As the whole of India worries, frets, fumes and offers billion words of advice and million rebukes to its team so that it can win the “Cup that matters”, there is one man who needs no goading, no prompting to do what he is best known for: scoring runs.
For a man whose legs must have run thousands of miles, whose shoulders and hands must have rotated a million times and whose body by now should have been a surgeon’s delight, Sachin Tendulkar continues to defy age and redefine the limits of human endurance.
At an age when a sportsman should be contemplating a graceful, dignified exit, he is producing awe in those aspirants whom greatness beckons by setting standards of perfection and longevity beyond mortal reach.
No sportsman possibly ever, no matter how great or how perfect he may have been, has become better and even better with advancing age, for the human body is not like wine; it degenerates instead of maturing with age.
Cricket may not require the fitness of those individual sports which test the limits of physical endurance, but it still makes extreme demands on a person’s body. It is a sport that needs strength of mind, body and skill in equal measure to make its pursuit as difficult as, say that of a tennis player.
Roger Federer, the symbol of perfection in tennis, is today chasing a mirage by trying to put the clock back. The much younger Nadal, seen as someone who can challenge the frontiers of physical prowess, is struggling to get his body back on the rails and his game is suffering.
For Tendulkar, the last couple of years, when we all thought he would have retirement on his mind, have been spent in masterly responses to the best of pace, swing and spin and his Zen-like concentration to tame the most difficult conditions. He is playing better than ever before, improving upon his own batting skills, which we thought no one could ever challenge. It was a mistake as we forgot that a genius does not compete with the “outside”. He is his own rival, competitor and the challenge is from within, once the outside world has been conquered.
For someone like Tendulkar, perfection is a never-ending process, it is not a static objective and its boundaries are being consistently redefined by the man himself. It can, like his flawless batting in the World Cup so far has shown, be glimpsed for a moment but never accomplished permanently.
The awe-struck fan has been left speechless by the exploits of a restless genius, who may have already achieved immortality in the eyes of the world, but in his own eyes he is still a child, a dreamer whose journey, far from ending, has just begun. What a chilling thought this must be for all his and India’s adversaries in this World Cup.