“as long as he can tap into the inner 10 year old, he is unlikely to walk away”

There could be nothing more ironic than India‘s navel-gazing TV channels having wall-to-wall coverage of Sachin Tendulkar‘s 100th international century on a night when the team’s abysmal bowling was exposed by Bangladesh – without a win against the big three in 28 previous Asia Cup matches.

The near grimace on Tendulkar’s face when he was presented with a memento at the post-match presentation said it all.

The path from No 99 has been among the rockiest he has ever traversed, but what will bother him most is that none of the last five three-figure knocks has resulted in an Indian victory. In that sense, he could be back in the mid-1990s, when he first started opening the innings in coloured clothes.

” sachin is peter pan of cricket in a fantasy land  !!! “

The biggest positive for India on a night, when their flaws with the ball were forensically exposed, will the end of the hysteria and hype around a record that no one considered seriously until the marketing men realised what a money-spinner they were on to.

To compare a Test century made on a lively Newlands pitch against Dale Steyn at his skilful best with a one-day hundred on a placid Sher-e-Bangla surface against modest Bangladeshi bowling borders on cricket sacrilege.

In the same way, you should not even talk of his brilliant CB Series hundred (2008) and an inconsequential Test ton against Sri Lanka [Ahmedabad, 2009] in the same breath.

But while the record itself may be an artificial construct, the effort that has gone into it is one of the wonders of the sporting world.

Ryan Giggs has been a Manchester United marvel for more than two decades now, but by the time he made his league debut in 1991, Tendulkar had already raised his bat to acknowledge the applause for his first century, at Old Trafford of all places.

That he is playing at all while approaching his 39th birthday is testament to both the wonders of modern medicine and an indomitable spirit forged in the tough-love school that was Mumbai cricket.

When Andrew Wallace operated on his shoulder in March 2006, after sections of his home crowd had booed him off on the final day of a Test defeat against England, Tendulkar was already a veteran of 132 Tests and 362 one-day internationals (ODIs).

The previous year, the same surgeon had fixed a tennis-elbow problem. Though only 33, a body that had been on the cricket treadmill since he was 10 appeared to be betraying him.

When we spoke as he was recovering, there was more than a hint of anxiety about the future. Poise and certainty had given way to self-doubt and insecurity.

“It’s not like a fracture where you know it’ll heal in four weeks,” he told me at the time. “It’s not easy to forget the injuries.

“There are times when you spend some time in the middle and the body complains. That’s when you need to hold back a bit and take it easy for a couple of practice sessions.”

At that stage, he had made 35 Test hundreds, and 39 in the ODI arena. No one was even thinking of 100.

There was no fairy tale return from the abyss either. He did not thrive under Greg Chappell and the two Test hundreds that he made in the 18 months after his return from surgery both came against Bangladesh.

The Indian summer that has followed has few equals in sport. Perhaps only John Elway, who won his first Super Bowl ring at the age of 37, has had such a fulfilling last act.

Tendulkar was nearly 38 when the World Cup was finally won, and his limitless enthusiasm was apparent from the way he turned up to optional practice in the days leading up to this Bangladesh game.

Some reckon that he will follow Rahul Dravid into retirement soon.

They are wrong.

As he grew older, Dravid’s life encompassed far more than the game. Tendulkar, like Sir Alex Ferguson, seems happiest on a field of green.

Like Peter Pan, they will never grow old.

Forget the records.

What Tendulkar has taught us is that there can be no excellence without an abiding love of the game.

And as long as he can tap into the inner 10 year old, he is unlikely to walk away.

 (courtesy: The National & )

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