The real thing

2010-02-27 00:00

EVERY now and again, the world’s best bowlers run straight into a fearful hiding. The rest of the population feels their plight, and bemoans the featherbeds that are littered on the cricketing ovals of the world.

And then there are days when we simply don’t care for the pain inflicted upon the leather-flingers. Because the pain is a beautifully constructed surgery, complete with the anaesthetic that we are witnesses to a true master.

Sachin Tendulkar’s incredible 200 not out on Wednesday was a stark reminder of the difference between good and great. There are pretenders aplenty to his Indian throne, but when the slightly-built kingpin sets his stall out, no one can touch him.

Virender Sehwag, for all his power and panache, cannot live with the Little Master. Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his trunk-like forearms may bludgeon to oblivion, but they will never send soaring sixes into the stands with quite the same touch of serenity as Sachin.

Truly, we are blessed to be witnesses to one of sport’s true superstars. Soccer may have its Ronaldos, its Messi and its Wayne Rooneys. Athletics has Usain Bolt and swimming has Michael Phelps.

Golf will hopefully regain Tiger Woods, once he readjusts the radar, and starts pursuing the right type of birdies again.

Cricket, though, has S.R. Tendulkar.

Fittingly, he wears the number 10 jumper in one-day international cricket, the one jersey reserved for the true entertainers on the soccer field.

Think Pele, Ronadinho or Steven Pienaar.

Number 10’s mere presence sends a shudder down opponents’ backs. That is what Tendulkar does, and has done for two decades.

A measure of the man’s stature is the way his team-mates treat him.

I was fortunate enough to share a room with the Indians during the 2003 World Cup.

I was merely a dressing-room attendant, but there I was in the company of future superstars like Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and the “Turbanator” himself, Harbhajan.

Usually dressing-rooms are the scene of mischief and mayhem while the two batsmen go about their business. Occasionally, someone may shout out that one batter is nearing 50, or that the 100 stand is about to come up.

Unless it is a really tense affair, the rest of the team busy themselves with anything from iPods to apples, magazines to massages, and everything in-between.

As the mighty Indians were only playing Holland, the likes of Yuvraj and Sehwag could have been excused for dozing off.

But they didn’t.

Like the countless, wide-eyed schoolboys perched around the Oval that day, the entire Indian team sat and watched the Little Master go about his business.

They were not watching a team-mate, but rather an idol, a hero who had been on their walls from the moment they could say ‘I am Sachin’.

Suffice to say, Tendulkar helped himself to 150 against the Orange men.

Every shot was celebrated with gusto.

Often times, colleagues choose not to lavish too much praise on a fellow player, lest he loses his head in the clouds.

Not in the Indian team.

Tendulkar’s sheer weight of runs — 46 tons in ODIs and 47 in Tests for starters — mean that he has elevated himself into a position where he is not ordinary.

His longevity, in a game that has drained the talents of lesser men, with lesser expectations, make him a living legend.

There will be no other like him — certainly no other who could create the hype in his teens, carry the hopes of a billion in his 20s, and then dare to reignite the audacity of youth well into his 30s.

There was a single shot that stood out in his 200 on Wednesday.

Well past 100, Tendulkar summoned the third powerplay as he and Yusuf Pathan went ballistic.

With the off-side ring crammed, and Dale Steyn steaming in, Tendulkar simply skipped across the crease, and nonchalantly flicked Steyn through mid-wicket for four.

It didn’t even look risky, such was the ease with which he played it.

Steyn stood aghast, wondering where on earth he was supposed to bowl next to the gentle genius that confronted him.

There are others in the modern game who have something special within them.

A Ricky Ponting pull is a thing of savage beauty, while Jacques Kallis drives with the purity of a gazelle in full motion.

Kevin Pietersen shows flashes of genius, but little Tendulkar stands head and shoulders above all of them.

He does not rely on a good eye and swift hands alone, like his opening partner Sehwag.

Instead, he uses that sound eye, rubber-like wrists, dainty feet and a rock-solid technique to reduce even the world’s best bowlers to rubble.

India, in this form and with Gary Kirsten inspiring them, will be formidable at the World Cup in their own backyard next year.

And despite the new stars that India keep unearthing through the IPL, there is one name that will still occupy the thoughts of attacks across the globe.

As even the incomparable Sir Donald Bradman once noted, there is only one modern batsman that reminds him of his own, startling achievements.

Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, take a bow.

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