The Everest man

In this hectic age of instant gratification, instant results and sparkling but brief careers, Sachin Tendulkar stands out as a shining beacon, an epitome of style and substance, of endurance and longevity. On Sunday, the little master will complete 20 years in international cricket. It’s a monumental accomplishment, a feat achieved by only a handful worldwide and, unsurprisingly, no one in the modern era. For 20 years, Tendulkar has taken India on a roller-coaster ride of extraordinary highs and depressing lows. In the same period, he has held the Indian batting together just as he has held the audience captive, and he has done that with a balance and composure that is mind-boggling.

Tendulkar’s journey in international cricket began as a 16-year-old in Karachi. His Test debut wasn’t the stuff of legend, but by the end of the series, it was all too obvious that here was a special talent, a supremely gifted young man. No one, however, would have imagined then that Tendulkar would scale the Everest of international batsmanship, own every batting record worth the name, survive the ever-increasing demands of cricket at the highest level for two decades, and do it with panache, humility, grace and reverence. His record is exceptional — nearly 30,000 runs and almost a hundred hundreds in international cricket alone — but there is more to Tendulkar than mere impressive numbers.

Sportspersons don’t necessarily enjoy being saddled with the tag of role models whose every move is dissected and discussed threadbare. Tendulkar is one of the few glorious exceptions. He hasn’t striven to be regarded as a role model, but his commanding presence has established him as India’s number one icon, a cross he has borne with aplomb. Denied a normal childhood and the simple pleasures of life due to his overriding passion for cricket and the unabashed admiration of a billion Indians, Tendulkar’s conduct has been exemplary. In his time as an international superstar, no mud has stuck to him, no controversy has touched him. When you think that period encompasses 20 years, it puts the cricketer and the human being in perspective. On the field, there is little Tendulkar hasn’t achieved. The only lacuna in an otherwise glittering CV is the absence of a World Cup winner’s medal. At 36, the all-consuming desire to set that record straight on home soil in 18 months’ time is his strong driving force, his ultimate challenge even after 20 summers of international cricket.

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