NEW DELHI: Sachin Tendulkar faded into history on Saturday after a record-breaking career that set new batting standards for 24 years and saw the brilliant Indian batsman leave a legacy to remember.
The ‘Little Master’ finally departed the scene aged 40 after playing a record 200th Test match in front of home fans at Mumbai’s Wankhede stadium where a stand is named after him.
The most influential contemporary cricketer, and the highest run-maker in history, will be remembered as an icon who was consistently brilliant, universally admired and modest to a fault.
“Cricket will go on and records will be broken, but there will never be a player like Sachin again,” India’s first World Cup winning captain Kapil Dev, himself an icon of the sport, told AFP.
“He was truly one in a billion. We should celebrate his retirement, not regret it.”
For more than two decades, Tendulkar grabbed the headlines like no other cricketer and barely put a foot wrong despite years of high-pressure national expectations and fierce media attention.
He remained the smiling, boyish figure he was when he burst onto the world stage in 1989, aged 16, and ended as the world’s leading Test and one-day scorer and the only man to record 100 international centuries.
Tendulkar held almost all coveted batting records except Don Bradman’s career average of 99.94, and Brian Lara’s individual scores of 400 not out in Tests and an unbeaten 501 in first-class cricket.
But ever the team man, Tendulkar said the crowning glory of his career was India’s triumphant campaign in the 50-over World Cup in 2011 when they beat Sri Lanka in the final in Mumbai.
More than his cricketing exploits that earned him demi-god status in India, Tendulkar was revered by fans and team-mates alike for his humility and soft-spoken nature.
Born in a middle-class family in Mumbai to Marathi-language novelist Ramesh and Rajni, Tendulkar was mentored from an early age by elder brother Ajit, himself an enthusiastic cricketer.
Tired of seeing his 11-year-old sibling break window panes while batting in the neighbourhood, Ajit took Sachin to renowned coach Ramakant Achrekar to learn the nuances of the sport.
The extraordinary career was launched with a world record partnership of 664 with close friend Vinod Kambli in schools cricket in 1988 when Tendulkar was just 15.
“Sachin’s quick growth as a cricketer surprised us all,” the usually reclusive Ajit said recently in a rare television interview. “For me, Sachin was a millionaire only when he got a hundred.
“All of us in the family dreamt about his cricket. It will now be a different feeling. He is finishing on a happy note. Most of his dreams have come true. I believe he has also fulfilled the dreams of Indian fans.”
Tendulkar, who preferred to let his bat do the talking, spoke little about the issues surrounding the game. But he remained influential with those that mattered.
It was Tendulkar’s reported opposition to the Decision Review System (DRS) that has made India spurn it. It is also said that current Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni got the job on his recommendation.
In an age of controversial sporting heroes, Tendulkar is a remarkable exception, but he was hauled up for suspected ball tampering on a tour of South Africa in 2001.
Then on a tour of Australia in 2008, he saved Harbhajan Singh from a possible lengthy ban in the ‘Monkeygate’ scandal by convincing the judge that his team-mate was innocent, leaving the Aussies furious.
Tendulkar’s longevity and a string of lucrative commercial endorsements for everything from watches to cement has brought him huge wealth — Forbes estimated his annual earnings at $22 million in a June survey.
He has an insatiable love of fast cars and once owned a Ferrari, but his otherwise humble, family-based approach to life has meant fans still feel a close bond with him.
When he moved into a new luxury house in Mumbai with his wife Anjali, a medical doctor, and two children, in 2011, the news was greeted nationwide with the interest of delighted relatives.
Tendulkar is a nominated member of parliament and has also helped raise funds for numerous causes like the crusade against cancer and the creation of basic facilities, particularly toilets for girls, in 140 government schools across the country.
By Kuldip LAL