The Last Word: Will this be the end for Little Master?
Legend has it that car accidents increase in India when Sachin Tendulkar is batting
In recent months his batting has left him mixing it down among the mortals but yesterday, on the outskirts of Dhaka, Sachin Tendulkar elevated himself carefully, and with a lack of fuss characteristic of the man, back to his rightful position among the immortals. It was not the innings itself – a neither-here-nor-there one-day hundred against a competent but limited Bangladesh attack – rather the bare fact that it was the 100th time he had reached three figures in international cricket. He is the first to do so and, in all probability, will be the last.
Cricket is much more than a numbers game but sometimes doing the maths is enough. Tendulkar has played 660 international matches and scored 33,740 runs. In Test matches he has scored 51 centuries; yesterday's was his 49th in the one-day game. The 100 hundreds are 29 more than Ricky Ponting, who stands at No 2 in the list, has amassed. Twenty of those tons have come against Australia, the pre-eminent team of his era. That is not to say he doesn't fill his boots when faced with lesser opponents; against Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Kenya and Namibia he has collected 19 hundreds.
There is not much left to achieve. Next month he turns 39 and while his decline at the crease has not been as noticeable as that of Rahul Dravid – being repeatedly bowled in the recent series with Australia brought down The Wall – there has been an undoubted waning of his superpowers. But a waning does not have to mean an ending. If the appetite remains, he will remain until he chooses otherwise. The nervous stay on 99 extended for just over a year and now the landmark has been achieved it will be fascinating to see whether the result is a last flood of runs or the end of what has been a long road.
This is the fourth decade in which Tendulkar has played international cricket. His longevity is remarkable, especially given the weight of expectation he carries every single time he emerges through the pavilion gate. No player in history has stopped a nation like the Little Master. There is an oft-repeated claim, the veracity of which really doesn't matter as it stands as an example of the man's legend, that traffic accidents in India increase when Tendulkar is at the crease as motorists strain to catch pictures on roadside televisions or to pick up snatches of commentary.
Tendulkar is a man of few public words, and modest ones when he does speak. He stares down from poster after poster and regularly beams from millions of TVs but, for a star of his ilk, relatively little is known of him beyond his achievements at the crease. He rarely confirms or denies, or issues statements as our sporting figures are wearyingly wont to do.
There is one tale, from his early days in the Indian side – which began in 1989 when Waqar Younis drew blood on his Test debut. Tendulkar and his team-mates were taken to a bat factory and after a tour of the facilities were promised a selection of the goods. But the bats didn't come. The older players shrugged their shoulders but it got to Tendulkar. One night he sleep-walked into a team-mate's room and asked anxiously if the bats had been delivered.
Room-mates over the years have said he talks in his sleep, anxiously uttering names of bowlers who have dismissed him. This is a man, they say, who really does eat, drink and sleep cricket, and we and the great game are so much the richer for it.
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