India, Dec. 24 -- A cherubic face and diminutive frame are an unlikely combination for a sportsman destined to conquer the world and inspire millions of fans to frenzied adoration. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar is that rare specimen, who came into the cricketing world 23 years ago and today, when he leaves the one-day format of the game, has compiled a staggering amount of runs and records which would be almost impossible for any sportsman in flesh and blood to replicate.
Test of character
It has been an epic journey, replete with dramatic ups and downs, plagued with injuries, loss of form and he has had to bear the pressure of such unbearable expectations that it is a marvel he never broke down completely, physically or mentally.
In his short but sturdy frame, Tendulkar wielded a bat whose weight batsmen, much taller and stronger than him, would have found difficult to swing freely, let alone play strokes which were as much borrowed from the text books as they were a creation of a genius who could not be always stifled by the grammar of batting.
The mystique of Tendulkar, his status as the "greatest ever" in our minds and possibly in the collective thinking of the cricketing world, stems from his prodigious talent that was as much comfortable playing the longer format as the shorter one.
Sunil Gavaskar in many books would rate a better Test cricketer than him, but falls far short of him when placed in a one-day context.
India had seen a batting perfectionist but had never seen a batsman who could dominate any attack, tear it to shreds and yet score in hundreds.
It is this facet of his batting in one-dayers, where his masterly control, intuitive innovations and an instinctive reading of match situations made him play knocks out of bounds for mere mortals.
When just five years old in the international arena and struggling to make an imprint in limited-overs cricket, Tendulkar's fortunes changed on a blustery, cold morning in Christchurch.
This was a short series in 1994, where Kapil Dev played his final Test, Tendulkar woke up to find that the regular opener Navjot Singh Sidhu had a stiff neck and was not going to play.
He seized the opportunity, went up to manager Ajit Wadekar and made a request to let him open the innings. His wish was granted and what followed was a blistering, audacious attack on the New Zealand bowlers, which changed forever Tendulkar's image and standing in a world getting more and more enamored of the one-day game.
The quiet, reserved demeanour, for which he is known and respected even today, was not a sign of timidity or lack of confidence. It became evident in the press conference he addressed after that awesome innings. On being asked that "does he regret getting out to a poor stroke" he replied: "Had that ball gone soaring for a six, you would not have been asking me this question." This was the reply of a batsman who was not afraid of taking risks and neither was sacred of failures. Time passed and he became the game's most prolific batsman, despite the dominant nature of his play, leaving people to struggle to find epithets which could do justice to his achievements.
As he bids farewell to that format of the game, which he has dominated as few have done before him or are likely to do in future, all one can say, with a tinge of sadness, is "you will be missed".
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.