`The Little Big Genius` of Indian cricket
New Delhi: A man so exceptionally gifted that the entire cricketing fraternity remained wide-eyed in awe till his last innings but so unassuming about his own aura that even the pressure of a billion expectations failed to ever distract, let alone rattle him.
That, in essence, is the legend of Sachin Tendulkar, who became much more than a iconic cricketer by the time he turned up to play his 200th and final Test which ended in Mumbai on Saturday.
Cricket was lucky to have an enduring phenomenon like Tendulkar, who didn`t just inspire an entire generation but around whom, the game`s administrators managed to build a huge industry which ran into billions.
The 40-year-old shouldered the burden of being a perfect role model for nearly a quarter of a century with such effortless ease that it prompted questions on whether he was even human.
Not a single misplaced word, never a hint of trouble on or off the field, not even a moment of embarrassment, Tendulkar displayed sage-like qualities despite being the most scrutinised cricketer of his era, showing a restless young generation just how to handle fame and pressure.
He was all of 16 when Tendulkar found himself in the cauldron of fire that is international cricket, that too against arch-foes Pakistan.
Up against the dreaded duo of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, Tendulkar exhibited maturity that belied his tender age and a resolve that would make a seasoned gladiator proud.
And he never let that resolve waver in his 24 years in international cricket whether it was while dealing with the changing faces in oppositon camps or the critics, who grew in number as the years progressed.
Fans got a glimpse of that resolute personality when Tendulkar, left shattered by the loss of his father in the middle of the 1999 World Cup, joined back the team after completing the last rites and struck a hundred against Kenya.
The Mumbaikar, fondly called Little Master and Master Blaster by his fans all over the world, did go through his fair share of tormenting low ebbs in what was largely a glittering career.
But without an iota of doubt, the only batsman to score 100 international centuries (51 in Tests and 49 in ODIs), would be remembered as the greatest to have played the game after the "incomparable" Don Bradman.
He failed miserably as a captain and was bogged down by the massive responsibility of anchoring Indian batting during a time when the fall of his wicket was akin to the team folding up.
More recently, he was woefully out of form during India`s Test and ODI whitewash at the hands of England last year and carried the weight of expectations to what turned out to be a horror tour of Australia.
But then Tendulkar dug his heels, displayed the resolve that came to define him and ensured that he went out on his own terms in front of emotionally-overwhelmed fans, who would certainly feel a huge vaccum given that India does not have too many sporting heroes to look upto.
Much before his debut, Tendulkar`s precocious talent was there to be seen when he shared an unbeaten 664-run stand with buddy Vinod Kambli in the Lord Harris Shield Inter-School Game in 1988.
His first Test century came in England in 1990 at Old Trafford and the rest, as they say, is history, that too in golden words. All existing batting records became Tendulkar`s except for Brian Lara`s Test match highest of 400 not out and first class highest score of 501 not out.
Tendulkar was also the first batsman in the world to score a double ton in ODIs, a feat he achieved in Gwalior against South Africa in February 2010. This was included in Times magazine`s top 10 sports moments of the year.
The biggest compliment to his batting came from Bradman himself in 1999 when he said that Tendulkar`s style of playing resembled his style. "That touch I used to feel when I batted," he had said.