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The Little Master

By Matthew Sherry

It seems bizarre that as I sit here remembering the career of the greatest batsman I’ve ever seen, all I can think about is what I consider his most aesthetically displeasing century.

It was May 26 2007 and for the second time in a three-Test rubber laden with Indian runs, Sachin Tendulkar laboured to a hundred against Bangladesh.

His 122 not out came in the most un-Tendulkar fashion; a guy who had always made batting look painfully easy was now making it appear just a little painful, blocking his way to three figures against what was hardly the most stellar attack.

At the time I remember thinking that Father Time had finally caught up with the Little Master, who lest we forget had endured a tough time with injuries in the preceding years, particularly a tennis elbow problem that seemingly took an age to go away.

But in the end, I thought, he will still be the only batsman in the conversation with Don Bradman for the title of ‘Greatest Of All-Time’.

That was nearly six and a half years ago.

And only today, on October 10 2013, has the day a nation has been dreading come: Sachin Tendulkar will retire next month after his 200th – 200th! – Test.

So what happened in that period, from the point when I thought the best batsman I had seen was finished to the day of this announcement?

Well, for much of that spell, he was better than ever.

Having finally become the real Tendulkar again later that year in Australia – back to his best, the Little Master struck 493 runs in four Tests and hit a century and 91 in both Commonwealth Bank Series finals – he went from strength to strength.

Thereafter, he embarked upon a three-and-a-half-year spell of run-getting – highlighted by an outstanding three-Test series against South Africa which brought 326 runs against Dale Steyn et al – that culminated in helping India win the World Cup on home soil in 2011.

Whether that achievement heralded an acceptance of reaching the ultimate achievement or Father Time actually did speed down the outside lane thereafter, Tendulkar’s performances dropped.

The pursuit of international ton 100 seemingly had a negative impact; it came just over a year after 99, against Bangladesh in the Asia Cup.

He has since gone a further 21 games without reaching three figures, a run that could not be further removed from the ludicrously high standards he set over the rest of his career.

But this is Tendulkar. Neither that, nor his infamous lack of a hundred at Lord’s, will ever detract from as fine a career as we have ever seen.

Let us, for a moment, put his record into context if possible.

Ricky Ponting, another of the finest batsmen the game has seen, is an oft-used comparison as another outstanding player in Sachin’s generation.

In the former Australia skipper’s great career, he managed 71 international tons – just the 29 shy of Tendulkar.

Yes, the latter played more but his longevity and ability to break into a fine India side at the tender age of 16 are equally praiseworthy.

What’s more, while cricket in Australia is popular, it pales by comparison to India.

When Ponting headed out to bat, he did so with the weight of an 11-man team on his shoulder; when Tendulkar does so, he bore the pressures of a 1.2 billion-strong nation of fanatical cricket lovers.

It was those millions who harass and flock around a man who cannot walk a street in India without being recognised and mobbed, and those same ones who bounce and scream when their hero walks to the middle.

Indeed, the deafening noise when Tendulkar walks to the middle at an Indian ground is matched only by the silence at the point he is dismissed for anything under 100.

And he will do so for the last time in a month. A century would be perfect but, then again, he already has 51 of those in Tests. And there is nobody else who can say that.

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