Never a dull moment when he is around

Sachin Tendulkar is congratulated by Johan Botha of South Africa after his double century in the second ODI at the Roop Singh Stadium in Gwalior on February 24, 2010. Sachin was the first batsman to score a double hundred in ODI.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Like a most masterful actor, Sachin has slipped in and out of multiple roles with delightful ease. From vanquisher to protector, crafty constructor to lone ranger, messiah of the masses to tragic romantic, he has played it all. By Arun Venugopal.

The colossal shadows of truly great men transcend the realm of time, victory and defeat. Such men not just alter the course of an isolated event but carve out their own epoch. Sachin Tendulkar has done that on several occasions in his enormous career. When pieced together, each of his legendary innings has assumed greater significance in the larger context. While, often, it has been a revelation of his character, it has also suggested shifts in the cricketing paradigm. Simply put, some of his best works have stretched the contours of the game.

Like a most masterful actor, Sachin has slipped in and out of multiple roles with delightful ease. From vanquisher to protector, crafty constructor to lone ranger, messiah of the masses to tragic romantic, he has played it all. What's more intriguing is Sachin has done all this without sacrificing his inherent boyish appeal at the altar of greatness. For that reason alone, he remains a national darling.

Despite the promise of everlasting youth, Sachin, almost ironically, came up with some of his most mature portrayals in his 20s. In January 1999, Pakistan engaged him in a many-on-one combat in Chennai in what was to later become a historic Test match. Already crippled by a searing back pain, Sachin soldiered on endeavouring to quell a daunting challenge. On the day, he resembled the mythical warrior Abhimanyu, who found the odds stacked against him. Like Abhimanyu, Sachin had cracked the code to enter the maze but coming out of it unscathed was never going to be easy.

The Indian team of the 90s, not a healthy sight for the weak-hearted, was too dependent on the little master for its own good. The predictable collapse occurred and that oft-quoted catchphrase ‘Sachin falls, India falls' came true. Defeats such as these have left Sachin devastated once too often. That they have a sense of poetic poignancy to them would be no balm to his permanently-scarred self.

In May during the World Cup that year, Sachin had to fight a personal battle. He had to fly back home after learning of his father's death. Immediately on returning from the funeral, he slammed an unbeaten 140 against Kenya in Bristol. Kenya may not be the toughest of opponents but the sheer inner trauma that Sachin had to overcome made the knock a truly special one.

Rewind to Sachin's earliest hundreds — the maiden ton, an unbeaten 119 at Old Trafford (1990) and 114 in Perth in 1992 — and his precocity is palpable. Much to the marvel of observers, a baby-faced batsman confronted some of the world's fiercest bowlers. And, there was no question of merely surviving the attack; Sachin dominated the best in the business. Labels like ‘boy wonder' and ‘prodigy' were easily bestowed. The tough part was living up to the expectations as many of these ‘prodigies' had fallen by the wayside.

But Sachin would have none of it; whether such acclamations even registered themselves with him is another matter. One of his many great qualities over the years has been the ability to adapt and re-model himself. There are critics who may argue that Sachin isn't the same rat-a-tat machine gun that he once was. Then again, that's been a part of his evolution, especially after the growing influence of the Dravids and Laxmans. Sachin, however, has never been averse to defying stereotypes and proving people wrong.

His double-hundred in an ODI against South Africa in Gwalior in February 2010 was myth-shattering from that context. India had warmed up famously to that irreverent swashbuckler Virender Sehwag. This, along with the rise of other young batsmen, meant that the spotlight was no longer merely on Sachin. This probably helped the great man as he went on to achieve what everyone thought would be Sehwag's record as a matter of right. Though Sachin isn't inclined to chest-thumping exercises, it was probably his way of saying ‘I am still the boss'.

That Sehwag was second only to Sachin in accomplishing a double ton in ODIs puts things in perspective.

Another monumental innings of his in recent times gave him the once-familiar heartache of personal accomplishment and collective disaster. In 2009, an explosive 175 against Australia in Hyderabad didn't translate into victory for India. In a career spanning 100 centuries (and counting), Sachin has witnessed emotions that have swirled around madness, ecstasy, deep-rooted pain, and liberation.

The famous ‘desert storm' in 1998 in Sharjah was the picture of Sachin in his pomp. While Shane Warne and Australia learnt things the hard way, Sachin's proclivity to decimate attacks remained one of its kind — probably the most nerve-crushing since the days of Vivian Richards.

For all his feats, Sachin has often been accused of not winning enough games for India and failing at critical junctures. This is, even as, his fans would argue that he seldom received support from the rest of his colleagues. The truth, as is the case in many things in life, lies somewhere in the middle.

This monkey was well and truly tossed off the back when Sachin struck an in-the-trenches century against England in Chennai in 2008. The horrific memories of 1999 were erased and life had come full circle. The hundredth ton, by comparison, was a tepid affair relatively speaking. His crawl in the middle stages came in for much criticism but that is for another day. For now, let's celebrate the creation and re-creation of an entire generational shift.