From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.35 :: NO.13 :: Mar. 29, 2012
Fighting spirit… India's batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar pulls Pakistan off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq on way to his century at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai in January 1999. Sachin's back problem that surfaced during the epic knock tested his resolve.
It's astonishing that Sachin Tendulkar has shouldered the enormous weight of expectations of a countless people for what now appears an eternity. His strength of mind and the precious ability to insulate himself from the surrounding pressures have been formidable allies in his conquests. The maestro's commitment gleams like headlights on an unlit highway.
Tendulkar has fought back from injuries, many of them serious in nature. The back problem that surfaced during his epic hundred in a losing cause against Pakistan in Chennai in 1999 tested his resolve. Tendulkar came back stronger.
Years and years of relentless cricket do leave scars on the body. Tendulkar survived serious fitness concerns between 2004 and 2006 when a tennis elbow and a shoulder injury threatened his career. Along the way, he evolved and adjusted his game to overcome the physical roadblocks. For instance, when he was grappling with the back injury, Tendulkar began using a comparatively lighter bat. When he was bothered by the tennis elbow, he became even more bottom-handed and almost completely cut out the cover-drive. This was a phase when he relied on his on-side shots for a majority of his runs. And when the shoulder injury surfaced, Tendulkar eased up on the pull shot that could have aggravated the problem.
Indeed, he has a mind that can find solutions and a flexible game that can execute plans. When in full flow, though, years fall away as Tendulkar conjures timeless classics with brush strokes of genius; the arena is often his canvas. Despite an illustrious career of milestones, cricket's most successful batsman has retained a great sense of humility.
He said to this writer during an interview, “It basically boils down to your passion for the game. Without passion you cannot play. I have retained my passion for the game. I have asked myself the tough questions. I love the game. I enjoy my cricket.
“There are a lot more distractions and how the young cricketers handle it depends on the players themselves. I think the young cricketers must respect the game. By this I mean, your team-mates, the opposition, the fans, the officials, the umpires and the ground staff. If you develop that respect for the game, everything else will fall in place.”
Importantly, he said, “I also feel you have to be a good human being to evolve as a cricketer. Cricket is just a part of your life.”
Not surprisingly, he asks himself the tough questions. He must have answered many as he shut his eyes for those precious seconds he found for himself in the middle of a mayhem following his 100th international century in Dhaka.
During his astonishing journey, Tendulkar has blended power with finesse. He can also run like a hare during the later stages of an ODI innings. He is an explosive athlete.
Tendulkar has, over the years, displayed a heart larger than his frame during crisis situations. His batsmanship defines technical perfection but he has steel in his bones. Former India opener Navjot Singh Sidhu recalled how Tendulkar, during his maiden international campaign, had left him astounded by his courage. It was the tour of Pakistan and Tendulkar, just 16 years old then, faced a barrage of short-pitched deliveries from fast bowlers Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis without wilting. He took blows on his body, shed blood on the pitch, but refused to leave the crease. Watching the compelling action from the other end, Sidhu was convinced that a star was born.
It didn't take much long for Tendulkar to don the cloak of a match-winner in the cauldron. When he missed matches due to injuries, the Indians desperately missed Tendulkar and he missed being in the thick of action.
Despite the passage of time and the years of playing the game taking a toll on his body and mind, the man remains a genius on the field. His caresses under the afternoon sun still seem like a magic; a maestro's legerdemain.
There could be a cover, a mid-off and a sweeper cover, yet Tendulkar would bisect the field with exquisite timing and placement to find the fence. On view would be a heady amalgam of footwork, balance and last-minute adjustment of hand and wrists as the ball is driven through the slender gap, past desperately diving fielders.
Staggering numbers are often associated with Tendulkar. But then, his batting is not about numbers alone. It's a thing of beauty.
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