Kolkata's famous Eden Garden for a brief period looked like the Biblical Paradise on Wednesday. The thin crowd went back home happy because the god of Indian cricket, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, shrugged off his long stretch of poor form. He scored 76 runs against England in the third test of the four-match series. We should expect a full house when India bats again, because it is likely to be Sachin's final outing at this ground.
Of course, the immediate talking point was yet another milestone that the Little Master crossed in this Test. He has now amassed over 34,000 runs in international cricket. It was many series ago when Sachin reached that enviable stage in his amazing career which saw him become his own competition. For a number of years Brian Lara, the West Indian batting legend, kept snapping at his heels. He ran out of breath.
However, Ricky Ponting, considered the greatest Australian batsman after Sir Don Bradman, took the baton from Lara and kept breathing down Tendulkar's neck. He too announced his retirement from international cricket in the just concluded home series against South Africa. With 41 Test centuries he would have had a lot of catching up to do to get past Tendulkar. He would have had to first get past Jacques Kallis who has thus far scored 44 Test hundreds and is still in good nick.
Shall we count Kallis as a potential rival to Tendulkar for a solo spot as batsman at the summit of Mount Cricket? Why not? After all Kallis is considered the greatest all-rounder in international cricket. Statistics put him ahead of the legendary West Indian all-rounder, Sir Gary Sobers. But getting past Tendulkar's 51 Test centuries, if doesn't score one or more in the remaining three innings of the current series against England, will not be easy.
It is difficult to imagine the profile of international cricket had kid Tendulkar not been talked out of his obsession to be a fast bowler. India has had at least two pint-sized pace bowlers in Ramakant Desai and Chetan Sharma. But Sachin is definitely a shade shorter than these two.
We next meet Sachin as an enthusiastic teenager in 1988. He along with his school-mate Vinod Kambli went berserk in the semi-finals of The Harris Shield Tournament, an inter-school competition, and prolonged the bowlers' misery for no reason but their own pleasure.
Here are a few snatches from a cricinfo.com account of that memorable game. It is appropriately called A Tale of Two Terrors.
"Both buddies went at the ball harder and harder, and runs came at six an over. Consider the final score. In 120 overs, Shardashram scored 748 runs and lost only two wickets... Tendulkar ended the day on 192, and Kambli was ten runs behind... (The next day) Tendulkar was on 326, and the stand was worth 664 runs (when the innings was finally declared under orders from their coach). No one knew, at least for a while, that a new record had been written...Tendulkar averaged over a thousand for the tournament, and went from game to game until he made it to the Indian team."
And that was in 1989, a year after the Harris Shield Heroics.
He made his Test and ODI debut in Pakistan. It was literally baptism by fire. Pakistan at that point of time had the best bowling attack in international cricket which included Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Abdul Qadir. He made 15 in the only innings he got a chance to bat in the drawn Test. He missed being the youngest player to score a hundred, but at 17 plus years he did become the youngest India to achieve this distinction.
Among the more memorable incidents during that tour was the chat Tendulkar had with Wasim Akram. On his follow through, like most pace bowlers, Wasim would cuss at the batsmen under his breath. He did not spare even Tendulkar who at that point of time was not old enough to get a driving licence. At the end of the day's play Sachin walked up to Wasim and asked him with his school boy charm, "Wasim Bhai aap bowling itni achchi kartey hain. Phir gaali kyon baktey hain"? (Wasim Bhai you bowl so well, then why do you have to cuss?) According to Wasim Akram, he stopped cussing at Sachin after that.
If we look at the one-day statistics we would notice that his career was really going nowhere until he persuaded his skipper to let him open the innings. He made 82 off 49 balls in his first game as opener against New Zealand in 1994. Later, he and Saurav Ganguly became the best opening pair in ODI history. Their exploits were a treat for even the uninitiated.
Cricket is, of course, what has made Tendulkar a larger than life figure in the history of the game. But it is not just the game which has earned him respect and admiration among his peers. Market forces have changed the profile and spirit of the game. But Tendulkar, along with Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Anil Kumble remained committed to the old school which nurtured cricket as a gentleman's game. He is a role model not just as a cricketer but also as a fine human being. In the land where cricket is a religion now, he is indeed a god - a god with his feet firmly on the ground.