It was announced a few days ago that Sachin Tendulkar would retire from all forms of cricket after his 200th Test against the West Indies in a couple of weeks. It will bring to an end one of the most outstanding careers in cricket history.
It is a long-standing joke (which may well have some truth in it) that elections are never scheduled in India during a Test match in which Sachin is playing, because people might not turn out to vote if he was batting or expected to bat! It is a common sight to see people leaving the stadiums in their thousands once Sachin gets out.
India has a population of almost one and a quarter billion, most of whom worship Tendulkar. A case could be made that no other sportsman in history had such a fanatical fan base.
The comparison with other greats is inevitable. He is considered by many as the best batsman ever. I disagree. Pride of place has to go to Donald Bradman. You can't average 99 in Test cricket, almost twice what is considered the norm for the super greats, and not be number one. Sachin's place among the elites of the game cannot be questioned, however. At the very least, I would have him in the top five.
His average in Test cricket, 53.87, is very special but it doesn't set him apart. Several other batsmen in the game's long history have higher or similar averages. What a lot of them don't have, though, is Sachin's longevity. He made his debut way back in 1989, making an immediate impact, and so has been a star player for the better part of two and a half decades. There can't be too many sportsmen in the history of the world who can claim to have been a dominant force for so long. One hundred international centuries is probably something we will never see again in our lifetime.
cricket thrives on aesthetics
Unlike any other sport, though, cricket thrives on not just the numbers, but the aesthetics, not only on the 'how much', but also the 'how'. Here, Tendulkar may well be in a class of his own. In this twin combination of compiling astonishing figures, and yet remain pleasing on the eye, he has very little, if any peers. One or two others have been just as ruthless in their compiling of runs. A select few can claim to be his equal or superior in charming a gathering with audacious strokeplay, but not many mastered both categories the way he did.
The critics will say that his figures were flattering because he destroyed bowlers on featherbed wickets in India. That's unfair. He averages 52.83 in India with 22 hundreds, but he does slightly better away from home. Outside India, he has scored 29 centuries at an average of 54.75.
Sachin played Test cricket against all nine Test nations. He averaged no worse than 40 against any one of them, and scored at least two centuries against every opponent against whom he played. Here was a batsman, then, who had no weaknesses, no discernable flaw in his art. His game was built on not only breathtaking strokeplay, but also iron-clad defence.
As his career advanced, he fell off a little, inevitably. The big scores weren't coming with the same kind of regularity, but that was just to remind us that Sachin is indeed human. In his prime, it didn't seem to matter where he was, or who he was playing against. Fast bowling, slow, swing, it didn't matter when he was at his best.
One curious statistic is that for his long Test career, he never batted at three. I don't think any of the truly great batsmen in the game's history would have so shunned the number three position. Conventional cricket theory is that you bat your best batsman at one down. If an opener falls early, No. 3 is technically equipped to see off the new ball and wrest back the initiative to his team, while if the openers have a good start, he is adventurous and good enough to maintain or push the momentum.
That Sachin never batted at No. 3 in Tests seems to be an anomaly which the historians can ponder over and try to explain in time, but it was clearly not a lack of belief or ability. We need to look at Sachin closely when he takes guard against the West Indies in a couple weeks, because we may never see the likes of him again.
Orville Higgins is a talk-show host and sports journalist at KLAS FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.