Who do you think is sport's all-time best? Each week, we will profile a candidate, inviting you to decide who should top our list of 50. All participants will be entered into a draw for the weekly adidas prize and an end-of-contest Etihad Holidays four-day trip for two, including business class flights and accommodation, to a mystery location. We will reveal the full 50 at the end, but this week Vivek Chaudhary looks at cricket's Sachin Tendulkar.
On a typically hot and humid Mumbai afternoon in Feb 1988, a young cricketer sauntered to the crease in the city's Azad Maidan grounds carrying the hopes of his team in a crucial Harris Shield match, a premier inter school cricket competition. Sharadashram Vidyamandir School, located in the city formerly known as Bombay, knew that it would take a formidable performance to overcome opponents St Xavier's and with their opening batsmen already out, the signs were not promising.
Two days later, Vidyamandir's No 3 and No 4 batsmen were still at the crease, tormenting the bowlers as well as their own coach whose pleas to get them to declare were ignored as they struck a torrent of boundaries. The two batsmen between them compiled a 664 run unbroken partnership, until recently a record for any form of cricket. One of the big hitters, Vinod Kambli, aged 16 at the time, made 349 not out and went on to play for India. His batting partner was a shy boy aged 14, who struck an unbeaten 326.
His name? Sachin Tendulkar. A star was not so much born as brightly illuminated, signalling the start of a famous career. Tendulkar's name was already well known within Mumbai's cricket fraternity before he hit the headlines all over the world. Those who watched him batting in the city's Shivaji Park, where he would play endlessly for hours perfecting his style, felt that he was destined for a big career in the game.
In the city's famous Khao Galli, where Tendulkar would go to eat at roadside stalls after playing cricket, vendors would offer him free food for every century he scored. According to local legend, several went out of business because of his fearsome batting and average of 1,000 runs per season. In a cricket-crazy nation, Tendulkar, now aged 35, has emerged as a hero of the game, worshipped and idolised by millions to such an extent that he rarely ventures out of his luxury Mumbai home because of the massive crowds he attracts.
From humble beginnings in Shivaji Park to the headlines of the Harris Shield, Tendulkar's amazing career and formidable batting record speaks for itself. The diminutive batsman, standing at a little over 5ft tall has emerged as the biggest of them all. He is known for having a vast array of shots in his locker and for being one of the hardest hitters of the ball. At the age of 16 he made his Test debut. Tendulkar's first Test century came at the age of 17 against England, when he salvaged a draw for India. At the age of 19 he scored his first century against Australia in the imposing surroundings of the WACA. He holds the record for the most number of hundreds in Test and one-day inter- nationals.
Soon after turning 19, he became the youngest player to reach 1,000 Test runs while in 2001 he became the first player to score 10,000 runs in one-day cricket. Tendulkar enjoys an average of 54.23 in Tests and 44.33 in ODIs. He only has to score another 15 runs to overtake Brian Lara as the highest run scorer in Test history while he has already bagged the record of hitting the highest number of centuries within the longest form of the game.
The legendary Australian spinner Shane Warne recently named his as the best cricketer in the world. Perhaps the greatest accolade has come from another icon of the game, Don Bradman, who, while watching Tendulkar bat in Australia, remarked that it reminded him of himself. It earned the Indian batsman the nickname of the "Little Master". It is an indication of Tendulkar's skill and tenacity that some of his best performances have come against Australia, who have dominated the game during his career. Fittingly, it is also the place where he is most warmly received outside of India. Tendulkar himself has said that his favourite ground is Sydney's SCG, which some of his Antipodean fans refer to as the "Sachin Cricket Ground", given his fine batting there.
The "Little Master's" career has not been all uphill however, During two stints as captain of the Indian team, Tendulkar had a torrid time. Despite only winning two Test matches during his two-year spell, he remained as popular as ever amongst ordinary Indian cricket fans. Tendulkar has also been ravaged by a series of injuries in recent years, leading to speculation that he might soon retire from international cricket.
For the time being, however, he insists that he has not lost any of his passion for the game and wants to continue. For all his records, accolades and achievements, perhaps the final word should go to Tendulkar himself. In his typical understated manner he once said: "Nothing gives me greater joy than playing cricket and scoring runs. It is all thanks to God that I have managed to be good at this."
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