Sometimes sportspeople transcend their sport and become public figures who stand for more than just the game the played or the distance they ran – Muhammad Ali, Jesse Owens, the Springboks in 1995 spring to mind although there are many others. And we must add Sachin Tendulkar to that list as he retires from all forms of Cricket after a record-breaking and astonishing career.
India is a country that we don’t really understand in the UK and the rise and success of Tendulkar has taken place during a difficult and fractured period of Indian history. We know that there are around 1 billion people living there and they gained their independence from the UK in the August of 1947, but apart from some elements of their cuisine they are largely an unknown to us. Tendulkar provided moments of unification in a country that was divided, paranoid, distrustful and unsure of itself. When art or music or sport is at its best it can do amazing things and this little, humble man rose through the ranks of Indian and world cricket and brought people together across political, religious and race lines.
He is a modest and quiet man but his stats speak for themselves: (From BBC Sport Website)
- Test debut: November 1989
- 15,847 runs in 199 Tests
- 18,426 runs in 463 ODIs
- 100 centuries in Tests and ODIs
- Highest score: 248 not out
He is the most successful batsman the game has ever seen. More than that he stands as a man who was faithful to his wife and children, mentored the young players in the Indian national side and in his club teams, avoided any controversy or blemishes both on and off the wicket. He is a gentleman of the highest order and should be seen for his achievements both in and out of the game. He was hitting centuries to the backdrop of political turmoil – seven Prime Ministers came and went in his first ten years of playing in India, corruption was overtaking the politics, race and religion were at loggerheads in his country and in business and entertainment they lacked the ability for the public to relate to them like Tendulkar did – he stood on his own as a role model for a whole country. Beyond what he stood for his ability was second to none on the world stage and eventually the combination of ability and presence made him a national hero.
He walked away today with fans calling him “a god” which may seem obscene or blasphemous to some outside India, but to many inside he has been the one constant and improving and magnificent hero over the last twenty four years. That’s not to say he solved all the problems or he has magic powers – India is still a country learning to find its collective voice in a choir of separate voices, but sometimes – just sometimes – someone comes along and gets them together in perfect harmony. For his contribution to the sport and his home country we should all be aware of Sachin Tendulkar and aspire to be just a little more like him.