innings at the tail-end of the last millennium, no one could spend two decades in the international game and not go past his other peers in terms of the number of Tests played.

In their time, the cricketers whose names will now follow Tendulkar's on this list of iron men were once indefatigable: Steve Waugh, it seemed, would never melt and Allan Border looked like he would never crumble.

Yet after them Tendulkar arrived. As he steps into the P Sara stadium on Tuesday morning, this blazing comet of a cricketer, who batted at a rhythm different from Border and Waugh, will become the last of their kind - the long-surviving Test titan.

Stretch the imagination 22 years ahead and see if you can pick any fresh Test stripling of today - Umar Akmal, Eoin Morgan, Steven Smith, Adrian Barath - to go past 170 Tests.

Other than Bradman's 99.94, Tendulkar now owns the marks that batsmen dream about: most runs and most centuries. If those were about skill, this one, 169 Tests, is about his hunger. More than anything else, it is what has taken him this far and what has given his career a mind-bender of a second wind after the gloom of 2006.

The day before his 169th Test appearance, he described his sport much like Glenn McGrath did, calling it 'simple'. In an interview he had once talked about its more complex layers. "There is not a single boring day," he said, "when you don't learn anything new."

Those could have been the words of a young man in his tenth Test but that was circa 2003. Tendulkar the cricketer has switched effortlessly between youth and maturity. When he turned 18 and was by then an 11-Test veteran, his city's signature tabloid Mid-Day put him on the cover of their Sunday magazine supplement, posing on Marine Drive, dressed in a shirt of riotous colour at the wheel of his first car, a Maruti 800.

A taciturn teenager, far from the confident sage of the 21st century, he had these words of wisdom to offer on his coming of age. "When you are 18," he said, "you're not young anymore." When he had gone two series without a hundred, it was said that far too many allowances were being made for his age. In his third series and his ninth Test, three months after turning 17, he batted at No. 6 just ahead of Manoj Prabhakar and produced the first of his 48 centuries in Manchester. It was expected and it happened. This was the prodigy who fit into his India cap with ease, without open tantrum, controversy or angst.

With 168 Tests, Tendulkar has grown up in public and so appears timeless but he is a different man from the cherub who couldn't hide under the helmet grille. Until the first crack of his bat made the annoucement of intent that is. The noise of the crowd lifted him but in the first half of his career, even when captain, Tendulkar lived with a peculiar strain of white line fever. The competitor on the field was a man of deep reserve when outside its boundaries.

Even though he grew up in a slightly more mellow age - one in which his telephone number could be found by looking for his father's name in the Mumbai telephone directory - he lived with public expectation and dependence like no other teammate peer or contemporary. Still, whatever his inner debates about a youth lived in the open, his batting remained reliably resplendent. As he would himself say, there wasn't a day he wasn't learning, be it how to season a long innings with strokes that had until then belonged to his one-day repertoire or experimenting with what it meant to be anchor over aggressor.

What defined him most sharply as the youngest of men in Indian cricket still remains as he becomes the game's oldest. Before the icon and the brand and the deification and the 37kg coffee table books comes the batsman.

It is as if his mind has always been deliberate, undistracted and his heart, when stepping on the field, full with youthful optimism.

He will prepare for his 169th Test just like he always has, in calculated, thoughtful steps.

During nets on Monday, he would have inspected the P Sara wicket and calibrated all the information into method and shot selection. He described it once: "I look at the wicket and the opposition and analyse their strengths and weaknesses and then pick my shots. These are the shots that will bring me closer to 100 per cent success. You try and minimise your risks. But in spite of that you make mistakes."

Then when back in his room, on his own, he will spend ten minutes on a visualisation, part of his pre-match preparation since he was a school boy. He will see the bowlers before him, the stationing of the field, the feel of the ground, the heat or the breeze, the noise of the crowd, "so when I actually go there in the middle it's the second time I'm going there, not the first".

He may pick up the bat he has carried back with him to his hotel like he does every time and maybe shadow practice a little. Just before his 169th match, he will do all of this, part-drill, part-prayer, equal respect given to practice and providence.

When he goes out on the field, with India creaking at their joints, Sachin Tendulkar will have with him a record that is a reminder not of champagne and glory but the ache of endurance. But he will walk lightly because, like always, he will be the young man of 16.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at Cricinfo

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Posted by daivapreethi on (August 9, 2010, 7:01 GMT)

amazing article ! i like the style of your writing

Posted by Rohan1 on (August 9, 2010, 5:21 GMT)

Sreerang Brilliant. And True. Till 2003 Tendulkar was well above the rest. A simple check of the stats till 01/01/03 will reaffirm that. Thereafter till 06 he suffered off and on from various injuries/surgeries. It is in this period where the pontings,laras,dravids,kallises etc filled their boots silly in great batting conditions vs moderate attacks..... so a superficial look at allround stats show the others as having caught up. From 07 on Tendulkar agains seems to have found his groove

Posted by Sreerang on (August 8, 2010, 18:58 GMT)

This is for all those doubting Thomases. Forget what all the fans say. Lets see what the world cricketers say- During the Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka, in a poll conducted among all the cricketers (108 International cricketers were polled). Their reply to the best test batsman & best ODI batsman was Sachin by a long long way. Who are you & me to argue against that?

Here's the link for the same- http://www.cricinfo.com/southafrica/content/story/122437.html

Posted by Sudhir29 on (August 8, 2010, 17:26 GMT)

@Ian_ghose : the only real debate is if Sachin is better than Bradman. If u talk about facing pace, Bradman's avg dropped to half when he faced Larwood on home pitches in Oz. Ponting was great in a pack : see what's happening now , when is surrounded by no bodies. Losing twice in England as a skipper and now managing to lose to Pak, wow he has some record (don't forget the SA and India loss).

I think there have been a bunch of pretty good players we have seen. But 50 years on, people will wish they had been around when Sachin was playing (and not Ponting or Kallis).

Posted by tendlya14 on (August 8, 2010, 9:39 GMT)

@ian ghose- continuing...amla has played well 4 the last 1 or 2 seasons...lets see if he can keep it up for 2 decades or 170 tests...whichever comes first! :-P meanwhile he is not a certainity for ODI's nd T20 for his own team. Likewise Chanderpaul..nd Kallis record agnst Aus is mediocre..i cnt undrstnd how u overlook all this.

Posted by tendlya14 on (August 8, 2010, 7:12 GMT)

@ian ghose- ofcourse hayden ws a flat-track bully! Wenever the oppositn hd a gud bowling attack, he hs failed! Circa ashes 2005, india-2008 (zaheer khan made him a bunny!) if klusener was so gud, he'd stil b playin nw dnt u think? He gt axed, bcoz there were bettr players in his own country! So 4gt comparin him wit sachin! Nd abt mcgrath vs tendulkar, sachin owned him in his 93 in 1996 WC, nd in the group phase of 2003 WC( 14 runs off a single mcgrath over)

Posted by TATTUs on (August 7, 2010, 3:15 GMT)

I almost forgot to comment about the article! This article just brought back memories and one being from a balanced and true admirer[ not many can claim to be that and Sharda Ugra is one who can] of Sachin was a hearty read.

Looking forward to more from this author in cricinfo.

Posted by TATTUs on (August 7, 2010, 3:12 GMT)

@Ian_Ghose.

Mate..there are 2 ways of looking at things. Positive and negative. If you are hell-bent on finding the negatives about one thing or person you will always find that as the universe is balanced. Its just that some are [out of prejudice] only after the negatives and others after positives. But there are very few who take a balanced view!

I can reply for every point you gave. But I care not to. But I would say only one thing against your "sehwag and Ganguly outmatching him and his aggression fading after early 2000s" - There is something called 'game-plan' and one is not supposed to know that , unless of course he is in the team. So commenting about his style of batting without knowing what his intent is childish to say the least.

Posted by sachin_vvsfan on (August 6, 2010, 19:58 GMT)

@ian_ghose interesting facts about 1996 capetown. But didn't Klusener score his hundred against tired (and read pathetic) indian bowling lineup? I watched that match and i remember sachin was the last one to get out. Donald himself admitted he is the best batsman he has played against. I wonder how gud klusner or Aussie batsman would be against their own bowlers. I (like many indians) grew up watching sachin's one many army show in 90's though we hadn't won too many matches.(1998 is the best ever for me).What we like the most about him is his humbleness and his dedication to win for his country at this age (unlike our arrogant youngsters)and wait isn't he performing consistlently.?just check his last odi double ton against the likes of steyn, kallis and co who are top class bowlers.Just go to the right forum and vent your frustration.

Posted by   on (August 5, 2010, 18:37 GMT)

And yet, I will as certainly turn around and admit that players like Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Waugh, Martyn, Gilchrist formed one of the most formidable and coldly efficient line ups around. They were one half of the team that was the undisputed no. 1 for a decade. But try telling me they were better than Sehwag, Dravid, Sachin, Ganguly and Laxman. Aesthetically, statistically, strokeplay, instincts. Admittedly Sachin isn't the player he was. And yet try telling me he still isn't one of the most consistent in the world.

And for a moment, try telling me, if you'd ever relax that a game was over, with Sachin still at the crease.

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