Tendulkar's crown

Print edition : April 14, 2001

Sachin Tendulkar reaches a cricketing milestone by becoming the first player to reach the 10,000-run mark in one-day internationals.

HERE'S a simple question, with a simple answer.

Sachin Tendulkar prepares for a sweep against Shane Warne, watched by wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist, in the one-day international on March 31 at Indore, where he became the first batsman to cross 10,000 runs in ODI matches.-V.V. KRISHNAN

What would have been the most frightening thought for bowlers when India's Sachin Tendulkar became the first batsman to crack the 10,000-run barrier in one-day internationals?

That this could be the beginning of yet another journey - towards the next 10,000!

Here's a tougher question, with a tougher answer.

How many runs would Tendulkar have accumulated in both forms of the game when he eventually hangs up his boots?

25,000, 35,000, 45,000? Well... Tendulkar is only 28 now, and it is so hazardous to venture into a guess really, for the impossible is possible with the little great man.

He has already scored 6,720 runs from 82 Tests at an average of 56.95, and 10,105 in 266 limited overs internationals (LOIs) (average 42.64) to make a stunning grand total of 16,825; only Australia's Allan Border with 17,698 runs to his credit, has aggregated more. However, Tendulkar is way ahead when it comes to three-figure knocks - 25 in Tests and 28 in LOIs.

A lot more records are bound to come the way of this fabulous batsman, possessing that awesome combination of impeccable technique, a wonderful eye, quick-silver reflexes, and a heart larger than the breadth of his shoulders.

The significance of the landmark - which he achieved in the third ODI against Australia at Indore - lies not in the numbers alone. It is more about one man's infinite passion for the game, his quest for perfection, his date with glory.

And his pride in turning out for India. "A lot of people make money, earn crores, but how many of them get the chance to represent the country? It's an honour," he once said during an interview.

Tendulkar goes beyond the numbers. In fact, way beyond them. For him, it is a celebration of the spirit - the spirit of India.

Recently, a friend from Mumbai narrated an interesting story. About how he saw the ace cricketer having a knock at an obscure school nets at the Shivaji Park ground on a hot afternoon a couple of years ago. Tendulkar had then just returned from a tough overseas campaign, yet he could not resist taking off to a ground where it all began for him. It is this combination of hard work and astonishing talent that makes him such a dangerous proposition for his rivals.

Watching Tendulkar at the conditioning camps for the Indian team provides us an insight into his work ethics. In a session that might last five hours, he would seldom take a break.

The running and stretching routines would be followed by 'nets'. He would barely have taken the pads off after batting, when one could spot him with the ball in his hands and a glint in his eyes. And then he would take the lead in the fielding routines. It is non-stop action for him.

In fact, before this year's camp in Chennai, coach John Wright and fitness trainer Andrew Leipus made it clear that the players would not be able to take it easy during any phase of the camp. It did not matter to Tendulkar though - he was already doing just that.

And his total commitment on the field is also reflected off it. He is a man of word. A few years ago Tendulkar was in Chennai with the Sungrace Mafatlal team to compete in the Buchi Babu tournament. And when this writer approached him for an interview, he readily agreed.

However, the Mumbai team suffered a shock defeat at the hands of a local team, prompting a dramatic change in the tour itinerary. The team was flying out way ahead of the date the maestro had set aside for the interview.

Yet, Tendulkar honoured the commitment, and talked to The Sportstar, while his team-mates packed his bags (or else he would have missed the flight).

There was no compulsion whatsoever, and here lies his greatness. It is this spontaneous integrity that comes to the fore time and time on the cricket field too.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of Tendulkar's cricket is his enormous strength of mind that provides the cutting edge to his glittering talent. Carrying the expectations of millions of Indians can be mentally and physically an overwhelming challenge, yet the great man has seldom buckled under the responsibility. In fact, he has thrived on it.

Australia's captain Steve Waugh once marvelled at how Tendulkar invariably delivered in crunch situations despite the pressures on him as the premier batsman of a nation that breathed cricket. Steve Waugh should know, for Tendulkar had conjured two of his greatest one-day hundreds against the former's team in Sharjah, in 1998 - back-to-back knocks of 143 and 134, the first when India desperately needed the runs to qualify, and secondly when India chased a challenging target of 272. Shots flew in all directions, be it straight hits, rousing flicks, searing cover-drives, delicate cuts, or murderous pulls. For once, the resourceful Aussies ran out of ideas.

No wonder Tendulkar is such a natural one-day cricketer. And his body-balance, in defence and offence, against both pace and spin (he is at ease against both), and on bouncy and turning wickets, is the key to his winning ways.

What makes Tendulkar such a formidable batsman? Apart from the qualities mentioned above, it is his ability to win the 'battle of the mind' against the bowler. He almost seems to know what the next delivery would be, and is ready with a stroke. He picks the length so quickly that he has three strokes for every delivery - the hall-mark of a great batsman. No wonder he has so much time at his disposal.

Tendulkar's first impulse as he shapes to play a delivery is to attack; defence is only the second option. This is where his approach is vastly different from another Indian legend - Sunil Gavaskar - whose game stemmed from defence. While Gavaskar would wear the bowlers down, Tendulkar goes after them.

Gavaskar was the first batsman in Test history to achieve 10,000 runs in Test cricket and none can question the opener's success against the great speed merchants of that era. However, it must be conceded that in one-day cricket, Tendulkar surely scores over Gavaskar for his sheer shot-making skills. He can smack balls to which most batsmen would show their defensive blades.

Perhaps no other stroke conveys the joy of Tendulkar's batting than the short-arm pull that he unleashes even against deliveries just short of a good length, often picking the ball from off-stump - a stroke that has unsettled the best of bowlers. The back-foot thump through the covers too has rattled pacemen in the early overs.

On seaming wickets, the straightness of his bat, even as he wades into shots in the 'V', has often carried the day for him and India. Indeed, Tendulkar striking the quicks down the ground, his left elbow straight and high, is a glorious sight.

Tendulkar also relishes taking on the ace bowlers and hitting them off the firing line. One just has to look at his onslaught on the fiery Glenn McGrath of Australia in the recent one-day series to see the point. With his in-born sense of aggression, he can be destructive on the field.

The shift to the opening slot during the 1994 series in New Zealand - where he volunteered to don a new role when the team faced a crisis - has obviously been a huge turning point in Tendulkar's one-day career. Opening suited his temperament fine.

Until then, Tendulkar had walked in at No. 4 when the asking rate was already high, and he was like a caged tiger, with a hint of desperation in his methods. But as an opener, he could set his own pace, create, innovate, and make it easier for the rest.

It must be conceded that captaincy did take some of the gloss away from Tendulkar's batting - he did not seem to be enjoying his efforts anymore. And once the 'burden' was off his shoulders, the booming strokes were back in full play.

And until captain Sourav Ganguly's dramatic slump in form this season, Tendulkar formed a highly productive right-left opening partnership with the southpaw, that reached its pinnacle when the two, complementing each other, raised 252 against Sri Lanka in Colombo, during the 1998 tour of that country.

Add to it his 'baffling' bowling - his exotic repertoire of off-spin, leg-breaks, and seamers has now fetched him over 100 wickets in LOIs - his often brilliant fielding and his hectic running between the wickets, and we have a dynamo on the cricket field.

Yet greatness sits lightly on Tendulkar's shoulders. He is modest about his rather enormous achievements, often going out of his way to put the young players at ease, has a patient ear for the players of the past, sports a friendly smile for the fans even during moments of stress, betrays no sign of the arrogance that has eventually consumed so many cricketing superstars of the past. He is the man of the masses - both an entertainer and a winner for them.

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