India's Sachin Tendulkar — aka the "God of cricket," the beloved idol of one-sixth of the Earth's population, and arguably the best batsman that ever lived — has announced that next month's second Test match against the West Indies will be his last.
And with that, the greatest sportsman of all time exits the stage.
Bear with me. I'm sure it will be difficult for many Americans to accept that such a prestigious title will go to a cricketer, of all athletes. Just allow me to show you exactly how — through a combination of pure grace and raw aggression — this "Little Master," as the 5'5" batsman is also known — was able to earn the attribute of sporting genius.
And I'll do so without so much as mentioning his $22 million annual salary and the fact that he is mobbed by crowds wherever he goes; that whenever he plays at home, he practically stops time in India, with trains packed full of people waiting at the station until he has completed his innings; and that he is able to shoulder the expectations of a massive nation that he helped to unite through cricket, while remaining extraordinarily humble. Because this is about the sport.
He has broken almost all the records there are to break. In the history of the sport, no one has racked up more runs in both international Tests and one-day matches. He achieved the unprecedented feat of hitting 100 centuries in international competition: A century is when a batsman scores a hundred runs in one innings. Hitting just one is a mark of prowess; hitting 100 of them seemed unfathomable, or it did until Tendulkar did it. Not for nothing did the Australian Shane Warne, a legendary cricketer in his own right, laud Tendulkar as "the best player without a doubt." After him, said Warne, there was only "daylight." [TIME]
But it has to be about more than the records. It has to be about the sheer genius of some of his shots, some of which I've included below. And remember, to understand Sachin's true brilliance you have to bear in mind the context in which he played — that's to say, usually during marathon sessions in the sub-continental heat.
So there's this classic. A perfect mix of balance and expert timing, this shot is basically a block, using the staggering pace of bowler Brett Lee's ball to send it straight back past him. It may look boringly defensive, but it's one of the most difficult shots to pull off in the game, particularly when played against one of the fastest bowlers in the world:
If that doesn't impress you, hopefully this range of amazing shots will:
An explanation for those who've never really watched cricket:
- The first is a perfect example of the delicacy and subtleness of Tendulkar's touch, as he rolls his wrists over the ball.
- The second looks like a bit of a heave, but that's only because he's working to get the timing of his shot exactly right.
- The third is probably the shot Tendulkar is most known for. It's the perfect cricket shot technically speaking, a holy grail of sorts: A straight drive off a fast bowler to send a ball which is traveling at more than 90 mph, while swinging and moving off the pitch, exactly back where it came from. That's something that requires exquisite timing and technique.
- The last is his most audacious, as he frees up his arms to play the shot "on the up," so that the ball is still rising when he hits it. Again — and I'm repeating myself — it's an exceptionally difficult shot that few can pull off.
But here's the most important bit. If you love cricket, which at least one billion people around the world do — including a small but feisty minority in the U.S. — then the most important point about Sachin is that he embodies one of the best things about the sport: That it's a game where Davids can beat Goliaths. A game where a man of such small stature could bully huge bowlers charging at him and hurling balls down at ridiculous speeds. How?
Because he was the master.