It had to happen some day and while it was inevitable, Sachin Tendulkar's decision to call it a day from the fifty-over format left many unprepared and caught several others simply off guard. The moment, when it came, shattered a calm Sunday afternoon for all those cricket fanatics who had watched the man use his willow to treat the leather with utter disdain.
But what sparked off post his retirement were debates on his contribution to the game in the last 23 years. One point in particular that was hyped upon and has been raised many a time as the topic of discussion, was his ability to win matches for India. In the last one year or so many critics have emphasised that Sachin despite all his big scores was never a match winner for India in the true sense of the term.
The key issue here is how does one define a match winner? The layman's answer would be he who can take the team to victory single handedly. But to a person who is a keen follower of the game, this term is associated with a player who performs when the team requires him the most. Having said that, has not Sachin done that on more than the odd occasion? Here is a man who for over a decade was India's sole pillar in the batting. He is that player who, while at the crease, kept up India's hopes of victory and the nation would watch with baited breath.
Statistics, they say, never tell the whole story. But they don't lie either. Cricket is a game of numbers and so to take up Sachin's cause let us play the 'Number Game'. Not that Sachin needs any support as his record speaks for itself, but purely to destroy the myth of him not being a match winner.
In a career spanning 23 years the man has played 463 ODIs. Out of those matches India have won 234. In those 234 outings Tendulkar has 33 centuries and 59 half-centuries. So that is 92 scores in excess of fifty. That gives him a score of fifty or more in every 2.5 games where India have emerged victorious. He has averaged almost 57 in games that India have won. The difference in his form while batting first or chasing is marginal as he has averaged 58 and 56 respectively. To go with that we have 2 five-wicket hauls as bonus. What more could one ask for from a man who is revered in India?
In the remaining 229 matches India were not fortunate enough to win, but even in these matches Sachin has 53 scores of over fifty, meaning that even in a lost cause he can stick his neck out for the team. The fact that he averages 33 in matches lost shows that he is out more often after getting a start. That is the price attached to his wicket. Ask his opponents and they will tell you how they rejoice when he fails to deliver or falls at a critical juncture. Who can forget his dismissal in the 1996 World Cup semi-final against Sri Lanka that saw India plummet from 98/1 to 120/8? Or him losing his wicket after scoring his desert storm 143 against Australia in Sharjah and with that India's run chase coming to an end?
But all these are just dwelling in the past. The fact of the matter is that Sachin more often than not has delivered for the team. When people harp upon his failure in the 2003 World Cup final, they often forget that it was his consistent scoring that got India into the final. One also has to take into account that Sachin opened the innings for most part of his career. This meant that it would not always be possible for him to take his team right to the end. Towards his later years the aggression may have gone down, the reflexes may have become slow but his wicket was still one that bowlers would seek to build that early pressure. For a man who has never backed away, on the big stage he may lose the odd battle but will always win the war. And for the times he has failed, well what is a sportsman without his failures?
So after much deliberation Sachin has been vindicated in a game of numbers by the very numbers themselves. Now as he walks into the sunset, we can look back at the legacy he has left for India. For it was the Master Blaster who put India on the map as a cricketing nation.