The year is 2037. A 16-year-old is limbering up in the bullpen with his coach’s voice booming through the speakers in his helmet. He dare not press the button that will mute the tirade that threatens to be the background score for his debut. He is forced to listen to a litany of reasons why he would never be a Sachin Tendulkar—and this was supposed to be motivational. The boy grits his teeth, shakes his head and tries to wish away the pressure.
How could anyone match up?
They say the illustrious old man of world cricket—now living a quiet life on an island named after him—could make the ball travel higher than the tallest skyscraper; that he mysteriously grew wings while running between the wickets; that he made bowlers break down in the middle of a game. And this was in the 1990s, when bats were made of wood. He had seen some old videos but they were not half as grand as the tales they were told at camp.
The kid had become a national story because he was considered similarly talented but even the thought of measuring up to Tendulkar was as onerous as taking on all 20 Avengers in one go. Before fear could entirely overtake him, it was time to run out into the glass dome. The arena reverberated with chants of his name.
The only way he knew how to calm himself was with the thought: What would Sachin do?
Back in 1998, Sachin Tendulkar’s career was getting its final touch of credibility. In a defining moment, Sir Don Bradman, the Australian batting legend, had likened his own batting style to the young Indian’s. Tendulkar was 25 at the time. That affirmation was enough to put any lingering scepticism to rest. He was unreservedly crowned heir apparent to Bradman’s throne.
Now, in 2013, Tendulkar is considered the gold standard. You could almost pity the boy he chooses to anoint his successor. Stacking up to him, even sans the superhero cape fantasy writers have a habit of adding, is a fool’s errand: Most modern-day cricketers shrink from any comparison.
Since the age of 16, Tendulkar has been a larger-than-life figure dominating world cricket and the collective imagination of its fans. Before he even stepped on to the national stage, he was already the brightest star in the school cricket firmament. Safe to say, where Tendulkar went, the spotlight followed—and it was never as intense as last month when he finally said farewell to the game. Not even his worst critic could resist joining in the sentimental goodbye.
However, as the focus shifts to the Indian team’s fortunes in South Africa, and on whom the mantle of the No. 4 batting position will fall, Tendulkar is no longer top of mind. It is as it should be in the after-life, as it were, of a sportsman, which is drenched with the inevitability of moving on. Already on the maidans, the young boys talk of newer heroes. “It is not that they don’t mention Sachin but they are equally enamoured with the likes of Virat [Kohli] and [MS] Dhoni,” says Raju Pathak, coach of Rizvi Springfield, the school that has produced prodigious run-scorers over the last few years (most recently, boy wonder Prithvi Shaw). This transition has been going on for the last couple of years, he says.
But the Tendulkar effect is less about direct transference and more about a chain reaction. Even the youngest admirer of a Rohit Sharma or a Virat Kohli—or of their successors or those after them—will inextricably be linked to Tendulkar by virtue of his influence in reshaping the sport over the last couple of decades. Picture Indian cricket as a family tree and you will find him at the apex, connected to the very last link. His teammates, both old and new, are less intimidated, more grateful, for the association.
For those still scrambling to define it, this, here, is very quietly his legacy.
Fact: The Tendulkar legend may not assume the mythical proportions imagined at the beginning of this piece. This is unlike Bradman, who has become almost sacred; his place as the best batsmen ever is non-negotiable in some parts of the world, even though there are hardly any left who have watched him play. Tendulkar, on the other hand, is more open to scrutiny because his life and times are not left to storytellers and blurred recollections. So as his records get rewritten, his technique analysed and personal failings noted, the memories will become hazier, less imposing. This is the lot of any modern great. Ask Michael Schumacher.
But, even diminished in some future date, his legacy will continue to be visible to those that seek to see it—in the generations of cricketers that have either modelled their game on him or been inspired by his attitude towards cricket.
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(This story appears in the 27 December, 2013 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)
really true!!! masteron Dec 13, 2013