From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.33 :: NO.33 :: Aug. 19, 2010
Sachin Tendulkar's longevity is best appreciated in contrast. Waqar Younis, who made his debut in the same Test as Tendulkar, had an 87-Test career in which he did enough to suggest that he was one of the all-time greats. He now coaches the Pakistan cricket team.
Stephen Fleming, born in the same year as Tendulkar, coaches the Chennai Super Kings after ending a 14-year Test career in 2008. The glittering Test careers of Shane Warne, Allan Donald, Anil Kumble, Glenn McGrath, Brian Lara and Muttiah Muralitharan have begun and ended in Tendulkar's time.
Much of Tendulkar's career has had an inevitability about it. What appeared most inevitable when these forecasts were made was that one day he would have played more Tests than anybody. When one starts at 16, nearly fully formed, it seems a given. Yet Tendulkar, if not many others, was aware of the difficulties of the accomplishment.
“The rest of the things can be achieved,” he said before the third Test against Sri Lanka, his 169th, “but for this you need an X number of years, an X number of tours, that's when this thing happens”.
The journey has taken Tendulkar longer than expected, due in no little part to the Indian administrators' attitude towards Test cricket, which was at its indifferent worst in the 1990s. As Tendulkar said, “At one stage, in the early nineties, I hardly got any Test matches. A couple of occasions there were just two or three Tests in a year. It was disappointing. That is not the case now. In the last few years we have played a reasonable amount of Test cricket.”
Despite the duration of the journey and its attendant duress, Tendulkar hasn't crept past the mark world-weary and bone-tired. Since turning 35 in April 2008, Tendulkar has made 2055 runs in 22 Tests with nine hundreds, of which seven have contributed to wins.
In one-day cricket in the same period, he has scored four centuries — three of which were over 160 (and one was 200 not out) — and four half-centuries in 24 innings. In his 168th Test, he compiled his fifth double-hundred and in the record-breaking 169th, he tendered an invaluable half-century in the fourth innings. Some second wind this.
There have been several instances of great cricketers maintaining high standards late in their careers: Jack Hobbs, who made more than 11000 first-class runs between his 43rd and 46th birthday, and Imran Khan, who averaged 50 with the bat and 19 with the ball in his last decade as a Test cricketer, are two. Don Bradman had his most productive year in terms of runs scored (1025 at nearly 114) in 1948, the year he retired. There have been others — Ian Botham, Vivian Richards, and Adam Gilchrist, to name three — whose standards slipped perceptibly. Critics were convinced in 2006 that Tendulkar belonged in the second group; they're now celebrating his inclusion in the first.
Tendulkar, in batting as he is these days, is doing what he has done all career: questioning conditioned wisdom. Most batsmen suffer a decline of their motor senses in their mid and late 30s; it's still better than the average man, but it makes run-scoring less certain. Batting is in essence lining up — sighting the delivery, assessing it, accessing it. Each of these abilities deteriorates slightly with age: employing them over a long, fatiguing innings demands more of them than they can give — which is why very few 37-year-olds play long, fatiguing innings. One expression of athletic genius is the stretching of the established limits of the human body. Tendulkar did it at 16; he continues to do so at 37.
Tendulkar is often asked what motivates him after having made his own nearly every batting record. His answer always is that he enjoys the game.
And that he enjoys getting better at it. “Whenever I have gone through tough phases, I have found a reason to work harder,” he said. “And try and spend all my energy at something I have been wanting to get better at.”
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