From becoming the youngest to score an international fifty to raking up a record 100 centuries across formats, Sachin Tendulkar set the bar in modern-day batsmanship and in doing so, became the favourite son of a nation.
So great is Tendulkar’s legacy and his body of work that, to date, more than five years after his international retirement, loudest cheers at stadiums – in India and elsewhere – are often reserved for when the cameras project him on the big screen.
Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar made his India debut aged 16 and almost instantly became the apple of his cricket-obsessed country’s eye. When he finally bowed out, two and a half decades later, he was the owner of several major batting records, and had risen, in the estimation of his countrymen, to an almost immortal being.
If immortality comes from achievements, the ‘Little Master’ does have a very good claim to it. For starters, he has a stunning aggregate of 34,357 runs across formats, more than 6,000 ahead of the second-placed Kumar Sangakkara. Those numbers came on the back of hundreds – hundred of them to be exact, 29 clear of the next on the list, Ricky Ponting.
Tendulkar also redefined the realms of what was considered doable in international cricket. The foremost example of this would be his pioneering act of scoring a one-day international double century in 2010. He brought up the mark 39 years after the format came into existence. In the nine years since then, there have been seven more ODI double-hundreds.
Tendulkar’s penchant for big records stretches back to his days in school cricket when he famously notched up a then-record, unbroken partnership of 664 runs with Vinod Kambli, who also went on to play for India, when playing for Shardashram Vidyamandir against St Xavier’s High School in 1988.
He made his Ranji Trophy debut for Mumbai in the 1988-89 season, and scored a hundred on debut against Gujarat aged 15, finishing his side’s leading run-scorer for that season. He was soon awarded his maiden Test call-up during India's tour to Pakistan in November 1989.
A gritty fifty in his very second innings against an attack featuring Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Abdul Qadir, showed that he belonged at the highest level. Nine months later he scored his first century, against England in Manchester. As history has it, once Tendulkar tasted the delight in triple-figures, he developed a ravenous hunger for more of it, recording 51 centuries in Tests and 49 in ODIs.
On 2 April 2011, after five fruitless attempts, Tendulkar was finally able to realise the dream of lifting the World Cup trophy, as India defeated Sri Lanka by six wickets at his home ground. Playing his final World Cup at 37, his appetite for runs remained undiminished, as he ended up as India’s leading run-scorer in the campaign and second overall.
He called it quits from ODIs in 2012, having scored his much-awaited hundredth hundred in his penultimate match. His final Test appearance came against West Indies in Mumbai in November 2013, his 200th game – a great way to sign off for a player who dealt in centuries, and it also served as a fitting testament to his longevity.
Since his retirement from international cricket, Tendulkar has continued maintaining a close relationship with cricket, having made prominent appearances at ICC events as ambassadors of various tournaments, including the 2015 ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup and the 2017 ICC Women’s World Cup and serving as a mentor to the Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League.
Tendulkar is often discussed by commentators and pundits as the elevated benchmark against whom contemporary batsmen are compared. One suspects that his name – much like the names of Sir Donald Bradman, Sir Vivian Richards, Sir Garfield Sobers, Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan and Jacques Kallis among a handful of others – will live on as long as the game exists.