Tendulkar's long road
From teen prodigy to the leading run scorer in Tests, India's greatest batsman has always set a fine example
By Graeme Mair. Last Updated: 17/10/08 10:42am
Sachin Tendulkar's arrival as the most prolific run scorer in Test history in Mohali on Friday is a feat he had appeared destined to achieve ever since bursting onto the international scene almost 20 years ago.
Tendulkar announced himself to English audiences in 1990 with a match-saving century at Old Trafford - he was 17.
Two years later in Australia and the legend was confirmed with knocks of 148 at Sydney and a spectacular 114 on a lightning pitch in Perth as all else collapsed around him.
Fast forward through a turbulent 12-year period in Indian cricket to January 2004 and Tendulkar was back in Australia - his third tour - and once again tormenting the home bowlers.
His 241 not out at Sydney - at the time his highest score - is perhaps the most revealing innings of modern times.
For this was not the carefree teenager who had blazed away in a losing cause more than a decade earlier; in his place stood a mature, calculating performer, a proven run-machine in all conditions and a man who had become an emblem of modern India.
Ignoring the off drives that had proved his downfall on several occasions earlier in the series, Tendulkar waited on the back foot and picked runs off his hip, leaving the stage free for VVS Laxman to attack at the other end. India eventually declared their first innings at 705-7.
Steve Waugh, in his final innings before retirement, and Simon Katich saved the game and earned a share of the series for Australia on the final afternoon.
But the 1-1 series result marked India's arrival at the top of the world game, a journey that began in the aftermath of the mid-1990s match-fixing scandals. Tendulkar's rise had been simultaneous, hardly a coincidence.
India were notoriously poor travellers at the start of Tendulkar's career, seemingly lost when confronted by anything other than made-to-order dust bowls.
His performances - an average of around 54 both home and away - earned respect abroad and produced the blueprint that his team-mates, eventually, were able to replicate.
The generation of batsmen who followed into the Test side - most notably Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Laxman - came to realise that filling their boots at home was only half the job.
Under Ganguly's spiky leadership, India became a formidable outfit in all conditions, culminating in the 2003-04 tour of Australia where they enjoyed the better of a drawn series.
Just as impressive as Tendulkar's run-scoring exploits has been his ability to remain humble and unaffected, despite living under the most intense public scrutiny.
He had barely entered adolescence when the hopes of a nation were thrust on his shoulders - a responsibilty that was embraced without any apparent resentment.
Tendulkar's commercial value in India's rapidly growing economy made him a rich man, but in an era of empty-headed celebrity culture he has never forgotten that his area of expertise is on a cricket field.
That he has emerged into middle age as a well-adjusted, devoted family man is perhaps his greatest achievement.
As Tendulkar surpassed Lara - the only equal among his batting contemporaries - in Mohali, it seemed an almost routine occasion, just another great moment in a career filled with them.
At 35 his best days are behind him, there has been a slight - but noticeable - decline in the last three years, not helped by a persistent elbow injury.
Retirement beckons in the not too distant future but his legacy is India's central position in world cricket, without Tendulkar the game would be in a far poorer state.