File photo of India batsman Sachin Tendulkar. (BCCI)
New York: Cricket may not be too big a sport in this part of the world but leading US publications have nonetheless paid tribute to retiring Indian superstar Sachin Tendulkar, applauding the veteran batsman for his "supreme" talent and a career lived with soft-spoken integrity and humility.
"This week, for more than a billion people, the world as they know it effectively comes to an end. The second Test match between India and the West Indies ...will be the last international appearance of one Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar," a Wall Street Journal article titled 'Farewell to Cricket's Little Master' said.
An op-ed in the New York Times likened Tendulkar's retirement from cricket to the death of Mahatma Gandhi.
"As the moment of his (Tendulkar's) departure looms, the country is in the fevered throes of one last, mammoth celebration, but also on the un-self-conscious brink of mourning," the NYT op-ed piece titled 'Where the Gods Live On ... and On' said.
The Time magazine put out a special online feature highlighting Tendulkar's 10 greatest moments, including his 664-run unbroken partnership with fellow cricketer Vinod Kambli in 1988, becoming the captain of the Indian team in 1996 at age 23, surpassing Caribbean great Brian Lara to become the highest run scorer in Test history in 2008 and the 2011 World Cup win.
Tendulkar has cemented his place in history as one of the greatest sportsmen and holds almost every batting record in the game. His last Test match against West Indies will be his 200th,. He scored over 15,000 Test runs, 18,000-plus one-day international runs, 51 Test centuries and 100 international centuries.
"Those figures will almost certainly never be surpassed, simply because of the sheer unlikelihood of a player breaking into an international side aged 16, staying in it until the age of 40, and spending almost all of the intervening period at the very top of his game," the WSJ article said.
The NYT op-ed said it would be "entirely accurate" to describe Tendulkar as the most revered contemporary Indian, "or even, with only a pinch of hyperbole, the most revered Indian since Mahatma Gandhi held the nation in thrall. Suspend your disbelief and think of him as a cross between Babe Ruth and Martin Luther King."
The NYT op-ed said Tendulkar has built his reputation not just on "supreme batsmanship" but also on his "unwavering modesty, impeccable manners and an evident pleasure in being part of (and never greater than) the team on which he played."
The WSJ article described Tendulkar as "more or less" cricket itself given that he has been the game's "most recognisable figure for two decades, its biggest star and very frequently its finest batsman.
"His retirement removes a constant from cricket - the game's purest source of technically perfect batting pleasure, a source none of us really believed in our heart of hearts would ever go away."
Applauding Tendulkar's "perfectly compact, spare, balanced, faultlessly complete batting technique", the WSJ article said it is unlikely that there will ever be another cricketing figure of comparable stature.
"The joy of Tendulkar is that he doesn't seem to have changed much between 1989 and 2013. He still unites the game's constituency in admiration, and he still exudes the same sense of soft-spoken integrity in a quarter-century at the top of the game, he has attracted only the mildest controversy, and only very rarely. He has never even really said anything that you could quote back critically at him," it said.
Tendulkar has been accorded the status of god by his millions of fans across the world, an emotion echoed in the NYT op-ed which said "some Indian gods have three heads, or 10 arms. Others have serpents coiled around their torsos, or rivers streaming from their heads. And one, Sachin, wields a sacred cricket bat, heavy, sweet, made of the finest willow.
"In a land of chronic inefficiency, he was remorselessly efficient; in a land with a global inferiority complex, he was the best in the world; in a land where public figures are strutting peacocks, he was often a picture of painful humility; in a land that thirsts for self-respect, Sachin spelled pride."
The WSJ article said the young crop of talented Indian cricketers like Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Shikar Dhawan have not played more than 20 Test matches, "underlining how important to the team it was that Tendulkar carried on playing longer than he might perhaps have wanted to."
Tendulkar "will be irreplaceable for every cricket fan; a tiny man who leaves the most massive of holes, he is cricket's greatest ever superstar," it said.
The WSJ article also touched upon Tendulkar's decision to retire late in the day saying the "endless rolling hoopla" around his retirement "can get a bit deafening."
"Ultimately, his latter-day drop in form will be forgotten; a couple of years don't mean much in the context of a 24-year career so magnificent. There is also no reason to assume that he held on so long for reasons for personal vanity - why would he, when he has nothing left to prove."