EVERYTIME he steps on the cricket field with the bat in his hand, he receives a rapturous reception. The bat is his best friend and the cricket field, his favourite resort. The man can think of nothing but cricket. These days, however, he allows his mind to be distracted, and for good reason. Daughter Sara holds the attention of Sachin Tendulkar as he recuperates from a back injury.
Life for Tendulkar has been very demanding in the last couple of years. Privacy has become a great luxury for this man who carries Indian cricket on his back. No wonder, it has become sore, leading Tendulkar to miss two tournaments in succession.
Just imagine, a 25-year-old unable to take a walk without being mobbed; his having to present a smiling face to hundreds of strangers in a day; being stared at in restaurants and unable to eat in peace; signing endless autographs. Probably, he is paying the price for being a celebrity.
Beneath the exterior of the greatest destroyer of bowlers in contemporary cricket resides a soul which would not mind enjoying the good things in life provided he finds time off his business of winning matches for India. Yes, cricket is a team game but this man monopolises the stage when he bats. Now, he is expected to work magic with the ball too at the World Cup.
What would Indian cricket be without Tendulkar? Didn't you get the answer in the recent past when India looked a loser even before the toss. His absence meant that the team looked average and the batting, at many points, pedestrian.
Let us not try to compare him with the rest because there is none like Tendulkar. The classy Brian Lara comes closest because both share the same pressures of batting. If Tendulkar fails, the team generaly fails too. The same goes for Lara, who must score everytime he bats. Otherwise, there is no cricketer who carries the fortunes of the team like Tendulkar does. The team's dependence on Tendulkar, with respect to the other 10 members, is complete. Whatever chances critics talk of India having at the World Cup are solely based on the hope that Tendulkar will return to the team and show the way with his explosive and dominating batsmanship.
Have you observed the joy on Tendulkar's face even as he hides the pain when carrying the team to great heights? The team's confidence, success and overall reputation are centred round this little genius. The entire nation expects him to explode with his awesome calibre to decimate the opposition attack and he rarely lets his countrymen down. ``My job is to win matches for India and I enjoy making my countrymen happy,'' has been his philosophy.
A feature of this man's batting art is the obsession to improve. Tendulkar's enthusiasm to dominate is boundless and his optimism about his team's progress, inexhaustible. He is shattered when he feels he has broken hearts by doing something silly, and the disappointment on his face at India's failure to win is quite genuine.
Tendulkar is a performer, and he loves the job when the stage is big. Take most of the limited overs finals last season and you will discover that Tendulkar shaped the team's victory. The manner in which he attacked Australia was an exhibition of positive batsmanship unmatched in recent times.
The power to destroy bowling is Tendulkar's greatest asset. Henry Olonga, Zimbabwean fast bowler, and Shane Warne, wily Aussie spinner, were treated the same way at Sharjah as Tendulkar launched a blistering assault. Their reputation destroyed, both the bowlers would have learnt quite a few lessons from the battering. One of the Aussies said jocularly that it was very easy to get rid of Tendulkar. ``With a gun.''
There are two great advantages of having Tendulkar in the starting line-up. He instils immense confidence in his mates and demoralises the opposition. He has this tremendous quality to take the pressure upon himself so that the man at the other end thrives. In his absence, some of the rated batsmen in the team have struggled to perform.
When Tendulkar hits the ball, you can see a master at work. There are not many three-runs in his innings for his boundaries are struck with power and precision. Stopping his shots on the line is rare. The bowler becomes defenceless simply because of the range of strokes that Tendulkar plays.
Tendulkar is such a versatile cricketer that no team can afford to miss his services. See how he takes his bowling seriously. The variety that he packs into his bowling is simply amazing. Of course, he knows his limitations as a bowler but what strikes one most is that he is unwilling to give up until the opposition has driven the last nail in the Indian team's coffin. And then you must see his crestfallen countenance.
It was in the interest of Indian cricket that he took forced rest because of his back injury even if it meant that the team's reputation dipped in the tri-series at home. The stress on Tendulkar, as seen in the Test series against Pakistan, was too much. And not fair to the young man at all. What role do the others play if Tendulkar alone is expected to win the matches?
The maestro can now return fresh for the World Cup and resume playing the familiar role of winning matches singlehanded. Tendulkar is invaluable and indespensable and as the commercial world believes, he is a cheque that shall never bounce.