Eighteen Years of Sachin Tendulkar
Given the number of ODI's that are played by a top team in a year, making 1000 runs in a calender year in ODI is the gold standard in ODI batting. If you look at all the players who have done this (the feat has been performed 87 times by 48 different batsmen in the 24 years since David Gower first did it in 1983), then on average, these batsmen make 10 scores of 50 or more in such a year. Sachin Tendulkar has made 128 such scores in the 18 years that he played cricket - 7 per year. He features 7 times in the list of batsmen who have made 1000 runs or more in a calender year. In the list of "Most runs in a series" by an Indian batsman, of the top 50 such efforts, 14 are Tendulkar's.
Over the past 18 years, he has achieved a great deal. The precocious youngster who faced up at Karachi on November 15, 1989 is today the greatest colossus of the One Day game - arguably the greatest batsman since the Second World War. In a year when he finds himself in a bind which is unlike anything any cricketer has ever faced in history, he has made 13 fifties and a century - including 6 scores in the nineties. Tendulkar has not only made the most number of centuries in ODI history, he also has the best fifty to hundred conversion rate (inspite of 16 scores in the 90's) in ODI history. Yet, this year, he hasn't been able to get to three figures since January.
Be that as it may, his batting today was an exhibition of the distilled essence of his mastery. It was studious, it was methodical, it was breathtakingly skillfull, it was at times viciously powerful. Above all it was ruthless without ever missing that crucial element which marks great sport - enjoyment. It was a joy to watch. He has produced innings of this type this year. Indeed the extended injury free run (please touch wood if you can reach it in your vicinity - please define your vicinity liberally :) ) seems to have given him confidence. He's gotten better and better as the year has gone on.
If ever there was an exhibition of mastery in a nutshell, it was in one over from Shahid Afridi, where Tendulkar moved from 65 to 77 with three boundaries which were exhilirating in their faultless execution. The thing is - these were strokes of an instinctive genius, planned and executed with practiced ease. They looked deceptively easy. The first one was quite conventional - Tendulkar gave himself room as many batsmen sometimes do against the leg spinner (in order to hit with the break), and lofted a reasonably good length (for a spinner) delivery to the cover fence. The next ball, he backed away to leg again, Afridi dragged it down just a trifle bit shorter in order to beat the lofted stroke. Tendulkar waited that extra yard and played a square drive, backward of square, on the rise. The last of the three balls was a replay of the second, except that this one was belted away in front of square. The timing was such that the sweeper fielder could do nothing about it. It's hard enough to hit a pace bowler on the rise - its probably even more difficult to do it off a spinner. Strokes in the batting textbook were played as a matter of course, and they do not even ellicit comment.
When Tendulkar made his Test debut, economic liberalization was still a pipedream, the internet was an academic "information superhighway", the Soviet Union was in the throes of glasnost and perestroika, the South Africans had little or no hope of playing international cricket in the 1990's and Sunil Gavaskar had only just retired from all first class cricket (indeed Gavaskar and Tendulkar were both named to the list of probables for the Mumbai Ranji Trophy team for the 1987-88 season. Tendulkar didn't make the eleven that year, but did so in 1988-89 and made a hundred on debut against Gujarat at the Wankhede). Since then, while all else has seen tremendous upheaval, we have been able to rest assured that we in India possessed one of the most gifted cricketers ever. Over the years, this relationship has changed as Tendulkar went from being the precocious boy wonder to an unsuccessful captain, to a wealthy, slightly distant master.
C P Surendran said it best. When Tendulkar emerges from the dark confines of the pavilion "a whole nation, tatters and all, marches with him to the battle-arena. A pauper people pleading for relief, remission from the lifelong anxiety of being Indian ... seeking a moment's liberation from their India-bondage through the exhilarating grace of one accidental bat."
For 18 years, Tendulkar has remained at the cutting edge of a game that has evolved beyond recognition. While one would want to wish him many more years of cricketing success (out of pure selfishness), it almost seems impolite to demand any more. Instead i will pray that he should never have to get out in the 90's again.