A special ability to stay in the moment
Sachin Tendulkar completed the most incredible, wonderful 24 years imaginable. While the records stand out, it is the humility and inspiration that will last forever.
It will be his temperament that I will remember the most. When he batted against New Zealand at the tender age of 16 in the first Test in Christchurch in early 1990, he lasted just one ball, caught behind off Danny Morrison. The ball was too quick and too tough for this young boy.
A week later, on a slightly slower pitch in Napier, he found his feet and the pace of the bowling and went on to play a beautiful innings of 88. He fell just short of becoming the youngest Test centurion of all time. What astonished me at close quarters was his ability to forget the nerves and pain of the previous week, and to instead focus on what was in front of him.
He batted with a freedom from expectation and simply embraced the moment and his joy and love for the game. He moved easily, stroking the ball late and with power, playing each ball on its merits. As the century came closer, for the first time in the innings, he felt the sense of occasion, and not the sense of the next ball. He got out playing loosely, throwing his hands at the ball early, a sure sign his mind was getting ahead of himself. I have no doubt he would have learned one of his most invaluable lessons from that dismissal. From that moment on he would have learnt to stay in the moment no matter what the score, no matter what milestone approached.
The only other time I have seen his temperament falter, as it did as a 16-year-old in Napier, was when he went through that agonisingly long period of trying to register his 100th international hundred. That period seemed to last an eternity. It was simply too much of a burden mentally for him to knock that miraculous milestone off, as he had done the previous 99 hundreds. So in many ways getting his first hundred, and then his last, were indeed the hardest.
That he never got another hundred after the hundredth tells the story of a man who had climbed his Mt Everest, with nothing more to be achieved. In the end he went back to being the greatest example of humility and inspiration, as he spent the last three years simply playing for the love of the game and the love of his people.
It was the perfect end in Mumbai. If he had scored another hundred it would have conjured up more desire within, to keep going. By faltering and falling on 74 he proved to himself that the time was perfect.
Sachin, you graced those 22 yards in a way that no other man or woman has ever done. You graced the game of cricket on a level that has never been matched. From WG Grace to now, you stand above them all.