Smashin' Sachin lifts a nation

Robert Winder reports from Bombay on the player the locals believe is unequalled

You could have been forgiven for thinking, during the build-up to last week's one-day match at Gwalior, that only two men were playing. India versus the West Indies became, in the eyes of both publicists and spectators, Lara versus Tendulkar.

One or two people tried to resist the tide of opinion. "Only people who know nothing about cricket," said Wes Hall, "think that this match is just about Lara and Tendulkar." But he was swamped. No one could resist the temptation to see a game that included the world's two most exciting players as a head-to-head. Cricket being cricket, it seemed likely that both men would fail. In the event, it was a duel in which only one man had bullets in his gun. Lara was controversially given out for two, while Tendulkar, dramatically dropped on 20, went to scythe a marvellous man- of-the-match winning 70.

Actually, it is not really a contest. The West Indian has not had a happy year, but most neutral pundits (such as Mike Atherton, for one) still reckon that Lara is on another level. He has, after all, smashed batting records no one thought would ever be broken. And he has done so in a manner that is almost excessively stylish. He already has disciples: one of the United Arab Emirates opening batsmen, Azhar Saeed, has obviously tried to copy that spectacular backlift. But no one can imitate the dashing speed and ease with which Lara toys with the bowling.

But Tendulkar is also a phenomenon (there is, in cricket, room for more than one). Certainly in India you do not find many people who believe he has an equal, and a glance at his CV is enough to tell you why. Cricket is a game measured, in the end, by statistics, and Tendulkar's record is almost freakish.

Here are the highlights: At the age of 14 he scored 326 not out for his school, Sharadashram, in Bombay. He was opening the batting, as it happened, with Vinod Kambli, who clumped Ambrose for six at Gwalior the other night. The two schoolboys put on an opening partnership of 664.

On his debut in the Ranji Trophy, India's senior domestic competition, Tendulkar scored a century. He was 15. He then became the youngest cricketer ever to score 1,000 runs in Test cricket. He was 19 years, 217 days. Two months later, he became the youngest player to have hit five Test centuries.

Since then, he has become the youngest player to reach the milestones of 3,000, 4,000, 5,000, 6,000 and 7,000 runs.

There is almost no end to it. Tendulkar played Test cricket at the age of 16, and scored a century just a year later (against England at Old Trafford in 1990). The only sign of frailty is his overall average. Up to the start of this World Cup, he had played 101 one-day matches and scored 3,202 runs at an average of 36.4 (Lara, in fewer matches, has scored 3,749 at 44.6).

But this slight fallibility is actually an essential part of the greatness which the Indian public has conferred on Tendulkar. His face is on hoardings everywhere. Hundreds - or sometimes thousands - gather to watch him practise, or just to get off a bus. Crowds wave banners that look like foreign currency transactions - 6+4=10dulkar - which seems almost fitting. Last October, he signed a deal that will probably make him the world's richest cricketer. WorldTel, the company that bought the television rights to this World Cup for $10m (and sold them on for $23m) will manage the marketing of Tendulkar, and have guaranteed the player an undisclosed number of millions.

The reason is not just that he racks up the numbers, but that he does so with the kind of spirited ferocity not normally associated with Indian batsmen. The Indian greats - such as Sunil Gavaskar - have traditionally been patient accumulators. Kapil Dev was idolised for his six-hitting, and now Tendulkar, who initially seemed like a classical strokeplayer, has turned into a bully as well. In one-day cricket he opens, and he does take chances. Occasionally, he is criticised for not batting long enough - but the crowd adore him for the risks he takes.

The other night, in Gwalior, Curtly Ambrose looked hot. He bowled Ajay Jadeja and Navjot Singh Sidhu with in-slanting rippers. But Tendulkar just stood there, unfazed, and punched him away to the boundary off the back foot. He stands ominously still while the bowler runs up, bristling with something deeper than mere cockiness. And the lateness with which he plays his shots often frightens bowlers out of their line. When Ambrose got bored of being drilled to the leg side and pitched outside off stump, the ball hit the sightscreen behind the bowler almost before anyone moved.

With his strong bottom hand (you can see the top of his bat handle above his gloves) he looks as though he will hit everything through midwicket, and he does. He waits for good-length balls and wrists them off the top of the bounce with crushing timing. But he can also keep the bat Meccano- straight when he wants to. Not for him the dabs and slices favoured by English players: he meets the ball emphatically, with a bat that looks wider than other people's. He does not just use the pace of the ball, he returns it with interest.

Today, he finds himself involved in another duel: Tendulkar versus Warne. It ought to be a good one. Only one thing is certain. If - Shiva forbid - Sachin is out, the silence will be stunning. With Indian crowds, his exalted status is not merely a matter of opinion. It is an article of faith. Smashin' Sachin, they call him. It is quite a burden to carry. He is only 22, after all.

Suggested Topics
News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
health
Arts and Entertainment
Pink Floyd on stage at Live 8 in 2005. From left to right: David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Rick Wright
music New album The Endless River set to overtake boyband for most pre-ordered of all-time
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink