| Sachin Tendulkar
Sachin Tendulkar knew that he had been chosen by Shane Warne as the greatest cricketer of his generation, but he had yet to read the eulogy from Warne that appeared in these pages. On being handed a copy of The Times, Tendulkar digested Warne’s words and a gleaming grin promptly illuminated his face.
“That’s special,” he said. “That’s very special. I will absolutely treasure this. I’ve been around for 18 years and Shane has played against me all that time. It feels wonderful when someone of his stature appreciates your performances.”
To see Tendulkar in person, it is difficult to comprehend that he has really been around for such a long time. So long, in fact, that he played against Stuart Broad’s father, Chris. Standing 5ft 4in, with bright, intelligent eyes and a soft, high-pitched voice, Tendulkar looks little different from the cherubic 17-year-old who first beguiled English audiences with his maiden Test century at Old Trafford in 1990.
And yet, in the meantime, he has accumulated more than 11,000 runs in Test matches and a further 15,000 in ODIs, scoring 37 Test centuries and 41 one-day hundreds in the process, both world records.
He was at it again on Sunday, stroking another half-century in his 30th innings for India this year. His consistency is astonishing, because no one has clocked up more miles on the international treadmill than Tendulkar.
It is this longevity that Warne and Tendulkar recognise in each other as a sure sign of greatness: the ability to produce and reproduce performances of substance; not only the dazzling strokeplay or the fizzing leg-breaks that excite spectators, but the patient application of will that translates their talent into something tangible.
“Every time I played against Shane, he was always extremely challenging and competitive,” Tendulkar said. “He was as good a bowler as I faced. But his greatness was that, even when he was not taking wickets, he was still coming at you all the time. If he hadn’t taken a single wicket throughout the day, I still felt I had to focus as much on the last ball as I had on the first few balls of the day. So I always preferred to be on my toes.”
Nimble as ever at the crease, Tendulkar was on his toes once again at Headingley Carnegie on Sunday.
Driving straight with that improbably broad blade, he is beautifully balanced, benefiting from the low centre of gravity that has characterised so many great sportsmen, from Barry John to Diego Maradona.
As his country’s cricketing icon, he somehow keeps his cool while a billion pairs of Indian eyes burn in expectation of his every stroke. If he is now a little past his best — he estimates that his best years were from 1995 to 2004, before his grip was modified after he had suffered from tennis elbow — his batting is still a joy to behold.
“I enjoy every moment I have on a cricket field, but the recovery times between games these days are difficult, especially for ODIs, and that’s my major obstacle,” he said. “It does take its toll on the body. When you are 22 or 23, you recover a lot more quickly. But at 34, it’s not so easy.”
On Saturday, Tendulkar had enjoyed a rare opportunity to sit in the stands — to be the watcher rather than the watched — when he was a guest at Manchester United’s home game against Sunderland at the other Old Trafford. Paul Collingwood, fervent Sunderland supporter, was also in the crowd, but Tendulkar and his India teammates were firmly behind the home team. “This was my second time at Old Trafford and I’ve turned into a fan,” he said. “It’s nice for me to be amongst the crowd, something I can’t usually do in India. I can just enjoy the game.”
Tendulkar has been appointed as an ambassador in India for the Manchester United Opus, the lavish, hardback celebration of the football club’s history. A similar project is now being compiled by the same publishers in Tendulkar’s honour. It will weigh 37kg, run to 850 pages and, like its footballing equivalent, it will cost £3,000.
“I grew up with books around me because my father was a professor of literature,” Tendulkar said. “I always preferred to have a bat in my hand, but this book will be a wonderful source of memories. Life moves at such a phenomenal pace that you can forget so much. I have played so many games for India that I can’t really remember what happened in 1994 or 1996. Until I read about it or see a photograph, that is then I will recall everything about the occasion. So to have all the events of my life put together in a book, it will be marvellous to relive those memories, both for myself when I am an old man and, I hope, for future generations.”
After the two remaining ODIs this week, English spectators will have to content themselves with their own glowing memories of Tendulkar’s brilliance. The Little Master confirmed that this is likely to be his last tour of England, so we must enjoy him while we can. “Whatever cricket is left in me, I would like to make the most of it,” he said. “I don’t know what the future has in store, but I don’t think I’ll be touring England again, because that will be in four or five years.
“My body will tell me when I have played enough cricket, but I don’t feel old just yet. I still think I’m a young boy at heart.”