Sachin Tendulkar has often reminded me of a veteran army colonel who has many medals on his chest to show how he has conquered bowlers all over the world. Which is why I find it amusing when critics suggest he plays well only at home.
Do they realise that they are talking about a guy who has scored centuries in almost all the Test-playing countries'
He only played at the start of his career in Pakistan and has not played too much in either Zimbabwe or Bangladesh ó the two new entrants in Test cricket, otherwise I have no doubt he would have reached three figures in these countries as well. As far as I am concerned, he is by far the best I have seen or played against.
I must admit I was not entirely convinced that Tendulkar was something when I first heard about him. It was prior to South Africaís return to world cricket that the ĎTendulkar buzzí was heard around the County circuit.
He played a season for Yorkshire, but did not really get going. However, he did score one century in the Sunday League, the rerun of which I saw on television. There was a lot of Sunil Gavaskar in his style, and he also had the balance that nobody else possessed. But these were glimpses of potential and I did not think he would be consistently good over a long period of time.
How wrong I was. Tendulkar got better and better with each passing year and today he is the most frightening batsman as far as bowlers across the world are concerned.
Everybody is king at home, and scoring heavily in your backyard has never really impressed me. However, Tendulkar has 16 centuries outside India, which is more than half of all his centuries. Many quality batsmen end up with that many centuries in their entire career, so that number is a clear indication that we are talking about a freak player ó someone who is as good and as consistent abroad as he is at home.
As a bowler you have to have your gameplan ready before bowling to Tendulkar. He looks to leave a lot of balls in the beginning, and as a bowler your best chance against him is in the first 20 minutes.
During our team meetings, we often speak about the importance of the first 12 balls to Tendulkar. If you get him then you can thank your stars, otherwise it could mean that tough times lie ahead.
Consistency is the factor that makes Tendulkar special. He is often spoken about in the same breath as Brian Lara, but as far as I am concerned, the comparison does not even begin.
Lara is not half as consistent as Tendulkar and lacks the discipline of the latter. The left-hander plays in a more loose manner and is not that controlled or patient during the first 20 minutes of his innings. Lara was unbelievable in 1994, but he has never been able to recreate that magic consistently after that.
Which is why I rate my dismissal of Tendulkar at Durban in 1996 as the best ball Iíve ever bowled in Test cricket. I remember that over very clearly.
Tendulkar had just hit me for two boundaries, but I decided to stick to my outside-the-off-stump line. The ball just nipped back sharply and claimed his off-stump. It was a perfect ball and more importantly, exposed a tiny chink in the colonelís armour. Since then we have worked on bowling that ball against Tendulkar and have had some degree of success with it.
I donít know Tendulkar too well, but one of the main reasons for his success is that he is able to motivate himself all the time. He seems to be constantly assessing his game and setting new goals for himself. Thereís a certain passion about the game that is unique to him and nothing excites him more than representing his country.
At 29, Tendulkar is at the middle of his career and from hereon he can score another 15 to 20 centuries, taking him close to the 50-century mark. He will continue to terrorise bowlers for another six to eight years, and hopefully he will be able to keep the motivation going.
Great players often decide to retire out of the blue. This is particularly common among those who are family men because they find it increasingly difficult to spend time away from their near and dear ones. Iíve heard that Tendulkar is deeply attached to his children and might face such a crisis.
However, like many admirers all over the world, I certainly hope that he succeeds in keeping his focus on the game for many more years. I think he owes it to the game and to his admirers.