The greatest of them all?

Sachin Tendulkar in full flow in Sydney. His unbeaten 148 was a classic knock during the 1991-92 Test series in Australia.-V.V. KRISHNAN

From his tip-toed square cut to his imperious hooks and pulls as well as his deft legside pushes and his cover drive, Sachin has been the complete batsman. By Ted Corbett.

Unique. It's the only word; it fits Sachin Tendulkar exactly. According to my dictionary it means “having no like or equal.” True, because from that day in Mirpur when he made his 100th international hundred off the Bangladesh attack he has stood alone, proved he had no equal, with his record in his pocket forever.

Not only is a total of 100 international centuries unlikely to be equalled, much less beaten, in the foreseeable future, but it requires a considerable effort of imagination to see how anyone can come near to this feat.

Unless the laws change which is not impossible as cricket grows more like baseball day by day. Unless another genius arrives on the scene. Unless the standard of bowling changes dramatically and that seems unlikely now that DRS has become an accepted part of the game.

Fewer and fewer batsmen benefit from hesitant umpires making bad decisions, lbw is on its way to being the most popular dismissal and even on the truest pitch a great batsman may be caught out.

No. What is known already as Sachin's Record will stand forever. At the moment only Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis are within binocular distance of his feat and they are close to the end of their careers.

That is the way it ought to be. One great record; one great batsman.

I have been watching Sachin now for almost a quarter of a century, since he scored that hundred at Old Trafford which set him on his way to his place among the gods.

Then he was a shy lad, barely out of short trousers or a schoolboy's blazer but he batted with such maturity that you did not have to be a student of human behaviour to know that wonderful things lay ahead.

A couple of years later we met as he joined Yorkshire. He was still diffident — certainly by the brash standards of the Yorkshire side that greeted him with demands that he spend his captain's expenses to buy them all a beer (even though he was not captain!) — but mature beyond belief. “I am sorry Mr. Corbett but I cannot answer your question because I did not understand it fully,” he said to me at one stage. How different from the words I might have expected from an English player who might have given it — “come on, Ted, what do you mean by that?”

He was ultra-polite to the dismay of the Yorkshire captain Martyn Moxon who told me: “He doesn't say much. I expected him to dominate our dressing room.”

That was just evidence that Yorkshire had never had an overseas professional before — particularly a young Indian — and that Tendulkar had never been in an English dressing room before.

“When I were a kid, our dressing room was like a parrot house,” one ex-Yorkshire star told me at about that time and that, I guess, is not quite what Tendulkar expected.

In the last 22 years of 188 Tests and uncounted one-day matches Tendulkar has, of course, grown wiser but he has never chosen to try a summer in county cricket again.

There was another occasion I will never forget and which, once again, I suspect Sachin will remember all his life.

He played one of his great innings in Australia, finishing among the tail-enders with a blaze of strokes, a sophisticated, cricket-sage climax to a sublime knock.

When the Indian innings ended two Australians — Merv Hughes, whose bowling had been the target of Sachin's late flourish and Dean Jones who had been fielding 60 or 70 yards from the wicket — ran hard to catch up with him as he marched back to the pavilion, and shake his hand.

I know both of these men well and know them to be — for all their outward hard man image — fine sportsmen but in that gesture they added a cubit to their stature because they recognised the talent that had been exposed in, of all people, an opponent.

As the poet has it “E'en the ranks of Tuscany could scarce forbear to cheer” and you could sense in that moment that it was not just the fans and the media that were admirers of this new Little Master but the men who were his rivals.

From his tip-toed square cut to his imperious hooks and pulls as well as his deft legside pushes and his cover drive, Sachin has been the complete batsman. Like all the greats he has learnt new techniques over the years, changed his way of batting to suit the circumstances and the pitches and picked up points from the other grand masters.

His size was as much an advantage to him as Curtly Ambrose and Joel Garner used their height. Batsmen of the Tendulkar size where common when the laws were first written and so he could deal more easily with length bowling, knowing that shorter stuff would usually fly over his stumps if not soar above his head.

So era, the circumstances, his innate ability, the way the game was played in his day have all contributed to his success. He has batted and learnt and offered us the product of genius and good advice and hard work and become one of a kind.

He is unique, an immortal, and with 100 centuries for India, perhaps the greatest of them all.