Even though Tendulkar hasn’t failed with the bat, any score below hundred now is being seen by his fans as one
Even if he had been made of steel, by now he would have been reduced to pulp, given the pressure he is put under, to fulfill the “dreams” of a "billion" cricket fans. Every run he scores creates a new world record, whetting the appetite of those who thirst for more. When he scored his 35th Test hundred a few years back to reach a summit no one before him had scaled, he had tears in his eyes. They were tears induced as much by the satisfaction of achieving a monumental landmark as they were reflecting the relief he must have felt, given the intense pressure he had been facing from his adoring legion of fans. He was to say later that the pressure had become almost unbearable, as wherever he went, whosoever he met, the only sentence spoken to him was about his impending world record hundred.
Today, each time he goes in to bat, a nation goes into frenzy, for they want him to hit one more hundred, something he has been doing so regularly that its numbers have swelled to 51 in Tests and 48 in ODIs. But it is of little significance to a nation so obsessed with records and Sachin Tendulkar, despite all his superhuman achievements, will be made to feel guilty if he does not score one more hundred. It would be as if he is letting them down.
When he was playing some winsome strokes on a sluggish Kotla track to guide India to victory over the West Indies this month, people would have any day traded an Indian defeat for his century of centuries. A nation went into mourning when he got out just short of his hundred, as if the sole reason for the contest was to provide him a platform to achieve this feat.
In the Mumbai Test he played yet another innings of vintage charm but when he got out the reaction was one of disbelief and heartbreak. Ravi Rampaul, the man who plotted his downfall, was treated like a villain by the crowd, who castigated him for having the temerity to celebrate the wicket of the man, depriving him of an incomparable number by a mere six runs.
This frenzy is fed by the media, who have for the past few months repeated themselves to death by running debates on television and statistical packages in the papers, as a build up to this statistical number, which will change nothing in the way he is perceived by the sporting world. Like our verdict on two of the greatest spinners to ever bowl, Warne and Muralitharan, did not change when the duo took 1,000 international wickets. Did the world and their respective countries ever create such hysteria at their achieving this feat, something akin to scoring 100 hundreds?
The answer is no, and in India this staggering achievement was a footnote, buried in the avalanche of records of our cricket superstars which we everyday dig out as statistical nuggets to gloat about, as if cricket is a game of mere numbers and nothing else.
The question ‘will he or won’t he’ must be giving him sleepless nights by now. Let us by all means celebrate if and when he gets to that figure of 100; but even if he does not, it makes no difference to his status as the greatest batsman of all times. Please, let him be.