Sachin Tendulkar, Test debut, India tour of Pakistan, Indian cricket team, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis
While it’s impossible to separate Tendulkar and numbers, there was so much more to him than hundreds and fifties and victories and defeats. File Photo: PTI

Sachin Tendulkar turns 50: The man who translated a million dreams into tangible reality

If Tendulkar seemed unaffected by outside expectations, it was only because he was busy trying to fulfil his own lofty demands

Apart from 100 international hundreds, Sachin Tendulkar also has 164 half-centuries at the highest level. Yet, it is the 50 he reached on Monday (April 24) that assumes the greatest significance as he grows a year wiser, if not older.

It seems like only yesterday when Tendulkar, all of 16 years old, burst on to the world stage. By then, his prolificity had manifested itself not merely in a world record partnership at the schools’ grade with his great mate Vinod Kambli, but also in hundreds on his debut in the Ranji Trophy, the Duleep Trophy, the Irani Cup and the 50-over Deodhar Trophy, a sparkling quartet unlikely to ever be emulated.

Driven to tears because he wasn’t picked for the tour of the West Indies in early 1989 when still 15, Tendulkar wasn’t to be denied for much longer. When K Srikkanth led India to their first full tour of Pakistan in more than a decade, Tendulkar was among the first names to be pencilled in. His selection was met with apprehension and fear – neither from his end – as the biggest concern revolved around his physical well-being. How would this kid, for that’s what he was, stand up to Wasim Akram and Imran Khan and the tearaway Waqar Younis? How would he square up against Abdul Qadir, the leg-spinning wizard?

Quite nicely, it turned out.

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Tendulkar’s arrival on the big stage

As Pakistan watched on in stunned disbelief, the world with mounting respect and India with an adoration that would only grow exponentially with time, Tendulkar provided a window to the future with two excellent half-centuries, the second after being struck on the face and left bleeding by Waqar in the final Test in Sialkot. In between, in an exhibition one-day game, he put Qadir firmly in his place. After he had smote young leggie Mushtaq Ahmed for two sixes, Qadir dared Tendulkar to hit him instead of the bachcha (kid), perhaps forgetting that he himself was daring a bachcha. In a tremendous exhibition of his ability to rise to a challenge, Tendulkar laid into Qadir with a sequence that read 6, 0, 4, 6, 6, 6. Suffice to say that that was the day when the legend of Tendulkar first took shape.

In no time, Tendulkar had become the fulcrum of the Indian batting. Yes, Dilip Vengsarkar and Mohammad Azharuddin were still around, as was Kapil Dev. Sanjay Manjrekar was establishing himself as one for the future with successive standout series in the West Indies and Pakistan. But it was Tendulkar who fired the imagination like none other, his calmness, maturity and poise belying his tender age and his stroke-play iridescent to the extent of sending such seasoned virtuosos as Richie Benaud and Ian Chappell into raptures when he unfurled his full repertoire.

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Golden Generation of Indian batting

For nearly the first decade of his 24-year career, Tendulkar was a free spirit, lighting up the cricketing world with one magnificent masterpiece after another. Be it the swing in England, the pace and bounce in Australia or the movement and lift in South Africa, he was at home, always having that extra second, always imposing himself on the bowling. In just his third series, all overseas, he steered India to a face-saving draw at Old Trafford in 1990 with the first of his 51 Test tons. And, when a year and a half later in 1992, he unleashed an epic on a searing WACA surface in Perth, it drove Merv Hughes, the maverick Australian quick, to run up to his captain Allan Border and tell him, “AB, this little p***k’s going to get more runs than you.” By then, Border had nearly 10,000 Test runs, Tendulkar less than a tenth of that number. Talk about prophecies.

While it’s impossible to separate Tendulkar and numbers, there was so much more to him than hundreds and fifties and victories and defeats. As India stepped into a brave new economic world, powered by the liberalisation of 1991, Tendulkar loomed as the undimming ray of hope, the epitome of emerging India that wasn’t content to operate in anyone else’s shadows anymore. That he came from a middle-class background, wore his genius lightly, refused to give in to the eccentricities that somehow seemed to be the truly greats’ calling card and remained the boy-next-door despite having the world at his feet struck a chord with the millions that hung on his every action, and who expected nothing but attractive, bountiful runs every time he went out to bat.

If Tendulkar seemed unaffected by outside expectations, it was only because he was busy trying to fulfil his own lofty demands. Even as he was taking bowling attacks apart, he remained alive to the fact that the Indian batting revolved around him, as it would until his final Test in November 2013. Even with the piecing together of the Golden Generation of Indian batting – Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly to go with Tendulkar – he was the one who was always the cynosure, the wicket the opposition coveted the most and the one Indians loved to love to the exclusion of all else.

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World Cup glory

The passage of time and the inevitable injuries that slowed him down but failed to stop him meant Tendulkar had to revisit his batting. Every time he attracted an injury – first the back, then the sesamoid bone in his foot and most damagingly the tennis elbow that threatened to be a game-changer – Indians brushed up on their knowledge of different parts of the human anatomy. Each time he looked an injury in the eye and forced it to blink first, a collective gasp of relief reverberated around the country. As the influencer of the moods of a nation, Tendulkar will remain unparalleled.

A celebrated career deserved a glorious high and that came in the autumn of his days as an Indian cricketer, at the World Cup at home in 2011. The team united as one to win it for the Little Master, with Yuvraj Singh taking it upon himself to steer the ship time after time despite battling serious illness. The outpouring of emotion – unfettered delight, tremendous joy, no little relief and the high of having reached the Promised Land – that drowned the Wankhede Stadium and the rest of the country on 2 April 2011 showed how much the little fella meant to the larger Indian cricketing fraternity.

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There’s a new Tendulkar on the horizon now, a strapping young man who charges in and bowls left-arm quick. Arjun will have to shoulder the weight of that famous surname, but he will also rest assured that in his corner is Sachin Tendulkar, the man who translated a million dreams into tangible reality.

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