Ageless is perhaps the best way to describe Sachin Tendulkar's art and craft. It really is quite amazing that a batsman just months away from completing 20 years of international cricket is still able to retain his keenness and enthusiasm.
As he himself said after completing his match-winning 44th century in ODIs the other day in Colombo, "I am enjoying the game. My effort will be to try and keep playing the game and help win matches but the enjoyment factor is extremely important."
It certainly is. When a cricketer allows staleness to creep into his play it tells on his performance. Every outing is laboured, every stroke an effort. And one can see that Tendulkar on the field of play still retains a boyish enthusiasm whether batting, bowling or fielding. Like vintage wine he is only getting better with age and the cynics can only make dire predictions about Tendulkar at their own peril.
The doomsday prophets in fact have had to swallow bitter pills in the past after predicting that Tendulkar's career is virtually over, that he should at least retire from ODIs and concentrate on Test cricket and that he is over the hill and playing only for personal records.
No less a personality than Ian Chappell had this to say in his column about two years ago. "At the moment Tendulkar looks like a player trying to eke out a career; build on a glittering array of statistics. If he really is playing for that reason and not to help win as many matches as he can for India then he is wasting his time and should retire immediately." The former Australian captain had been known to be a fervent Tendulkar admirer and is still respected for his no nonsense views. So that sort of criticism coming from someone as balanced and knowledgeable as him was quite something.
In fact, every time Tendulkar comes up with one of his many sterling performances, I am reminded of the now infamous headline carried by a national newspaper at the start of 2006. "Endulkar?" it screamed on page one after a few failures in the Test series in Pakistan. This can be summarily dismissed as sensationalism or a vulgarly irresponsible job by a deskman who tried to be too clever but was made to eat humble and distasteful pie.
Since then, Tendulkar has gone on to make many more hundreds and a couple of thousand runs more in Tests alone while being an integral part of the ODI and Twenty20 squads.
Should anyone ever write off Tendulkar? Should one even take this risk, stick his neck out and be proved wrong? It is true that age is one process no one can overcome. The ageing process is a ruthless and unfeeling phenomenon. It spares no one not even the most gifted of artists or the fittest of sportsmen.
Sooner or later everyone who has held centre-stage for years has to accept the fact that his career is nearing its end and perhaps the time has come for him to ride off into the sunset. But for Tendulkar age seems to be just a number. As he himself said the other day in Colombo "Eventually how much you contribute is more important. I think the age factor is not relevant."
It certainly holds no relevance for Tendulkar. It's obvious that like Sunil Gavaskar, Tendulkar will go out on a high – and on his own terms. That became obvious from his hundred in the Compaq Cup tri series final against Sri Lanka. To come up with such an extended master class in extremely humid conditions battling an attack of cramps called for a superhuman effort.
Incidentally, it was for the first time in his ODI career now comprising well over 400 matches that Tendulkar called for a runner. Now if only the unfair detractors just let Tndulkar alone and allow him to achieve the one dream that he has set his heart on – being a member of a World Cup winning side.