Sportsmen come and sportsmen go, some are good, few get to be among the best, and then there are those who go beyond the rest. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Michael Schumacher, Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt, Roger Fedrer and their ilk are some of the golden people who did not just perform extraordinary feats in their domains, but have shown us another dimension to sports – a touch of class. These golden heroes perform to the best of their ability throughout the long course of their careers. Among these towering beacons of world sports stands a miniscule Indian, 5 foot 5 inches tall, a cricketing giant who has tormented bowlers from across the globe, and has got to be a living legend. The great Shane Warne says he has had nightmares of him getting smacked for sixes by this little master. The Little Master, as he is famously known, also has the largest fan-following across all borders. He is madly loved, or I should say worshipped, by at least 1 billion people of the second most populous nation of the world. This little master is … Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.

Each and every time the maestro went in to bat for his 663 matches it was a special occasion for him. Sachin was so competent and masterful in his game that in his prime, his batting was more theatrical and we spectators always knew that something more was coming. Sachin looks like the conductor of a musical orchestra while batting, using his genius to hit the ball with his bat to the perfect symphony of sound for cricketing fans just as a Mozart concerto would be for music lovers. He was a magician, a showman who always knew what he was doing, and was always thinking 2 steps ahead of the others on the field.

Playing to one’s full potential for 24 long years at a stretch is in itself an extraordinary feat, and there is this one thing Tendulkar has faced that probably no other sportsperson in their long or short careers would have faced. This was the pressure of not just failing or losing the game, but also the pressure to meet the spiralling expectations of a massively cricket-frenzied nation. A country where life slows down and stops when the maestro comes in to bat, expecting him, and only him, to win the game. And if he fails, or gets out, TV sets are switched off, grounds go half empty, productivity at workplaces reaches a nadir. It is said that Sachin impacts even the US economy … read what Barack Obama had to say: “I don’t know about cricket, but still I watch cricket to see Sachin play. Not because I love his play but because I want to know the reasons why my country’s production goes down by 5 percent when he’s batting …”

This enormous pressure Tendulkar has had to deal with day-in and day-out is quite beyond the understanding of us mere mortals, and only the proclaimed demi-god in him could have handled this every waking day for 24 long years. Many may demurr to name him a demi-god, but what Aussie cricketer Matty Hayden had to say sort of underlines the way the international cricketing fraternity regards the great man: “I have seen God, he bats at number 4 for India in Tests.”

A hundred international 100s, highest run-getter in tests & ODIs, highest 100s in tests and ODIs … his list of records is long indeed. And these are no mere numbers, but a reflection of what a player he has been. These stats reflect the quality and the sheer talent he possessed, the heights of competency he had achieved, and what a complete player he was. This was even noticed by the best-ever batsman known to the game of cricket, Sir Don Bardman: “I saw him playing on television and was struck by his technique, so I asked my wife to come look. 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 and said, yes”. These are not the only words that describe the greatness of Sachin as a cricketer or a batsman. The great Brian Lara said: “The only batsman I would love to watch by paying for the tickets myself and sitting in the stands just to watch him is none other than Sachin Tendulkar,” and “Sachin is a genius. I’m a mere mortal”. Above statements by such cricketing legends just go to show how highly rated and regarded this son of India is across the world of cricket. Sachin-fanatics are not just limited to the cricketing fraternity. Bollywood Badshah Shahrukh has this incident to narrate when he was asked who according to him the biggest celebrity was: “There was this big party where stars from Bollywood and cricket were invited. Suddenly, there was a big noise, all wanted to see approaching Amitabh Bachchan. Then Sachin entered the hall, and Amitabh ji was leading the queue to get a hold of the genius …”

Paens about Sachin’s greatness and all that he has done in his career can go on forever and ever, but have we ever thought how he has returned the love and affection showered on him by the millions across the world? Of course it goes without gainsaying that Sachin always gave his 100% on the field, but that was just one way of returning the favour. The other way he has reciprocated is by respect and humility. One of the most humble beings we could stumble across, he is a sportsman who has never let his fame or wealth overshadow his performance. Sachin’s humility is epitomised by his being so down to earth, being close to his friends, and in continuing to be the person he always was. This humility is not just limited to him but also to his family members, who have never shashayed about their super-star husband or father. His son Arjun was the ball-boy sitting with his friends while his dad was playing his 200th test match.

The respect Sachin showed all throughout his career to his team mates, to his fans, to the ex-cricketers and to everyone he encountered is an admirable way of leading by example. Take his speech after his last test in Mumbai, where he thanked everyone big and small who had played any kind of role in his long career. He thanked career his parents, his family, his friends, his teammates, even his physios and doctors, and the spontainity with which he did so showed his genuineness expressly.

Sachin imparted grace, humility, excellence, hard work, passion, patriotism, respect, diligence, purpose, direction, focus, hope, belief, concentration, perfection, attention to detail, balance, team work, honour, improvisation, failure, sacrifice, honesty, assertiveness – the list of life’s-lessons unknowingly to me and a million others through his years on the field and off it.

Now that the curtain has come down on such an illustrious career, its time to reflect and ruminate on this long journey of a lifetime just by saying: “Allright, you may have retired and left the field for the final time but the echos of Sachin! … Sachin! will echo around the grounds long after you are gone, as there was, and there will be, only one Sachin.

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