He is the marathon man and the milestones just don't stop as far as Sachin Tendulkar is concerned. The first to get 12,000 runs in Tests, the first to cross 13,000 runs and now, inevitably the first to cross 14,000 runs. The 15,000 run mark beckons as inevitably as night follows day. Allied to this is the hundreds milestones – the first to cross 35 centuries, the first to cross 40, then 45 and now again the 50 century landmark beckons as surely as 100 international hundreds.
To make predictions about records staying for any length of time is fraught ith danger what with the proliferation of Test matches, but Tendulkar has climbed a summit which does seem to be beyond the reach of lesser mortals. There was a time when a galloping Ricky Ponting appeared to be a serious challenger for both the main records.
In keeping with his reputation as Australia's best batsman since Don Bradman, Ponting's average soared past 59 and seemed headed to the 60-mark. He had also scored 33 hundreds to Tendulkar's 35 and moved to within about 1200 runs of Tendulkar's world record aggregate.
Being 19 months younger there appeared every chance that Ponting would one day surpass Tendulkar in both runs and centuries. However, in the evening of his career, Tendulkar has suddenly struck a purple patch which is beyond mere mortals - or even Ponting.
Currently, he is around 1800 runs ahead of the Australian captain and as far as centuries are concerned there is just no way Ponting can now catch up with Tendulkar. Not until he plays for another ten years!
The difference of ten (49 to 39) is just too much to be bridged especially as Tendulkar is still playing with gusto and showing no signs of getting rusty with age, let alone riding off into the sunset. He completes 21 years in international cricket next month but amazingly still retains his boyish enthusiasm for the game, has not lost his insatiable appetite for runs and hundreds and at 37, his hunger for success and more goals has not diminished one bit.
Indeed, the figures run up by Tendulkar and Ponting – and one must not forget Brian Lara who is the holder of the highest individual score in both Tests and first class cricket – take one's breath away especially for someone like me who has been following the game closely for more than half a century.
In those days, 5000 runs in Tests were the hallmark of greatness. We knew that Jack Hobbs was the first to cross the 4000 and 5000 run marks in Tests, a figure that was raised with the increase in Test matches with Wally Hammond being the first to cross 6000 and then 7000 runs. That was the high watermark half a century ago and it seemed to be quite insurmountable especially since the legendary Englishman's record had stood since 1947.
It was the same with hundreds. Bradman's 29 had stood as a record since 1948 and even with the proliferation of Test cricket this seemed beyond the reach of even the greatest of batsmen who graced the scene through the fifties and sixties. Len Hutton could not get past 19 even as Neil Harvey notched up 21 both in the same number of matches (79). In the 70s Colin Cowdrey the first to play 100 Tests retired with 22 while Gary Sobers raised the figure to 26 from 93 Tests a stupendous feat considering his all round feats but that still fell short of Bradman's mark.
In the early 80s, as the proliferation of Test cricket grew and Sri Lanka was added to the international fold, Geoff Boycott retired with 22 and Greg Chappell with 24. Bradman's record still remained the Mount Everest for batsmen but in the meantime Hammond's mark had been surpassed by Cowdrey and then Sobers became the first to score 8000 runs with his tally being surpassed by Geoff Boycott.
It was left to India's Sunil Gavaskar to set new landmarks. During two glorious months in November and December 1983 he first surpassed Boycott as the leading run getter in Tests and then finally went past the most coveted record by going past Bradman's 29. hundreds a feat at one time thought unconquerable. Predictably he was the first to cross 9000 runs and then even the magical 10,000-run mark was his in March 1987 the month in which he played his last Test.
By now it was clear that the sky was the limit for batsmen as far as runs and centuries were concerned as playing over 100 Tests became quite commonplace. South Africa returned to the international fold and Zimbabwe and Bangladesh were given Test status. But it would still require a really outstanding batsman to cross Gavaskar's marks and few can argue that Lara, Tendulkar and Ponting are not in that elite, exalted class.
All the same, the runs and centuries aggregates that Tendulkar has set are really of the mind boggling and eye rubbing variety. It is dangerous to make predictions about records what with the proliferation of Test cricket but his marks could well stand for all time like Bradman's 99.94 – arguably the most famous single statistic in cricket.