Going on and on and on...

He was born for cricket, the magical maestro, the “Sachin! Sachin!” refrain echoing at every turf that he has graced in the past 23 years. There is also a clamour for him to retire. He will, some day, but cricket will never gain another Sachin Tendulkar, who is now 40 years old, writes Vijay Lokapally.

Sachin Tendulkar — the name evokes universal adulation and awe. For 23 years, he has spread joy on the cricket field, sometimes anguish too when he has failed to deliver, but no individual in India’s sporting history has carried the burden of a team on his shoulders as this 40-year-old servant of the game has.

There is a gentleness and an amazingly high degree of tolerance that form the core of his character. It is extremely difficult to be Tendulkar. He is expected to perform every time he steps on to the field. The deafening applause that greets his advent to the field is as prominent as the deathly silence that marks his dismissal. His performance can either have a devastating effect on the game, or leave his team in despair and give the opponent hope to dominate.

Tendulkar personifies the best of sports heroes. He was 13 when a spark was noticed. He was 16 when the world was convinced that this was a precocious talent. It is 23 years since he made his international debut but his passion for the game remains undiminished. In fact, it is the critical ingredient of his cricketing personality.

He is an intense cricket parishioner, who just can’t stay away from the cricket field. When the coach would announce “optional” practice, the ground staff would prepare for Tendulkar to arrive early and plunge into his batting sessions. With two bats tucked under his arm, this man wastes little time on the field. If he is not batting, he is bowling or doing throw downs or taking catches or simply watching and analysing some youngster in the ‘nets’.

Tendulkar belongs to the rare category of cricketers who can fit into any era. He can never be old. And he can always be new, given his approach, his enthusiasm, his obsession to play cricket. To dominate world cricket like he has done obviously demanded unstinted devotion and Tendulkar never compromised with his attention to his game.

Indian cricket fans stand behind a wax statue of Tendulkar at the SCG in Sydney on April 20, 2013. Tendulkar's statue will be put on display at Madame Tussauds Sydney museum next to other A-list sports stars such as Shane Warne and Sir Don Bradman. Such is Sachin's universal appeal.-AP

A Test debut at 16 and a bloodied nose in his first series conditioned him to the rigours of international cricket. There was this one moment of self-doubt in the 1989 series against Pakistan when he failed and thought he had “lost” it. It was the only occasion in his career when Tendulkar had misgivings about his cricketing credentials. But a word from skipper K. Srikkanth that he would play in all the four Tests transformed his approach and he was a different cricketer thereafter, looking at his future from a strong foundation.

Tendulkar’s impact on cricket is unmatched. The dignity that he brings to the game with his exploits is a standout feature. “Don’t harm the game,” is a constant piece of advice he gives to youngsters, who seek his blessings and guidance. He has always concentrated on protecting cricket’s pristine image of being a gentleman’s game. Aware that he is a role model for millions, Tendulkar takes that extra care and walks that extra mile to present a pleasant image, a lasting image on his countless fans.

Probably the last survivor of cricket’s romantic era, Tendulkar has hardly attracted an adverse statement from any quarter. His views on the game are revered and followed to the hilt. He makes an effort not to “hurt” the sentiments of others and it is a natural outcome of his grooming. His legion of followers only grows season after season. From a seven-year-old to a 70-year-old, they associate with cricket essentially because of Tendulkar’s magical influence.

Tendulkar has never had to mend his ways. Because he has always been correct. When the match-fixing controversy was raging, he stood out as the best ambassador for the game. If people continued to keep their trust, it was mainly due to Tendulkar’s presence. He was hurt no doubt, but his association with the game saved cricket from losing its popularity and faith of the people. For some time he had been a helpless witness to the wrongdoings, but was convinced that good would prevail. And it did, thanks largely to his overwhelming stature.

Most critics, experts and former greats concur that Tendulkar is the central figure of cricket when it comes to popularising the game. Here is someone who enjoys the game and provides thrills every moment of his presence on the field. A key motivating figure and a colossus in terms of achievement, Tendulkar is an enviable mixture of the old and the modern, his impressive record a telling testimony of his contribution to cricket. His longevity is a tribute to his discipline and work ethic.

It is a treat to see him prepare for a match, look after his gear, respect the traditions of the game, give credit to colleagues and opposition and remain amazingly humble as he spreads happiness with his cricket deeds. It is not easy to maintain the kind of balance that Tendulkar is able to. He manages his time beautifully, his family the priority, but not when he wears the India colours. His focus returns to cricket and nothing distracts him from his “duty.”

Incredible conquests at home and overseas make Tendulkar the complete cricketer. True, there are some unfulfilled dreams like a triple century in Tests and a series win in Australia, but he accepts them as part of the process. You win some and lose some, but the “effort” has to be genuine. A firm believer in the notion that there could not have been a better occupation for him than occupying the crease, Tendulkar has grown into a living legend.

His wax statue, unveiled at the Sydney Cricket Ground, is the latest ode to his services. Universally acknowledged as one of the finest ever to have graced the game, Tendulkar has never digressed from his cricket path. Summons from the Match Referee have been unheard.

There was an aberration when Mike Denness accused him of ball tampering in the Test at Port Elizabeth in 2001, triggering an unprecedented outrage. Tendulkar maintained a dignified silence on the subject and ultimately saw the punishment, a one-Test ban, being overturned. A combined aggregate of 34263 runs in 198 Tests and 463 ODIs and 100 international centuries are statistical figures that decorate his career. They don’t excite him. He has 25228 runs in first-class cricket too. “I am not a stats man,” he insists. There are times when he does not recognise having reached a milestone, so engrossed is he in his work.

To watch Tendulkar in full flow is bliss. It is an enthralling experience for the purist even when he is giving the bowlers the charge in limited overs cricket. Presenting a straight bat has been his philosophy, the dash and brilliance in his approach never lacking in intensity.

There are two pictures of Tendulkar that will remain etched in the mind. Holding the World Cup in front of the Gateway of India in 2011 and taking guard at Bristol against Kenya in the 1999 World Cup barely hours after attending his father’s funeral. The anguish when receiving the ‘Man of the Match’ award at Bristol and the joy at holding the World Cup so starkly contrasting, but so strikingly signifying his devotion to the game. He was born for cricket, the magical maestro, the “Sachin, Sachin” refrain echoing at every turf that he has graced in the past 23 years. There is also a clamour for him to retire. He will, some day, but cricket will never gain another Sachin Tendulkar.