It's never a good idea to try and speak for a whole nation. But on Wednesday, it was a risk worth taking. To Sachin Tendulkar, on whom more words have been written than any other cricketer, including Sir Don Bradman, two words will suffice: “Thank you.”
Over the last two decades and more, the numbers have piled up, sometimes beyond comprehension. He owns every record worth keeping, but the ODI double-hundred, a threshold never crossed in 2962 matches, is something you will all remember, because it’s not something expected.
It’s not an incremental achievement, not another Test hundred or ODI run that just stretches his dominance. It was an effort that sealed a series win and reaffirmed India’s dominance.
This double hundred is something new from Sachin, something fresh for a country of adoring and massively demanding fans. That he can still produce performances that make you sit up and take notice is a tribute to the longevity of his appeal.
For the best part, Indians are envious of Tendulkar: of the money he has earned, the cars he drives, the stories of him shopping for furniture in Europe, the picture in every second hoarding. The question that isn’t asked quite so often, is just how much Tendulkar has done for India.
Remember the curly-haired cherub — there’s really no other word for it — who got hit in the face on his first tour of Pakistan as a 16-year-old, back in 1989, but refused to leave the batting crease? Or perhaps the Desert Storm series, in Sharjah in 1998, where he attacked Australia’s bowlers so relentlessly that the bullies were left begging umpires for ridiculous lbw decisions? Or the World Cup in South Africa when he dismissed Shoaib Akhtar from his presence with such authority that the issue was settled well before the winning runs were hit?
A couple of years ago, Tendulkar also brought the tennis elbow, an affliction common to the sport its named after but not so well known in cricket, to the attention of the Indian populace. During that time, he made a rare personal admission.
“What brought tears to my eyes was the fact that my son Arjun wanted to play with me, wanted me to carry him, but I had to tell him to be careful, because of the elbow,” he said. Coming from anyone else, it would have sounded cheesy, corny almost. But Tendulkar has given, and continues to give so much to Indian cricket, that it touched a chord with every father, and some prospective ones.
On the day, it was fitting that Mahendra Singh Dhoni was brutalising bowlers at the other end. The bruiser from Ranchi has often been offered as a posterboy for the small towns, the very opposite of Tendulkar, who learned his cricket at Shivaji Park, the one-time cradle of Indian cricket. At a time when all the talk was about phasing out the seniors, Dhoni rose to prominence and eventually assumed the captaincy. Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble moved on, and in Dhoni’s watch Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman have flourished. In the mad scramble of celebrating New India, Dhoni never forgot those who have driven India’s rise to the top.
To Tendulkar, today, he will no doubt say: “Thank you,” and we should all join him in this.