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ESPNcricinfo Awards 2013 cricketer of the generation: The 20-year dream

Sachin Tendulkar's career in cricket has been a testimony to his unflagging love for the game

Martin Crowe
Martin Crowe
14-Mar-2014
Sachin Tendulkar plays a shot past Allan Lamb and Robin Smith, England v India, 2nd Test, Old Trafford, 5th day, August 14, 1990

Sachin Tendulkar scored his first Test hundred in 1990, at Old Trafford  •  PA Photos/Getty Images

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bow lines, sail away from safe harbour, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover.
- Attributed to Mark Twain
A thoughtful, wise man was our Mr Twain. He knew how we so easily tie ourselves up in knots, becoming boxed in, with limited thinking and endeavour. Then along comes a beacon, a shining light, to show us the way with actions of discovery and dream-weaving. In cricket, for these last 20 years and more, that light has been Sachin Tendulkar.
Selecting a 16-year-old in a tough man's world was courageous, and the apprenticeship Tendulkar completed by the age of 20 was equal to the confidence vested in him. He threw off the bow lines and caught a wind. He loved the strong force, the exploration, the unknown. By age 20, his sails were full and there was no stopping his peregrination, his journey, his pilgrimage to pay homage to the great game of cricket.
Sachin undertook this quest for a votive purpose: a vow to love the game as taught to him by his father. The true meaning of father and son sits right here. Ramesh Tendulkar inspired his boy to dream. And as Sachin revealed in his farewell speech, three decades later, it was a lifelong sentiment that drove him on.
"The most important person in my life, and I have missed him a lot since 1999, when he passed away - my father. Without his guidance, I don't think I would have been standing here in front of you. He gave me freedom at the age of 11, and told me that [I should] chase my dreams, but make sure you do not find shortcuts. The path might be difficult, but don't give up. And I have simply followed his instructions. Above all, he told me to be a nice human being, which I will continue to do and try my best. Every time I have done something special [and] showed my bat, it was [for] my father."
Incredible love is what Sachin had for cricket, and cricket for Sachin. Not a bad word said in 24 glorious years representing a nation addicted to loving a game - more than any other nation has cherished any such pastime. Nothing but sheer love abounded. And gratitude.
His novice years as an international cricketer were revealing and yet predictable. He struggled a little, as he should. He learned about failure and pain and he gained much in his first 20 Tests. Tours to Pakistan and New Zealand in 1989-90, England in 1990 (on which he made his first Test hundred, at Old Trafford) - his first ten Tests gave him a worldly education.
In his 11th Test, he played at home for the first time. It would be another ten Tests before he played another on familiar soil, in between touring the globe further - to Australia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Upon reaching the ripe old age of 20 he had played 25 Tests, scoring just over 1500 runs at 44, with five splendid centuries against three giants of the game - England and Australia (twice each), and South Africa. He had already welcomed Shane Warne onto the stage with dismissive disdain in his 148 not out (his second Test hundred) in Sydney, but unleashing hell was to come.
Cricket is not just about performance. It's also about life. It's about how you leave an imprint on the young: the imprint of integrity, of honesty and of gratitude. Sachin Tendulkar lived this quality all his life
By his 30th Test he was averaging over 50. From there he would never look back. By his 100th Test he was averaging over 55 per innings, with 31 centuries notched on his belt. And so the love continued. And we all loved him back so dearly.
Over the next decade he kept sailing strongly, stopping at times to fix a broken halyard or a torn wing; his body was well managed yet the never-ending, sometimes gruelling, ritual had to take its toll. While his body needed constant nourishment, his mind and more notably his heart, surged on.
After 18 years at the top, concern of an ending was expressed by onlookers, yet Sachin stood fast. His ardent reply was to be patient, that these waters needed careful manoeuvring. It was India he was referring to, regarding protection and safety, not his own. His patriotism was extraordinary. And the loyalty he displayed to the cause, day in day out, was a mind-blowing trait. It never wavered, always resolute, forever caring.
Through the nineties India began to find a new confidence and power as a nation. Mahatma Gandhi would never have foreseen such a mighty force awoken due to the birth of the computer age, yet it did and with the economy thriving and the cricket captivating, the one figure who kept emerging as the inspirer was Tendulkar himself. India rightly were in love with their pied piper. They flocked to see him play.
In late 1995, in my final match, after 14 long years serving my country, we played the fifth one-day international in Nagpur. Enjoying the small boundaries, New Zealand posted their own record one-day score.
During the lunch break, there was a disaster. Part of the ageing, jam-packed stadium collapsed and injured over 70 spectators. Nine were killed. In the dressing rooms, oblivious to the tragedy, both sides prepared for the chase by India, led at the top by Tendulkar. As the rescue operations moved in, the game restarted. Then, as Tendulkar took strike, the stunned and concerned crowd, amid all the melee, turned their eyes to the middle, transfixed. No one moved, they just watched. As the rescue continued, the dream ride that everyone was on began again. Another Tendulkar innings was underway. This was the behaviour of a nation obsessively engrossed in every movement of its chosen son.

****

Of course there have been others - Brian Lara, Jacques Kallis and Shane Warne, to name three who led with different, phenomenal skills. These men thrilled and enthralled generations, for they too played long into the night, fearlessly and instinctively. Their passion, courage, longevity and genius will never be forgotten. They stood apart in their own nations' tapestry, setting the bar high, leaving deep vacancies. They were freaks of nature. And it was a privilege to watch such richness exude across the playing fields, especially when they competed against each other.
When Warne bowled to Tendulkar it was like watching a volcano erupt. The heat was at it its greatest, exploding forth. Tendulkar on his day was that eruption. No one has ever forgotten it.
Cricket is not just about performance. It's also about life. It's about how you leave an imprint on the young: the imprint of integrity, of honesty and of gratitude. Sachin Tendulkar lived this quality all his life and he shared it with us all, as only he could.
It can then be said, without hesitation or demurring, that the greatest cricketer of the last 20 years is that little master from Maharashtra, the man who sailed away with every record and every heart, due to the love of a father, and of a game that fulfilled his soul.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s and early '90s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand