Harish Kotian salutes India's batting great Sachin Tendulkar, who called it quits from One-Day International cricket after a career spanning more than two decades during which he broke nearly all batting records.
He did not have the best of starts to his One-Day International career, as he registered two ducks in a row in his first two games, but by the time he hung up his boots, Sachin Tendulkar finished as the greatest batsman to have graced the limited-overs' format.
It was no sheer coincidence that the nearly-dying One-Day Internationals came alive and became a hit among the masses during the Tendulkar era that stretched from December 1989 to March 2012.
Yes, you had Viv Richards, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Javed Miandad, but there is no doubt that Tendulkar was the best batsman to have played ODIs.
No batsman had the ability or the eye to dominate bowlers or score consistently like Tendulkar did during his 23-year reign in ODIs, which saw him amass 18426 runs in 463 matches at an average of 44.83, while hitting 49 centuries and 96 fifties on the way to establishing his greatness in modern day cricket.
The next best batsman was Ricky Ponting, who finished a distant second with 13704 runs in 375 matches at an average of 42.03.
Tendulkar timed his retirement to perfection
Tendulkar timed his retirement to perfection. Many felt he should have given up after winning the World Cup last year, but he chose to continue because he enjoyed scoring runs and winning matches for his team.
At 39, he realized he could not continue till the next World Cup in 2015 and decided to opt out in order to help the selectors build a team for the future. It was a selfless decision as Tendulkar had the option of playing ODIs for another year or two without worrying about his place in the side.
It is hard to imagine cricket without Tendulkar, quite simply because he has been a dominating presence in the Indian team since making his debut as a 16-year-old against Pakistan in November 1989.
Many big players came and went by, but Tendulkar stood like a rock, soaking in all the adulations, criticisms, pressures and everything else that came with fame and success.
Tendulkar never looked for an easy way out
It is tribute to his greatness that he managed to consistently give his all to cricket in the last 23 years. Preparing for an international game is never easy and involves a lot of hard work and dedication and Tendulkar never looked for a short cut even though he had an abundance of talent.
With age, his reflexes slowed down and injuries started to affect him, but he adapted to the situation quite well and modified his batting style, but never did he comprise with the team's interests.
He was a total team man till the end, as the statistics prove too, with India winning more than 50 percent of the matches (234 wins out of 463) he was involved in and his contribution in those games was 11,157 runs at an average of 56.63.
Tendulkar never let success get to his head
Even though there was madness all around him, there was nothing of the sort to his approach to cricket.
Tendulkar always had a steady head on his shoulders; it never ever wavered even when he achieved a lot of success at a young age.
With the bat, he was special, a sight to behold, his free-flowing cover drives, upper cuts, pull shots, flicks through midwicket, straight drives left bowlers helpless spectators. These memories will remain with us forever.
Some of the Tendulkar's great innings came in ODIs in the 1990s and the early 2000s when the bowlers didn't have a clue where to bowl to him. Some of the best bowlers of their era, like Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Shaun Pollock, Muttiah Muralitharan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis among others, suffered at his hands.
Tendulkar excelled in the opening role
One can never forget Tendulkar's first ever innings as an opener in ODIs, when he tore apart the New Zealand bowlers, smashing 82 from just 49 balls, hitting 15 fours and two sixes.
There was no looking back after that as he set sail on the one of the greatest careers ever in One-Dayers, including his twin hundreds in Sharjah against the Australians, in 1998, who boasted of the best bowling line-ups then, including the likes of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.
His century (140 not out from 101 balls) in the 1999 World Cup against Kenya in Bristol was also special as he returned from his father's funeral the day before to steer India's campaign in the tournament.
With age, Tendulkar cut down on his flamboyance and aggressive approach, especially after the arrival of the dashing Virender Sehwag. The duo formed one of the most dangerous opening pairs of all time and when they got going it was a sight to behold.
Pakistan was one team that suffered at their hands, as an inspired Tendulkar led the way with some breathtaking shots against the pace battery comprising of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar during the 2003 World Cup.
The world got to see a new side of Tendulkar, who took on the pacers with his trademark uppercut leaving the Pakistani pacers in a daze during his breathtaking knock of 98 from 75 balls.
Tendulkar played a key role in 2011 World Cup victory
The 2007 World Cup proved one of the rare low points of Tendulkar's glittering ODI career but he made up for it by winning the next edition at home four years later.
Tendulkar, then 37, played out of his skin to bring back the coveted World Cup after a long wait of 28 years. He finished the tournament with 482 runs in nine matches at an average of 53.55; his unbelievable knock of 111 from 101 balls against South Africa, where he took apart the deadly pace duo of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, is still fresh in our minds.
The Indian team rightly dedicated the World Cup victory to Tendulkar, who had waited such a long time for this triumph. Playing in his sixth World Cup, the maestro finally captured the elusive trophy he had longed for all these years.
Tendulkar started and ended ODI career against Pakistan
Just when everyone thought he had no other record to achieve, Tendulkar created history by becoming the only batsman to hit a double century in ODIs, when he hammered 200 not out (147 alls) against South Africa in Gwalior in February 2010.
His last tournament in ODIs was the Asia Cup last year when he made 114 against Bangladesh to complete his 100 centuries in international cricket, in March.
Tendulkar's final innings in ODIs was 52 against Pakistan in that same tournament, the same opponents against whom he had made his ODI debut in December 1989.
And, least you forget, the last ball he ever played in One-Dayers was his dismissal, when he was caught at first slip off Saeed Ajmal. When he walked back then little did you realize that this was the last time you would see him bat in ODIs, as it brought to an end of the greatest careers to have graced the sport.
There never will be another Sachin Tendulkar
But the positives from all this is that Tendulkar will only play in Test cricket, where India needs him more than ever at this moment. The Test team is in complete shambles and Tendulkar's experience should help India get over this tough period of transition, if he can get back to scoring runs.
Even though he will play Test cricket for some more time, it is clear that his place in the ODI team will always be missed. He was special and will always remain that for his millions of his fans worldwide.
Quite simply, there never will be another Sachin Tendulkar.