Type Sachin Tendulkar in Google search and 42,600,000 results pop up in 0.19 seconds. It's not just numbers but testimony to a following that neither any contemporary nor the old-time cricketers have enjoyed. So the response to the news of his ODI retirement is expectedly colossal and evokes a unanimous response – thank you, Sachin.
The curtains were pulled halfway down on Sunday on a career that began at a juvenile age of 16 in 1989 and partly ended on a Sunday afternoon in December 2012. "I have decided to retire from one-day format. I feel blessed to have fulfilled the dream of being part of a World Cup wining Indian team," the statement took India by surprise.
Such is the impact of this name on Indian cricket that even though the declaration was expected, it seemed a surprise. That shows how synonymous Sachin Tendulkar and cricket are to Indians. For some, no Tendulkar means no cricket. They started watching cricket for Tendulkar; they may stop it because of no Tendulkar.
A tiny figure, all of 16, walked onto the field for the first time in Pakistan against blood-thirsty Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. One ball roared and the kid was in a pool of blood. After a little patch work, he stood up, "I'll bat." Navjot Singh Sidhu's jaw dropped right to the ground.
That was a Test match. ODIs were different but so was Tendulkar, not any other batsmen but one for whom God had reserved the chosen stuff. It was in New Zealand in 1994 when he took to one-dayers like fish to water. After New Zealand's Mark Greatbatch, it was Tendulkar who changed the openers' approach to ODIs. Breathtaking strokeplay - hit it long, hard and over the ring when the field restrictions applied. Since that day, limited-overs batting boycotted the Boycott approach and adopted the Tendulkar mantra.
There came a time – in the 90s – when Tendulkar's dismissal was akin to a loss or a collapse to follow. He carried that weight of expectations on his shoulders for most of the 90s and early 2000s. Fair to say, it started easing a bit 1996 onwards when Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid mushroomed.
It was probably that weight of expectations behind his captaincy failures. It was a desolate period for Tendulkar, especially when he captained in Australia. But then not many great players have become successful captains.
The best of his ODI form was probably in the 1998 Sharjah series and the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. That Sharjah series came to be known as a 'Sandstorm', when following a desert storm, Tendulkar tore the Aussies apart. Packed to the rafters, the spectators enjoyed a lesson in attacking batting that took India to the final even though Australia won the match.
Tendulkar faced the criticism of not being a finisher throughout his career. That notion was put to bed in the 2003 World Cup when India reached the final. It was probably that loss which added fuel to Tendulkar’s burning desire of winning World Cup for India. With 673 runs, including a century and 6 fifties, Tendulkar took India to the final where an assault by Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn took the match away.
2007 looked a good chance for India to realise Tendulkar's dream but it proved to be the worst. An embarrassing loss to Bangladesh saw India crash out in the first round, something that even today is difficult to fathom.
Then a few years later, when talks of Tendulkar slowing down and not being consistent gathered pace, the master hushed his detractors with the first ever double hundred in ODIs, which he scored against South Africa in February 2010. The feat also featured among Times magazine's top 10 sports moments of the year.
Tendulkar's aura grew stronger due to his grounded nature. His humility on and off the field despite batting records kissing his feat makes him double the legend he is today. But one thing was still missing – a World Cup trophy.
India were the co-hosts for the 2011 World Cup – Tendulkar’s last on all counts and India’s best chance to win in some time with the team doing well under MS Dhoni. And in the semis against archrivals Pakistan, it was Tendulkar’s 85 that saved the day for India before that six from Dhoni in Mumbai won India another World Cup, which the team dedicated to Tendulkar. There wasn’t a void left now in a glittering career.
As he hung his ODI boots on Sunday, the 39-year-old's figures read 18,426 runs in 463 matches at an average of 44.83. And at a time when the clamour for his head grew, his ODI average of 45.93 since 2010 is only behind Virat Kohli (53.16) and MS Dhoni (45.93).
His contribution with the ball, especially in his younger days, can't be undermined – Craig McMillan of South Africa can testify that. At times his 154 ODI wickets put him in spotlight as the elusive allrounder that India still haven't found. To complete the numbers game, Tendulkar also took 140 catches in the ODIs.
As the tennis great Martina Navratilova said, "The mark of great sportsmen is not how good they are at their best, but how good they are their worst." That’s where Tendulkar has outraced every cricketer. Even when at his lowest ebb and people calling for his head incessantly, Tendulkar never lost his composure and remain dignified both on and off the field. He never questioned an umpire's call but accepted it with grace. He never abused, never resorted to sledging. Only did what he knew the best, that is play cricket.
That's what makes him stand in elite company. That's what makes him Sachin Tendulkar. Thank you, Sachin, for entertaining us. ODI cricket will find it difficult to fill the void created by your absence.