Main khelega. Uttered despite a profusely bleeding nose and a determined Pakistani opposition, those two words by a 16-year-old Sachin Tendulkar in 1989 went on to define the great cricketer’s entire career. That story, like the one about how Sachin was rejected as a fast bowler at the MRF Academy, is legend. In fact, almost everything about Sachin is legend. Whether one accepts Sachin as the best ever or not, there’s no denying that he is one of the most complete batsmen in the history of the game. What else can one say about a batsman who, over a career spanning over 23 years, has accumulated 15,837 runs and 51 centuries in Tests, 18,426 runs and 49 centuries in ODIs, was the first to score 200 in an ODI, and did all of that while bearing the hopes and expectations of a billion-strong nation? Of course, the reason to say anything at all is that Sachin yesterday announced that the India-West Indies Test match starting November 14, most likely to be held in Mumbai, will be his last. It will be his 200th Test match.
Many have been calling for his retirement for years now, but those voices have never become loud enough to be truly disturbing, for that would be ungrateful. Despite allegations that he plays only for records—a belief that intensified following the long wait for his 100th hundred—the truth of the matter is that the other 99 centuries speak far louder in favour of his dedication to his country and cricket. As do the hard facts that show that India won far more often when Sachin scored a century than when he did not—again, going against an old favourite criticism against Sachin. But, perhaps the finest thing to be said about Sachin was written by English journalist Scyld Berry for Wisden.com, where he said that, during the match fixing scandal that Pradeep Magazine broke in 1997, the only mention bookies made of Sachin was to make sure their machinations came into play only once he got out—such was Sachin’s ability to disrupt any attempt at fixing or manipulation!