Once in a lifetime perhaps, you come across a rare breed of cricketer. A man who really means it when he says milestones mean nothing to him because he’s the yardstick by which everyone else is measured. A man who doesn’t care about the record books because he’s already comprehensively stamped his authority on them. A man who is blessed for creating a legacy even before he’s bid adieu.
If Sachin Tendulkar does not score another run in international cricket, he will still go down as arguably the greatest to have played the game. With 86 international centuries and counting, it’s irrelevant what number he finishes on, for he will still be some way ahead of the nearest challenger.
What then motivates him to keep going, at 36, when his body pleads for rest, and much injured and mended joints squeak for retirement?
At the R Premadasa Stadium on Monday, Tendulkar did what he has done for nearly two decades now: created a memory that Indian cricket lovers can cherish for life. There can be few better examples of how to approach a final, absorb the pressure, convert a challenge into an opportunity and contribute to the team’s cause.
From the moment he walked out to open the innings with Rahul Dravid, Tendulkar would not be denied. Dravid, who did not quite get going right away, was given breathing space by crafted boundaries that pierced the gaps. From a purely batting point of view, the innings was near flawless, and certainly chanceless.
The quality of strokeplay was uniformly high and the manner in which he pressed on even after reaching his hundred showed how focussed he was.
The astonishing sequence that preceded his dismissal, inside-out six over cover, reverse sweep fine of short fine-leg and a repeat of the stroke wide of the same man, sent out the signal that India had not only made the game safe, they were going to put it past Sri Lanka.
Anyone who has watched cricket even fleetingly over the last 20 years will have a favourite Tendulkar moment. Was it his 114 as a stripling in Perth in 1992? Desert Storm in Sharjah, 1998? Or 1999 in Chennai when he wept after making a century that could not take his team past Pakistan? How about a big one like the 241 not out in Sydney 2004? Or the sentimental final-innings, match-sealing ton against England in Chennai last year?
If you can’t pick one, or don't have a favourite yet, don’t fret. As Tendulkar showed on Monday, he’s not done creating classics just yet. And trust me on this one, when he hangs up his boots, it won’t be an IPL innings that anyone remembers.