Finally the inevitable happened in Mirpur, despite the excruciating wait and agonising moments. For the past one year, whenever India has stepped out on a cricket field, the question 'Could this be the day when Sachin Tendulkar scores his hundredth hundred?' has been uppermost in every fan's mind.
The man himself, when he scampered for a single to achieve this feat, was more sombre than sanguine while soaking in the moment. Even by his own restrained standards of celebrating his centuries on the field, this was the most understated and muted acknowledgement of an achievement that is unlikely ever to be repeated.
Was he tired, exhausted? Was he in a trance, still in disbelief at the enormity of the feat? Or was it simple, plain relief at having done something which he was in the habit of doing, but which of late had become such an insurmountable hurdle that he had lost belief in his own ability? Or was it to do with the fact that his opponents were Bangladesh, whereas he would have wanted to do it against tougher opponents, in much harsher conditions?
Whatever the reasons, the heavy weight of unbearable expectations is off his mind. He can now breathe once again with freedom and bat without a care in the world; not worrying about accumulating that extra run that would shorten the distance from one to hundred.
Playing sport can become a tedious pursuit if it does not allow you to express your talent without being tied to statistics, numbers and records. Numbers in the end do reflect a person's skill, a measurement of how good or bad he or she is in comparison to others, but they are incidental to the quest for perfection that a sportsman embarks upon.
The greater the skill, the higher the rewards and unlimited the peaks to be scaled, but in the end, it is that joy of executing a perfect stroke to the most brutal of deliveries, that keeps a batsman going and makes him thirst and desire for more. A sportsperson thrives on repetitions, except that each repetition is an attempt to improve upon the previous one. The moment this exercise becomes tedious, weariness sets in and there cannot be a more disastrous sight than a person bored by his own craft.
That Tendulkar, despite the years and years he has played, and the unimaginable number of runs and centuries he has accumulated, still loves his chores, still wants to go out there and revel in these repetitions, marks him out as a cricketer the likes of which the world may have not seen so far.
What makes him almost superhuman is not these cold numbers with which we tend to evaluate him, but that strength to withstand pressure, which has been the nemesis of many proficient sportspersons.
To describe him in adjectives would be a futile exercise and to place him in a politico-social context will be a reflection of one's own world-view rather than what the man may actually stand for. To many, he represents the resurgent, new India's transformation from a state of underdevelopment to a self-confident nation, while to others he reflects the dying old values of the wonder that India was.
Of late, there are many who feel he should now bow out of the limited-overs format and let the younger generation take over. I have the same viewpoint, yet it also seems cruel to snatch away from a child the toy he loves and desires the most — playing as much as he can.