Many have said he should have left soon after the 2011 World Cup. It was his moment and the timing couldn’t have been better. I asked him the same question. Here’s what he had to say, “A number of my friends have asked me why I did not retire from one-day 50- over international cricket after winning the World Cup. The summit had been scaled and there isn’t anything to be achieved in this format for me anymore. They may well be right. It could, indeed, have been a grand exit. Emotions were running high and the timing could not be better. But to be honest, such a thought had never occurred to me. The World Cup was about India and I had no right to make it into an event of my own.”
I think this answer settles it once and for all who he played for. In retirement from ODI cricket, he continues to do the same play for India. Having realised he doesn’t have much to offer India anymore, he called it a day in the 50-over format. He could surely have played against Pakistan, given precedence to personal glories. But that’s not Tendulkar. Never was.
Suffice to say he was the greatest who ever played the 50-over game. More because he managed to sustain it for well over two decades. If the early 1990s was a trailer, the best was to come in 1998 at Sharjah. It came when a desert storm stalled India’s run chase at Sharjah in a crunch game against Australia in the Coca-Cola Cup in April 1998. I remember the players lying on the ground, with the storm blowing across the stadium. India’s chances of making the final were remote. But Tendulkar wasn’t done. Not only did he propel India to the final but as an absolutely stunned Tony Greig said in commentary, that he was going for victory in a manner only he could. He did achieve the elusive triumph for India on his birthday a couple of days later, with a century that had given the legendary Shane Warne nightmares about Sachin.
But it was the 1999 World Cup that brought to light his unrivalled commitment to the nation. Forced to return home after his father’s demise, Tendulkar was back in action within days. His look up at the sky after completing that fantastic hundred against Kenya, a century he dedicated to his father, brought tears to the eyes of every Indian cricket fan.
Some continue to say Tendulkar was vulnerable in times of real pressure. Indian cricketers have hardly been under greater pressure than at Centurion in South Africa, in the game against Pakistan in the 2003 World Cup. Kargil was still fresh in our memory and the match epitomised what George Orwell called “war minus the shooting”.
Chasing Pakistan’s respectable 273, Tendulkar was well and truly up against it. And in that one Shoaib Akhtar over, the second of India’s innings, he stamped his mark on the game. That famous six off Akhtar over thirdman has had entire TV programmes made on it. His 98 was an outpouring of Indian emotion, an innings of incomparable passion and intensity. Winning player of the tournament, Tendulkar was instrumental in leading India to its second ever World Cup final.
How best to sum up what Tendulkar means to us all? For many like me growing up, in an India falling prey to turmoil and secessionist movements, he was a ray of hope, helping craft a national imaginary that looked solid and resolute. He was a sign of India’s resurgence, a quiet reassurance that things, if not alright yet, were certain to get better.
Having broken every record in the book and having scored the first ever one-day double hundred, Tendulkar can surely rest as the greatest ODI batsman in history, who managed to fulfill his ultimate dream, win the 2011 world cup on home soil.
The writer is a sports historian
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