Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sachin Tendulkar, Cricket Genius

What distinguishes remarkable sports figures from very good ones is their professional longevity, their sustained excellence.

Pele played in four world cup soccer tournaments (1958, 1962, 1966, 1970), in which he was the architect of Brazil's victory in the finals in two (1958, 1970). Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played basketball from 1969-1989, won six NBA championships, a record six regular season MVP awards, and scored more points than any other player in league history (38,387).

India's Sachin Tendulkar has scored 50 Test centuries so far, and still has plenty of cricket left in him. His nearest rival is Ricky Ponting of Australia, with 39 centuries.

Starting as a wunderkind when he was only 16, the 37-year-old right-hander has scored most runs in cricket: 14,506 runs at an average of 56.88 in 175 Tests. That's also the most number of Tests anyone has played in the 5-day version of the game.

In One-Day Internationals (ODIs), he has tallied up 17,598 runs in 442 matches, at an average of 45.12. He has also scored 46 centuries and leads all other players with his ODI statistics as well. Is it possible to score a double century in an ODI? Yes, and Sachin did it in February of this year against South Africa. This record will probably remain as untouchable as Brian Lara's (West Indies) record of 400 not out in a 5-day Test against England in 2004.

For 21 years, Tendulkar has been enthralling spectators with his brilliance with the bat. When the flamboyance of youth threatened to desert him in his more mature years, he played with more deliberation and focus. The runs kept coming. In 2010, at the ripe old age of 37, he scored 7 centuries at an astounding average of 85 runs per innings and amassed more than 1,500 runs in 13 Tests.

Tendulkar has scored 11 centuries against Australia, nine against Sri Lanka, seven against England, six against South Africa, five against Bangladesh, four against New Zealand, three each against West Indies and Zimbabwe, and two against Pakistan.

The milestone that his fans worldwide are waiting for is "Century of Centuries." With 50 in Tests and 46 in ODIs, his ton statistics stands at 96. Only 4 more and he will have achieved something that no cricketer is likely to achieve, a total of hundred 100's in both versions of the game.

I have no doubt Tendulkar will score four more centuries, given his current form. As a fan, what I really hope he will be able to accomplish before he surrenders his bat is hit a triple-century (300 or more in an innings). So far, this feat has eluded him, although he has scored six double-centuries.

But is it records that keep the little maestro going? Not really. "I play for the love of the game," he said after his ton number 50. "If I were chasing records, I wouldn't have missed the one-day matches against New Zealand recently. I have to pace myself carefully ... It's about producing quality cricket."

Here's the incomparable Don Bradman on Tendulkar: "I saw him playing on television and was struck by his technique, so I asked my wife to come look at him. Now I never saw myself play, but I feel that this player is playing much the same as I used to play, and she looked at him on television and said yes, there is a similarity between the two ... his compactness, technique, stroke production ... it all seemed to gel."

Sachin Tendulkar is peerless. Jacques Kallis or Ricky Ponting may catch him in the number of Test centuries (long shot, though), but in terms of sheer brilliance sustained over two decades of cricket, Tendulkar has established himself as the Bradman of our times. "Sir Garfield Sobers" has a nice ring to it; so does Sir Sachin Tendulkar.

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