(Reuters) – Sachin Tendulkar compiled a mountain of runs for almost a quarter of a century and reached cricket’s dizzying heights by defying a burden of expectation that would have crushed lesser mortals.
Whenever Tendulkar came to the crease, India’s billion-plus population made secret deals with gods, froze where they were, clutched lucky charms and indulged in all sorts of superstitions.
And the sport’s most prolific run-accumulator created plenty of those heart-in-mouth moments in his 24 years in international cricket.
On other occasions, fans switched off their televisions as soon as Tendulkar was dismissed. For them, the rest of the match did not matter.
The 34,000-plus international runs that Tendulkar amassed, including a record 100 centuries, speak as much of his hunger for runs as for his ability to handle pressure.
The unprecedented century of centuries included the first double hundred in the history of men’s one-day internationals.
It was quite an incredible cricketing journey that began with a rejection by Dennis Lillee.
The Australian pace great refused to entertain Tendulkar’s dream of becoming a fast bowler at a Chennai academy. He asked the youngster, then a school student, to work on his batting instead.
Tendulkar took the advice to heart and found a mentor in Ramakant Achrekar, who shaped several test careers in Mumbai.
Achrekar would make Tendulkar sit behind him on his rickety scooter and crisscross Mumbai to get him to bat in up to four matches a day.
Obsessed with batting, Tendulkar would get a friend to bowl at him with a soaked rubber ball, so the wet marks would confirm whether he was middling them.
The curly-haired wunderkind with a sing-song voice made his India debut in 1989 on the tour of Pakistan, where Waqar Younis left the then 16-year-old with a bloodied nose in the Sialkot test.
Over the next two decades, it was the bowlers who bled runs as Tendulkar married his nearly-impregnable defence with a breathtaking array of shots.
He delighted the purists with his backfoot punch and wowed the crowd with the audacious upper-cut, managing to look equally elegant.
His never-ending appetite to collect batting records drew comparisons with Australian great Don Bradman, who confided to his wife that the diminutive Indian reminded him of himself.
Throughout his career, Tendulkar somehow retained a childlike enthusiasm as well as deep respect for the game.
In his book “The Barefoot Coach”, former India mental conditioning coach Paddy Upton narrated an incident to illustrate Tendulkar’s approach to the game.
During a net session, Ishant Sharma kicked the ball in frustration after struggling to find his rhythm. Tendulkar fetched the ball and, instead of throwing it back, he walked up to the young bowler.
“…I heard him tell Ishant in a calm and measured tone, but with gravitas, that it was because of this ball that he had the privileges he was currently enjoying in life,” Upton wrote.
“Sachin Tendulkar had, and still has, the utmost respect for the game of cricket – he would not stand by and watch a youngster compromise this value.”
Tendulkar’s captaincy stints were far from impressive but he famously solved a leadership crisis when he recommended Mahendra Singh Dhoni for the job.
Dhoni led India to, among other things, World Cup triumphs in the 20-overs (2007) and 50-overs (2011) formats.
After India won the 2011 World Cup final in Mumbai, Virat Kohli, who is tipped to scale similar heights as a batsman, and other team mates hauled Tendulkar on their shoulders for a victory lap.
“Tendulkar has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years. It was time we carried him,” Kohli famously said, summing up a grateful nation’s sentiments for their favourite son.