Sachin Tendulkar turns 38 on Sunday, he is in his 22nd year in international cricket and yet there is no talk about him riding off into the sunset. Why should there be when he
is playing as well as ever, the runs are being stroked fluently and the big scores are being notched up in all formats of the game. He may be 38 as far as his birth certificate goes but seeing him on the field scampering for the quick single, coming back energetically for two, leaping and diving to stop the ball from going to the boundary one could be forgiven for passing him off as no more than 25.
Tendulkar has drunk from the elixir of youth and ageless is perhaps the best way to describe his art and craft. It really is quite incredible that after all these years he is
still able to retain his keenness for the game. This boyish enthusiasm is clearly the main reason behind his success and longevity. He is still able to hold his own in the field
despite being surrounded by much younger teammates and as far as his ethereal batting skills are concerned they have not diminished one bit. As he himself said a couple of years ago "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. But for Tendulkar age
seems to be just a number. In an interview about a year ago he said "eventually how much you contribute is more important; the age factor is not relevant". It definitely is
irrelevant in his case. Indeed, like vintage wine he is only getting better with age and the cynics who dare to make dire predictions about Tendulkar do so at their own peril.
It would be tempting to adopt this line of thinking now that the one missing link in his CV has been achieved – a World Cup winner's medal around his neck. But now there is one more feat to be achieved – a 100 hundreds in international cricket. Tendulkar is just one short off the mark and it is only a matter of time before he reaches a landmark that will probably never be broken. With the proliferation of Tests and ODIs it is dangerous to make such predictions but in Tendulkar's case it is safe to stick one's neck out and predict that his tally of runs and centuries in Tests and ODIs will never be broken. And to think that he is still around, still hungry for success and is still notching up the runs and hundreds as he has shown in recent matches be it Tests, the World Cup or the IPL. Yes, it doesn't matter to Tendulkar whether the stage is big or small. The insatiable appetite for runs, the iron will to succeed and a fierce determination allied to intense concentration makes him an opponent to be feared and respected.
Can anyone ever write off Tendulkar? Should one even take this risk, stick his neck out and be proved wrong? That has not stopped the critics who have kept his cricketing
obituary ready and harped on cliches like he is past his best, he is getting on in years, he is injury prone and so on. Age is one process no one can overcome. Sooner or later
the reflexes start slowing down, the adrenalin may not flow like the younger days and the old enthusiasm for the game may be lacking. But it is a tribute to Tendulkar that he is still as keen on the game as he was in November 1989 when the whole remarkable saga began. And despite several fitness problems he is far from frustrated. Indeed he can always be galvanized into action for the big occasion.
Yes, one must be cautious in making predictions about the little big man. A national newspaper came out with the now infamous headline 'END-ULKAR?' after a few failures in Pakistan at the start of 2006. This can be brushed aside 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 thousands of runs in all formats of the game and the manner in which he has handled the incessant pressure of high expectations is admirable.
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 three 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.
Yes, it can be stated categorically that one has not heard the last of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. His bat will continue to talk and talk vigorously, subtly and successfully. The
cricketing obituaries and the END-ULKAR headlines can be put on hold. He will go out on his own terms. Verily the sky is the limit for Tendulkar as he marches on to fresher
pastures. Long may the king of cricket regale his willing and joyful subjects!