What is Tendulkar's 100th Test all about?

THE best way to celebrate Sachin Tendulkar's 100th Test, after the plaques have been presented and the laudatory speeches made, is to ask him to join in the search for more like him. Tendulkar's greatest achievement, and that list would be as heavy as his bat, is to act as a lighthouse, to draw others towards the game and give them the belief that they can succeed.

If he shares his life with a few gifted 16 year olds today, he might set some beautiful wheels in motion. Maybe someone else like him, maybe not as gifted but as tough, will play a 100 Test matches for India. Tendulkar's 100th has to be the starting point for another century, for someone else.

It is easy to say that there cannot be another like him. I will be surprised and overjoyed myself but then there was a Kapil Dev after a Gavaskar and indeed, a Tendulkar after a Kapil Dev. Hence the cry 'The King is dead, long live the king'. Tendulkar's talent is very special, but it cannot be unique. It is what he did with his talent that has made him one of the greatest to have played the game. It is always like that, not your talent but what you do with it that determines how successful you are.

India's problem has rarely been the availability of talent. India's failure has been in moulding that talent, in giving it the wings to fly. That is why Tendulkar is special and that is why he must tell 16 year olds what to do with their talent. And he must do that on his own, not with the fanfare that his sponsors will bring for they seek to glory themselves as much as they do their subject. That is the business they are in and you cannot find fault with it. Tendulkar needs to allow 16 year olds to sidle up to him, rub shoulders with him quietly, to breathe the air that he breathes for that is rich in achievement and humility. It is not Tendulkar's technique that they need to emulate but his spirit.

I say this because I see talent all around but not the path they need to walk on. India's under 19s have just had a memorable tour of England. They struggled early, as they would in conditions like those and then turned it on quite sensationally. Often, when you seek to evaluate talent, you see how it appropriated a situation, how it saw an opportunity and tried to own it. I must confess that I did not see the matches but the fact that when confronted with 8 to win from 2 balls, Chandrasekhar Atram hit a four and a six suggests a certain presence of mind; the ability to make things happen.

The next day his teammate hit 177 in a 50-over match. You do not do that unless you are ridiculously special. You might hit a blazing 50 on a day, occasionally go on to make an aggressive hundred but if, as a 16 year old, you set out to chase 305 to win and make a 177 from 125 balls, then you have what it takes. For young Ambati Tirupati Rayudu, the future is no longer a search for confirmation of his ability. It is a quest to hone, to refine what he so unmistakably has. He doesn't need to know how much ability Tendulkar has, he needs to be told what Tendulkar did with it.

Really there are only two things that talented young men like Rayudu and his teammates need; tough competition and a lot of common sense. Neither, sadly, is on offer in Indian cricket at the moment. Common sense is a vastly underestimated quality of the mind, the absence of which has ruined more talent than anything else. A successful young cricketer has many enemies and money and glamour are the most vicious of those. Common sense is a great, rare shield. Tendulkar has it, a few others didn't. Common sense can come from a grandfather, from a benevolent uncle, from a kindly mother. But tough competition can only come from his environment, from the organization that should nurture Indian cricket. There is no benevolent uncle there, certainly no kindly mother.

The restructuring of the Ranji Trophy was a great opportunity to do that; to allow the best to play with the best. But when faced with the fork ahead of them, one leading to the good of Indian cricket the other towards a pettier self-interest, those that run Indian cricket fell over to embrace the second option. Two qualifiers from each zone and 10 teams in the super league would have spurred competition at every stage. It would have put young men into tough competitive situations earlier in life. Instead, the BCCI opted to have three qualifiers and 15 teams in the super league.

In one stroke, they made the zonal stage meek and tame. When the opportunity arose to take a giant step forward, they planted a decisive foot backward. We talk of trying to make our talent tough, like the Australian cricketers, and we give them simple cricket to play. Our talent is screaming, crying, fighting for more and we have just committed ourselves to giving them less.

At least we have 'A' team and under-19 team tours now. I have no doubt that Yuveraj and Kaif benefited from playing tough cricket in South Africa and that is where we realized that Parthiv Patel had more than just talent. Now if Tinu Yohannan had been playing there rather than sitting on team buses in various parts of the world, he might have been ready as well. He would have been even more ready if he had played very tough Ranji Trophy cricket.

So what do young Ambati Tirupati Rayudu and many others as gifted as him do? They search for that toughness within themselves, they set themselves stringent, tough goals. The kind Tendulkar did. That is what Tendulkar's 100th Test is all about.