Faraaz Rahman | 5:47pm gmt 24 Dec 2010
In his first test match at Karachi in 1989, he was left with a bloody nose and a blood soaked t-shirt. His crime? He had dared to attempt a cover drive against the fastest bowler in the world Waqar Younis, he had dared to not be intimidated by Imran Khan and Wasim Akram in their own back yard. The audacity of the 16 year old boy shocked the world as he refused to leave the field, deciding instead to bat on and fight it out. If test cricket is what differentiates the men from the boys, then there never was a more quintessential example as a 16 year old boy proved his manhood. 20 years, 30000 runs and about 90 international centuries later, we know that boy as Sachin Tendulkar, a legend, a phenomenon, a champion.
Although I was first introduced to cricket back in 1992, I had very little understanding other than the fact that I was to celebrate like everyone else around me then and not ask too many questions. It was not until 1995 that I began to understand the game a little better, began to understand the concept of bat and ball. Very soon I had also learnt to be jealous of the fact that the best batsman in the world was an Indian. Nope, no way, Saeed Anwar was a better batsman, and soon the world will acknowledge.
This continued for a couple of years, when I would vociferously argue about Saeed Anwar?s superiority over Sachin Tendulkar and I had good reason too because for a couple of years in the mid 90s, they were neck and neck in terms of the number of ODI centuries. Back then, Desmond Haynes held the record for most ODI centuries and I was hoping Anwar would break his record before Tendulkar and prove to the world that the best batsman in the world played in the Pakistan cricket team. Alas, that was not too be as Anwar suffered a slump in form and Tendulkar went on to not only break the record but leave Anwar way behind in terms of number of centuries.
Around this time, I also realized that not only was Tendulkar ahead of Anwar in ODIs, he was also way ahead of him in Test cricket. Australia toured India around this time for a test series hailed as Warne vs Tendulkar, the best spinner in the world vs the best batsman in the world. I was obviously on Warne?s side, hoping he would win the battle and prove once and for all that Tendulkar was no big deal. Alas once again Tendulkar broke my heart as he darted Warne all over the park in that series like a school boy and such was the effect of the maestro on Warne that he later admitted to having nightmares of Tendulkar coming down the track and smashing him.
I had to find someone else. This someone else happened to be the burly Inzamam ul Haq, who had been hailed by no less than Imran Khan himself as an equal of Tendulkar and Lara. Yes, I had found my new hero, Inzamam was the best batsman in the world.
My argument this time? Inzamam?s ability to win matches for Pakistan, his ratio of match winning centuries being much superior to Tendulkar?s. I would listen to Imran Khan speak about Inzamam and then copy those arguments in my case for Inzamam, he was a great player of fast bowling, has so much time, and has tremendous ability to handle pressure.
Everytime he played against Pakistan, I wanted him to fail. I moaned the fact that India never played Pakistan in test matches for most part of the 90s because I wanted Wasim and Waqar in full flow against Tendulkar. But over the years, as my understanding of cricket developed, I realized that he surely knew how to bat. I realized that by wanting Pakistan?s best bowlers to dismiss him, I had already acknowledged him as a champion batsman, otherwise why would it be so important for Wasim Akram to be able to dismiss Tendulkar? I considered Wasim the best bowler in the world, so the only logical explanation was that Tendulkar was also the best batsman in the world. When young Mohammad Aamer dismissed Tendulkar with an away going delivery in a Champions Trophy match last year, I jumped from my seat. But it was not out of malice, but rather it was the respect and admiration I had for the man that made young Aamer getting that wicket so special.
Tendulkar has hurt me many times, his innings at Centurion against Pakistan in World Cup 2003 ensured in Pakistan?s ouster in the first round. I remember a shot he played against Wasim Akram in the first over, a back of a length ball bowled by Wasim, which has often given him wickets, timed with perfection and placed with disdain between cover fielders for a four. That was in the first over, and that told me that the champion was at his best today, and that meant he could take the game away from Pakistan. Saeed Anwar had scored a century in that match and Tendulkar was going play a knock to rival that.
As a cricket fan, regardless of which team one supports, one cannot help but admire Tendulkar. Its not just his cricketing prowess but the level of dedication, sportsmanship and aura he brings to the game. Just watching him on the field tells us just how much he loves the game.
Today I no longer have to fight any contradictions inside me. In 2004 he was unbeaten on 194 against Paksistan in Rawalpindi when Rahul Dravid declared the innings and it upset me as I knew he deserved a double century that day. I have no shame in acknowledging that there is Brian Lara, Inzamam ul Haq, Ricky Ponting and Rahul Dravid, and then a few notches higher, there is Sachin Tendulkar, if not in terms of cricketing talent, then in terms of his impeccable commitment, sheer strength of character and utmost humility.
That sums up Sachin Tendulkar for me. About 12 years back, my Mathematics teacher with whom I used to engage in various cricketing discussions had told me that Tendulkar would one day get 50 centuries. I disagreed vehemently, not so much out of disrespect but simply because I could not imagine someone could get to 50 centuries in international cricket. He proved me wrong once again just like he had done on countless occasions before. But today it does not upset me. Instead I am too busy admiring a great achievement by an extremely talented man, who never tried to substitute that talent for hard work.