“Well, I am not feeling anything right now, the feeling hasn’t sunk in yet. But I have lost about 50 kgs.” - Sachin Tendulkar, 16th March 2012
It took 33 international innings for him to add that last vital notch, but Sachin Tendulkar has scored his hundredth international hundred. That’s right, his 100th international 100: 51 in Tests, 49 in one-day internationals. This is a mark that very few players reach in all forms of the game, let alone at the highest possible level. It is, quite simply, one of the most extraordinary achievements in cricket history. It might even warrant a mention in the pantheon of records across all sport.
For Sachin, though - he’s usually referred to by his first name, out of a sense of belonging that’s half ownership and half identification - this hundredth hundred mark is just another in a long list of achievements. He has by far the most runs in either Test or one day international cricket; he was the first man to score 200 runs in a one day international; he has played more Tests and one day internationals than any other player. His feats even go back to his school days: at 16, he and Vinod Kambli put on 664 playing for Shardashram Vidyamandir, an all-cricket record partnership until 2006. Among everything Sachin has done in cricket, scoring 100 100s is one of the more arbitrary statistics.
That’s how he would like it to have been, too. Sachin’s words to Ramiz Raja, while being interviewed after setting the record against Bangladesh, were both relieved and immensely weary. He began by saying he felt 50kgs lighter, which is probably a gross understatement, and went on to give a sense of the pressure he has felt from the entire Indian nation since hitting number 99. It has built and built, overshadowing all other discourse related to Indian cricket. Sachin made sure to point out that it was not he who piled on that weight but his own fans, the adoring billion, the hordes who identify with him so closely.
There is no doubt that Sachin is a case of rare talent. He clearly had uncommon gifts as a teenager and became comfortable at the highest level at an absurdly young age. The sad story that runs parallel to Sachin’s, however, is that of Vinod Kambli. Arguably even more talented, an Indian Brian Lara, Kambli never adjusted to the cauldron of being an Indian batting superstar and saw his test career peter out before the age of 24. Where one fell by the wayside, the other somehow coped.
This, for me, is the true greatness of Sachin. He was blessed with uncanny hand-eye coordination, balance and ability to ‘see’ exactly where to hit the ball so that he would beat the fielder, among many other gifts that it would take too long to list. But the really incredible thing about Sachin is that he has relentlessly applied each of these talents for more than twenty years against the best in his field. And if there was a weakness that natural talent did not cover, or that his particular natural talent exposed him to, he’d solve it: Shane Warne recalls that for one Sydney test he completely eliminated the cover drive from his game, fearing that it was getting him out too often. He scored 241 not out; thereafter, he slowly worked the shot back into his repertoire.
Against Bangladesh, he did it again, weathering the repeated psychological blows of the past year to finally break out into open space again. How long will it be before that open space fills with yet more doting fans? Only time will tell. (In an interesting twist, Bangladesh improbably won the match, with Sachin’s slow scoring rate widely blamed. In my view, this confirmation that Bangladesh is becoming a competitive international team is much more important for the game than Sachin breaching yet another impossible frontier.)
Back to those 50kgs. When India won the World Cup at home in 2011, Sachin Tendulkar was carried around the ground by adoring teammates. He was, to each of them, an idol long before they ever got to play alongside him. Virat Kohli, a young superstar-in-the-making, calmly said, “He’s carried the burden of the nation for 21 years, so it’s time we carried him on our shoulders.” On that day Sachin scored 18 - a glorious, tantalising 18 with two marvellous drives, long before anyone started waiting impatiently for the next three-figure score.
Now, in the post-hundredth hundred world, I wonder how much Sachin weighs. Somewhere between 60-70kgs, I’d guess. Not far off. So now that all fans of Indian cricket (and therefore all fans of Sachin) can breathe a sigh of relief and amazement, perhaps we won’t mind taking on those discarded 50kg for him - as his teammates did almost a year ago. It was us that laid them on him in the first place. And anyway, it’s a weight made up of stunning achievements, as beautiful and extraordinary in a plain scorecard as they are in every perfect back foot drive or whip to backward square. I’m sure nobody will mind lugging that around for the rest of their lives, examining it whenever they wish. It will be like carrying him, and his greatness, as a constant inspiration among men.
Photo credit: mirror.co.uk