Some sporting records appear written in stone, unlikely ever to be surpassed – Cal Ripken’s 2632 consecutive games in US Major League Baseball and St George’s 11 consecutive rugby league titles are an example.
In cricket, there has always been Don Bradman’s Test average of 99.94 and more recently Muttiah Muralitharan’s 800 Test wickets, both marks that seem unlikely to ever be touched.
In the near future we are going to see the curtain drawn on another sporting career and when the final bow is taken a set of numbers will be etched into the history books that almost certainly will remain unchallenged.
The career in question is that of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
What Tendulkar will finally achieve by way of numbers will stand the test of time. As the years pass they will be looked upon with even greater awe.
But, like so many sporting records, the bare numbers do not do justice to the whole. In Tendulkar’s case that is surely the truth.
No other sportsperson has ever carried such personal pressure on a regular basis when they enter the fray.
In India, a land that largely worships the Hindu faith, a faith that encompasses some 300 million deities, Tendulkar is a living, breathing, walking god in the eyes of many of his countrymen.
A wag tweeted as much when Tendulkar reached his epic 100-international centuries milestone, saying “Could we please stop comparing God and Sachin. I mean he’s a great guy and really amazing and all, but he’s just not Sachin.”
One of the most spine-tingling sensations in sport is to be present at an Indian Test ground when the second wicket falls in the home side’s innings.
There is a deafening silence that falls over the ground shortly after the wicket falls and it remains so until the first glimpse of Tendulkar’s blue helmet makes its appearance down the race.
What follows is a cacophony of sound that escorts the ‘Little Master’ all the way to the middle.
Every shot is then met with applause, from relief at keeping out a good ball to sheer frenzy when he strikes a boundary.
And then, the moment – the dismissal.
From a scene of seemingly uncontrollable noise and chaos, the ground is suddenly enveloped by the most eerie silence as the crowd realizes HE has been dismissed.
For the first 20-odd paces of Tendulkar’s return to the pavilion there is barely a sound as those in the stadium come to terms with the demise of their idol.
And then, the roar starts again, and by the time he has reached the boundary’s edge the decibel level mirrors that which greeted him when he strode out.
On the field Tendulkar is as talkative as Harpo Marx, allowing his blade to be his voice and it is a voice that more often than not has a deep and resonant tenor to it.
To the naked eye when you watch him bat you always seem to have the feeling his blade is wider than everyone else’s.
It is only when they introduced super ‘slo-mo’ technology into the coverage of the sport that I realized why – unlike nearly every other batsman, Tendulkar’s bat never seems to twist in his hand at the point of contact.
It is as if his wrists are made of steel.
While the fans exalt his every success with vigour and unbridled adulation, the man himself is always understated.
The Tendulkar celebration lacks the frenzied and choreographed salutations that so often accompany the successes of the modern-day athlete.
But there is always the customary gaze to the heavens that has marked each of Tendulkar’s myriad milestones since the passing of his father some years ago.
To look at him whilst he is plying his craft is to gaze upon someone who appears to have been personally touched by divinity.
From his international debut at age 16, in a Test against Pakistan in Karachi, he has displayed the skills of a Medici court sculptor, seemingly incapable of playing an ugly shot.
From his early teens he made batting appear as natural as breathing.
It is hard to watch any lengthy innings by him without one’s eyebrows getting a stitch.
Whilst there is little doubt he possesses an inherent, God-given talent, he has also worked with monastic devotion over the years to continually hone his skills.
I will long remember an afternoon at the MA Chidambaram Stadium at Chennai in March 2001.
Jim Maxwell and myself were in the ABC commentary box awaiting the installation of our broadcast lines for the start of the Test the following day.
At the same time the Indian team was having a net session on the pitches near the boundary edge.
By his own high standards, Tendulkar’s output in the series to that point had been modest – 76 and 65 in Mumbai and 10 and 10 in the famous come from behind win at Kolkata.
With the series level at 1-all with one to play it was all on the line.
Slowly the Indian squad completed their training session and grabbed their bags and headed to the team bus – not Tendulkar.
It was if he felt he had to perform in the final Test, as much for himself as his team.
For more than 45 minutes after his last teammate departed he remained there honing his technique, facing an assortment of net bowlers and other ring-ins.
Finally, he had had enough – satisfied that his preparation was as it should be.
In that deciding Test he made 126 and his side won by two wickets to claim the series.
As the years mounted he reinvented himself at the crease but never did he lose the ability to produce the awe-inspiring shot that will live long in the memory.
At the crease, no matter the ferocity of the attack or the conditions in which he finds himself, Tendulkar never appears to be rushed – it is as if he somehow has the mystical ability to slow the game down in his own favour.
The ease with which he dispatches bowlers to all points of the compass belies his physical appearance, a mere 165cm (5’5”) tall, like Theseus slaying the Minotaur.
His trademark shot through the leg side is performed with the effortlessness of a man flicking lint of his trousers.
Nearing 40 years of age, Tendulkar is in the twilight of his career, albeit a twilight that has been akin to an English mid-summer’s day.
In 2010, the Mumbai Maestro had statistically his most dominant 12 months in Test ranks – 1562 runs at 78, with seven centuries from 14 matches – a staggering feat for a man who was in his 22nd year at international level.
Since then the cricketing gods have not been as kind to him, with his last Test century over two years ago against South Africa at Cape Town.
But in the opening Test against Australia in Chennai he batted with the assurance, footwork and ease of old before falling for 81.
In the second innings he dispatched Nathan Lyon for twin sixes first up.
Hyderabad will be his 196th Test appearance.
He continues to cast a disproportionate shadow across the sport but just how much longer he continues to mesmerize fans will no doubt become the next obsession of the tens of millions of ‘Tendulkarphiles’.
But, whenever the sun does finally set on the little man’s career, his deeds will live on forever, many of them destined never to be eclipsed.
One day I was sitting behind Harsha Bhogle in a commentary box in India while he was doing a stint on air for the ABC.
His co-commentator asked him what he would remember most about Tendulkar when he did eventually retire.
Harsha responded by saying it would not be a single shot or a defining innings but the way he conducted himself throughout his career, stating that he had never refused an autograph or photo and never had a harsh word for anyone despite the enormous pressures on him as he lived the ultimate fishbowl existence.
In all ways Sachin Tendulkar is a one-off.
Let’s all savour these final moments while we can.