A player trying to eke out a career- Ian Chappell. March, 2007
Now just a comic book hero- Michael Atherton. April, 2007
Where we would be if he had listened to the wizened fools, we may never know. But if Sachin Tendulkar had indeed retired all those years ago, cricket would definitely have been all the gloomier.
Even his own turned against him during those dark times. The plethora of “fans” who called for his ahead at the aftermath of the “World Cup Debacle” really made one wonder if the little big man of world cricket would crumble and give in.
It turns out, that was underestimating the spirit that lives within the demi-god. It wasn't long after Chappell's famous article was published that Tendulkar began the journey that has seen him re-establish his credentials even among the most staunch anti-Tendulkars.
By January 2008, barely 10 months after the aforementioned publication, Tendulkar was crowned the best ODI batsman by the ICC Rankings. Indeed, listening to the same Ian Chappell adjudge his 175 against Australia as 2009's best ODI innings was a phenomenal example of the batting God bending the mortal to His will.
While many expected that to be his last hurrah, it is now turning out to be just the first summit on a mountain of achievements that Tendulkar is virtually creating one giant boulder at a time.
His last four centuries have included three scores of over 150, and the smallest of those, 138 against Sri Lanka, came in a tournament final. During this sequence he has also over taken Sanath Jayasuriya as the batsman with the most 150+ scores, his five beating the Matara Marauder's four.
Incidentally Tendulkar also overtook Lara as the greatest 150+ maker in all forms of the game. While Lara is ahead of Tendulkar in Tests by a couple, Tendulkar's five ODI gems have catapulted him to 23 scores of over 150 in all formats of the game, one ahead of Lara, who has 20 such scores in Tests, but only two in the One Dayers.
It is not just the ODI arena that Tendulkar has ruled, he is currently on a run of four back to back Test matches in which he has surpasses the three figure mark.
All this has propelled Tendulkar's status back to what it was well before the 2007 World Cup.
Circa 2003, Tendulkar's star began to fade. While he had a stunning World Cup, his Test form was woeful. And just as he regained his golden touch in either formats of the game, he was struck by tennis elbow, an injury that took Tendulkar two years to completely heal from, and another year to regain the strength in his arms. That the “pundits” chose to ignore the possible ill effects of a near career threatening injury speaks volumes of one of two things: the weight of expectations on Tendulkar, not just by Indians, but by the cricketing globe at large, and the clueless nature of these “experts” when it comes to Tendulkar, which just goes on to affirm the fact that no amount of experience can buy insight into the mind of someone who is quite possibly the greatest performer this sport has seen.
That he has attained the highest score ever scored in limited overs cricket is not necessarily a surprise. He had long been touted to claim the record and even came close on three previous occasions. The fact that two of those instances have come in the last year indeed is worth raising one's eyebrow over.
But what is the most surprising is the fact that while the second One Day International at Gwalior will go down as a historic match, it may be no more than a footnote in 'Tendlya's' career.
Indeed, he may very well admit that he would finder greater satisfaction in a Test innings of the same magnitude. But that would just be Tendulkar being Tendulkar. Not many people will give credit to a big score to the whole team when they have accounted for exactly half of it. In fact I can't think of a single modern day batsman capable of getting two hundred who would acknowledge the likes of Pathan, who contribute less than a fifth of Tendulkar's score in the innings, for a total of 401.
While his batting prowess, long thought to be on the “wane” by bickering television “analysts”, has been proven to be intact, probably more enhanced than in his youth, his humility and sense of team seem to be growing seamlessly by the minute.
Like stated earlier, the biggest thing to come out of Galior10 is the fact that an innings as stunning as this, better than any played in the field by any other batsman, will probably not even be in Tendulkar's own top three. His hurricane efforts at Sharjah, his 98 against Pakistan at the World Cup, and even his 175 of barely a few months ago, may all very well topple his 200 in his very own eyes for various reasons. That in itself is a show of just how much this man has achieved.
Could he play till 40? He very well could. A 100 centuries? Now they are a distinct possibility. Bradman's tally of six consecutive hundreds? Another possibility but one that may prove to be the greatest challenge. A triple century? This one, not even Tendulkar could answer. Long believed to be India's only hope of a triple century, it's perplexing to note that his biggest Test innings have come when he has changed his style to be more dogged and watchful. May be the visiting Australians might feel his wrath (again) and yield him a first three-tonner. If he doesn't get one ever in his career, it would make an iota of a difference to a splendid career.