THE first time one saw him, on the eve of India's four to Pakistan in 1989, Sachin Tendulkar looked just another youngster with a desire to make a name for himself in the world of cricket. He returned from that tour having shown glimpses of the immense talent that he possesses. Even a demanding player like Imran Khan was mighty impressed by the lad's temperament and guts. Nine years later, Sachin rules the world of cricket as its premier batsman, who has made achieving distinctions a way of life, really.
Not that he plays for records or cares for statistics because to Sachin the most important thing is his team's victory. He spent his childhood dreaming about playing cricket for the country and is now engaged in inspiring a generation of youngsters into becoming successful achievers in the field of sport. Nothing pleases Sachin more than his countrymen doing well and has little time for petty-minded people who doubt his loyalty and credibility. He is one sportsman who brings joy to the entire nation and any comment doubting his honesty and commitment can only be described as absurd. In the last two years or so Sachin has attained standards of batsmanship very few have in the history of the game.
The triumph which he crafted at Sharjah last April left an entire nation indebted to him, for having given the Indians reason to celebrate and feel proud of themselves. Sachin has remained a selfless cricketer and shall remain one until he decides to stop playing. One has seen from close quarters how he feels when the team loses or someone misses the chance to hit a century. Watch him after a defeat and you will feel sorry for this man who takes things so much to heart. Or watch him console the bowlers when they get hit or cheer the Indian batsmen when they get going to discover what a wonderful teamman he is. Watch him take singles as if his life depended on it. And he does not just run his own runs. He is more happy running for others.
That Sachin takes his cricket very seriously is good for the team and obviously for him, too. From a young age he has carried the burden of batting and often spent sleepless nights wondering about the fate of his team. He knew he had to contribute for the team to think in terms of victory and the pressure often left him disturbed. It is another matter that he often handled the situation so well. Any other individual would have collapsed, but Sachin has derived great strength from such challenges in life.
What would Indian cricket be without Sachin Tendulkar? This question was best answered at Toronto recently when he joined the team for the fifth match after having missed the first four because of the Indian Olympic Association wanting him badly at Kuala Lumpur for the Commonwealth Games. The team gained immensely as the batting looked up substantially with his return. Finally, there was some character in India's performance. His half century was a testimony of the man's commitment. What did he gain from representing the team at the Commonwealth Games? He was very disheartened by some silly remarks by one of the officials accompanying the Indian contingent. And then some weird suggestions of the team not wanting to play well also hurt Sachin, who, however, wisely chose to ignore the critics, who were not aware of the facts. "I have always taken great pride in representing the country and nothing gives me greater joy than seeing the tricolour flutter high in the stands," Sachin told The Sportstar. A pity they do not play the National Anthem at cricket grounds everytime India wins.
Just to remind that cricketers, like Sachin and others, are second to none when it comes to patriotism. Sachin Tendulkar with Saeed Anwar. The Indian has now scored three more one-day hundreds than the Pakistani opener. Ask the little kids, in rich homes or on the streets, and a majority of them want to be Sachin Tendulkar. It is another matter that Sachin had to work very hard and make plenty of sacrifices to reach where he is now. When he accepted the invitation to meet Sir Don Bradman, he made sure that he returned in time to receive the Khel Ratna award from the President. "That moment of receiving the award matched all my great moments on the field," said an emotional Sachin. And some people think that he lacked commitment at Kuala Lumpur. The greatest quality of Sachin is his ability to understand the needs of his mates and, of course, the team. He is aware that the team looks up to him and there is never a lack of effort from this selfless cricketer. To say that he was not focussed on his job would be insulting one of the most committed cricketers. He sets new standards everytime he walks out to bat.
The adventurous streak in him sometimes gets the better of Sachin, but he prefers to be the Robin Hood of modern batting, marking the best of bowlers for some special treatment. Sachin makes it a point to whip the best of the bowlers and that reflects his class, really. "The record happened," said Sachin, referring to his 18th century in one-day internationals at the Queens Sports Club against Zimbabwe. It was a feat which placed him at the top of the list with Desmond Haynes relegated to the second spot and Pakistan's Saeed Anwar at third. Haynes and Anwar experienced much less pressure than Sachin and thus could afford to bat with greater freedom. Haynes was an accumulator because Gordon Greenidge at the other end took care of rapid scoring. Haynes did not mind biding his time before taking over, but Anwar was different. The left-handed Pakistani believes in seizing the initiative from the beginning and on his day can be a very difficult batsman to contain because he has almost all the shots. Anwar and Sachin had an interesting race as they attempted to scale Haynes' record and the Indian maestro breezed ahead with six centuries this year.
Four years ago Sachin did not even have one one-day century to his credit. And finally it came in a match against Australia at Colombo with all the grandeur of attacking batsmanship. Then came the move to promote Sachin as an opener and he became a different batsman, much to the chagrin of bowlers the world over. Sachin gradually developed into a complete batsman, mainly because of the immense responsibilities thrust upon him in one-day matches. He had to attack, inspire his partners, and essentially give the innings the momentum at the top. Sounds so easy but he had to make a few technical adjustments before he could successfully do what he wanted. In the case of Haynes and Anwar, accomplished batsmen both, neither was ever under any kind of pressure to give the innings a distinctive course with individual brilliance. There was a solid back up for both these batsmen, unlike Sachin who was always aware that a failure would reduce his team's chances. True, India has won matches when Sachin did not score, but generally it is believed that he has to lead the way, with due respect to the others. It must also be said that in his formative years, Sachin had a caring captain in Mohammed Azharuddin, who always encouraged him to pursue what he thought was best, and a very supportive manager in Ajit Wadekar. Azhar and Sachin have respect for each other and the two share a relationship that has been very beneficial to the team.
Sachin is not pretentious. He is very transparent as a person, with little dislikes, and generally loves to get on with his job. He may appear reserved, but his mates know he is an entirely different person in the dressing room. What strikes them most is his effort to be one of them. Sachin Tendulkar is God's gift to Indian cricket and a treasure to preserve. Indian sport has very few heroes and Sachin happens to be the glowing example of what one can achieve if talent is combined with diligence. "I just want to see India win whenever it plays in any sport," he says. That sentence should be enough to show the caring and positive side of Sachin Tendulkar. There is nothing negative about him, one must add.