New Delhi:In an era where 15 minutes of fame is the order of the day and icons often have hidden feet of clay, Sachin Tendulkar remains a glorious exception, his 20 years of undiminished aura showing no signs of waning.
No other cricketer has managed to seamlessly combine both statistics and aesthetics to underline his greatness like Tendulkar did, retaining the innocence and humility of his early days all along.
Since his debut on November 15, 1989, the teen with curly hair and a sing-song voice has grown so much in stature that now men who matter sit up and take note every time Tendulkar says something.
Tendulkar's wicket would catapult any domestic bowler to national reckoning. He puts in a word and Mahendra Singh Dhoni is anointed India captain. He suggests splitting one day cricket into four innings of 25 overs each not an original idea and ICC agrees, in principle, to put it on trial.
It has been a long journey for the batting great and Tendulkar is not interested in retirement talks yet.
That he was very special was evident right from his school days and the first evidence of his precocious talent was the unbeaten 664-run stand he shared with buddy Vinod Kambli in the Lord Harris Shield Inter-School Game in 1988.
While Kambli's was a meteoric rise, spectacular but shortlived, Tendulkar's was marked for greater glory.
Brother Ajit's encouragement, mentor Ramakant Achrekar's tutelage and his own dedication towards his craft shaped Tendulkar's future and it was almost a matter of destiny that he went on to become the most iconic cricketer of his generation.
The 1989 international debut followed. A Waqar Younis bouncer left him with a bleeding nose but Tendulkar did not wince and the next two decades saw him punishing bowlers all over the world on all kind of surfaces.
His first Test century came in England next year at Old Trafford and rose in stature after the 1991-92 tour of Australia, hitting sublime centuries on a Sydney turner and a Perth minefield.
The rest is history. No existing batting record seemed safe. Other than Brian Lara's Test match highest of 400 not out and first class highest score of 501 not out, every batting record became Tendulkar's.
A staggering 12,773 runs culled in 159 Tests at a robust average of 54.58 with a mindboggling 42 centuries in it confirmed Tendulkar's greatness in the longer version of the game.
And the 436 ODIs he starred in, a whopping 17,178 runs were gleaned at a healthy average of 44.50 with 45 centuries in the process.
A perfect teamman, Tendulkar has limited his Twenty20 ambition confined to the Indian Premier League where he leads Mumbai Indians, ruling himself out of national reckoning lest it upsets the existing team equilibrium.
Tendulkar's colossal batting exploits have completely overshadowed his utility as a part-time bowler who reveled in breakthroughs.
He was a complete enigma with the bowl, sending down military medium pace, orthodox leg-break and off-spin with the same guiles that often caught batsman off their guard.
His 44 Test wickets and 154 scalps in ODIs underline the fact that Tendulkar has been underbowled.
In the field, he is among the safest pair of hands in the slip and his flat throw releasing strong arm saw him man in he deep with equal aplomb.
If there is any grey area in his complete cricketer's canvas, it has been his captaincy and despite best of his efforts and having two jabs at it, leading was probably not his cup of tea and his best with the bat came when he was free from the captaincy burden.
The biggest compliment to his batting came from Sir Donald Bradman himself in 1999 when he said that Tendulkar's style of playing resembled his style. "That touch I used to feel when I batted", he had said.
The aura only grew in strength because of his impeccable demeanour, on and off the field.
Tendulkar was never seen cursing opponents, questioning the umpires or letting his emotion get the better of himself.
That made him the ultimate role model and even Javed Miandad, who belonged to a more volatile school, could not help but call Tendulkar the ultimate role model for every aspiring cricketer.