He was hailed as a teenaged genius from the time he marked his guard, against hostile rivals Pakistan no less. If a 16-year-old Sachin Tendulkar charmed the purists and was quickly marked for future greatness in Test cricket, his fearlessness, natural aggression with the bat and combativeness made him the perfect one-day package.
India had stunned the West Indies in the World Cup final six years earlier and were looking for fresh blood, to carry forward the heroics achieved by Kapil Dev and Co.
As Tendulkar formally signs off from the 50-over game, he can be sure that the deeds that mark him as the greatest ODI batsman ever are unlikely to be matched.
He was the torch bearer during the height of one-day cricket's popularity. It is hard to believe that the diminutive batsman walked in as a lower order batsman early on. And even for a player of his talent, it took a good five years before injury to Navjot Singh Sidhu pitch-forked him to the top batting slot, affording him the freedom to set the terms.
Tendulkar had every skill required for personal success. Be it the straightest of drives, for which no team could set a field, the audacity to hit through the line and over the top during the early field restriction period, his sharp eye, reflexes and the ability as a great batsman to work the field, all set him apart from others.
A memory that stored every manner of dismissal and ensured it was not repeated, the talent and energy as a bowler and his reputation as a safe fielder even lifted him to second in the list of ICC rankings for one-day all-rounders in 1996.
NO LOOKING BACK
Once he ended the wait for his first ODI century, against Australia in Colombo in 1994, there was no looking back. He was relentless, whatever the quality of bowling, be it against the best pacers or spinners. In the second half of the 1990s, he became such a huge factor in the team that an early Tendulkar dismissal meant the opposition had pretty much won the battle.
In the 1996 World Cup, his assault on a bowling attack led by Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne at the Wankhede left the favourites, and eventual runners up, Australia reeling. And it took the eagerness of Tendulkar to dominate that allowed Mark Waugh to get him stumped off a wide to pull the game back for the Aussies.
His sheer consistency despite the uncertainties one-day cricket throws up Tendulkar as the finest batsman, ahead of prime rivals Brian Lara, who was at the helm of a side in decline, and the emerging Ricky Ponting and Inzamam-ul Haq, inconsistent for all his brilliance. Few fans would forget his back-to-back centuries in the famous 'Desert Storm' victory over Australia in a Sharjah tournament in April 1998.
PARTNERS IN CRIME
Although the arrival of Sourav Ganguly as his opening partner, since 1996, and later the entry of the explosive Virender Sehwag, changed Tendulkar's role into that of an anchor, the runs never abated.
And his 200 not out, the first-ever one-day double century against South Africa at Gwalior in 2010 and the World Cup victory last year demonstrated his effectiveness.
But if anyone can be compared to Tendulkar in one-day cricket, it should be the ultimate destructive force, Viv Richards. His sheer power and commanding presence left bowlers quaking.
"Viv was the most dangerous batsman. He could be dangerous against any kind of bowling. With Viv, it was sheer demolition," former skipper K Srikkanth told HT.
He added: "Sachin did a more subtle demolition job. But mind you, Sachin had a bigger role to play. Viv played in a much stronger side. Sachin for long had to carry the team on his shoulders."
Madan Lal, who took the crucial wicket of Richards in the 1983 World Cup final, said both players had similar traits that made them great.
"Sachin has been a great player. Some people ask whether Sachin has won us so many matches, but for me what he contributed is more important," the former India coach said.
"In a team sport, it is not always possible for an individual to win games. And there was a lot of expectation and pressure on Sachin. The fans always wanted him to get a 100."
So, how about the Viv versus Sachin comparison?
"You can't compare. Richards had his charisma. He was a West Indies player, and his game reflected that style. Sachin is a player who was all class. I would say, he carried on from where Viv left," he said.
"Both of them entertained fans to the hilt. The thing with Viv was the amount of confidence he had in his ability. Great players are like that. They like to dominate the bowling, dictate and let the opposition know 'I'm the best'."
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.