The answer to the question you are mulling this morning about Tendulkar ... yes he is!
Yes, he is the best batsman you have ever seen and yes, he is likely to be the best player the world has ever seen. He has bettered the stars of his long era - Ponting, Lara, Dravid, Kallis, Border, Waugh, Jayasuriya (ODI) and Inzamann (ODI) - and as his career extends into its twenty first year, he continues to set new marks on the high jump bar he will leave as a legacy.
This record breaking first ODI double century is his 46th in that form of the game and he has 47 of similar, if not better quality, in Test matches. Who could have believed any player would score 93 international hundreds when Allan Border retired as the highest run scorer in Test cricket just over fifteen years ago? It used to be that the mark of greatness - or was it longevity - was a hundred hundreds in first class cricket and now this small lad from Mumbai threatens to chalk the cue on a much greater milestone.
Of course the old timers will talk of his exposure and longevity and muse on if-onlys about the champions of yesteryear. What might Bradman's record have been given the same length of time? To be fair, Bradman retired at age 47 and yes he did lose eight years to WWII. Tendulkar is nudging 37 but surely part of his genius has been to keep himself fit and mentally fresh, something that Bradman clearly failed to do in just the number of games he was confronted with, let alone the dramatically increased schedule of the modern player.
Tendulkar is a genius. It showed when I saw him score his first hundred against Australia in Sydney as a mere stripling aged 18, already in his 14th Test and coming into the match with only one previous hundred and an average of 35. Lots of promise they said but where was the bang for the buck? Another kid with lots of promise made his debut for the Aussies in that game but Tendulkar and Shastri carved him to all parts of the SCG, sending him to the dressing sheds with lots to do and 1-150.
Fast forward a decade and Tendulkar returned to the SCG with 82 runs in five digs in a series where others had provide the get up and go and he had three times wafted and sent Gilchrist jumping and twice walked across the crease to be struck, fatally, on the pads. Tendulkar was done. The maestro was myth. In heavy air and a turning deck, he was easy pickings for a side without the dynamic duo of McGrath and Warne. I scored the innings. He made no stokes outside the off stump till 100 and then the bowlers tired of his raised bat out there and bowled at his legs. Hello? 241 and 60, both not out - the first was technically the best innings I have ever seen. To cap it all, he caught Steve Waugh's last slog-sweep in Test cricket and ended any chance of a long shot victory. It was though the responsibility for carrying the spirit of the game flew through the air from Waugh to Tendulkar and was gracefully accepted. The little bloke ran to Waugh to offer his thanks and just maybe to reward his trust.
The next time he visited Sydney, he made another big unbeaten hundred, averaging 221 in seven innings there. Haven't we had all the favours in the home of the Blues?
It is, of course, possible to sum up all of the above descriptions of his batting ability into one, concise statement. Warne never bettered him. Ever. Both worked very hard to come up with tactics to defeat the other. Warne never won.
In the end, figures will only sum part of Tendulkar - the part that marketing gurus still like to use as promotion along side his still boyish looks. In the words of Yoda, "there is another". It is his generosity and humility and grace under pressure that the game should be even more grateful for. He is, without exception, the only player I have heard (except maybe for Gilchrist) who talks up his team and deflects the focus away from his own performances and does so believably. We all know the cove who milks extended compliments by first feeding the media cows some rich pasture. Dean Jones and Shane Warne come to mind and Greg Matthews absolutely screams to be included in my examples. If you look in your cricket dictionary under humble, it will say "see Tendulkar ... twice". Under the most extreme pressure, on the field and off, it was Tendulkar who added credibility to the sordid events of the disgraceful Aust and India clash at the SCG in January 2008.
Even since the late sixties, this Cricket Tragic has seen and read and talked about many "greats" of the game. The term is over-used and over-rated. Every generations thinks their crop greater than the previous. Brett Lee, for instance, was very good but he was never great. The same could be said of Dean Jones or Justin Langer or Matthew Hayden or Merv Hughes or Stuart MacGill. Very good but not great.
If Dennis Lillee is my greatest bowler (yes, in a coin toss between he and Warne, the WACA Wacker get my vote) and Sobers the greatest allrounder and either Symonds or Simpson the greatest fielder, then Tendulkar is the greatest batsman (decided with the same coin, this time with Bradman's head on the other side).
What a pity he is coming to the end. Still, when the real thing fades, such memories as his will suffice.