End of an opus

Sachin's body of work cannot be weighed by just the numbers.

The sheer weight of the numbers Sachin Tendulkar has accumulated during the course of his 24-year Test career all but settles the all-time-greats debate. But when Tendulkar leaves, his absence will be as keenly felt in spheres of the game quite removed from its run-making aspect.

Tendulkar is the owner of all manner of records that bear testimony to his longevity and talent: most number of Test matches played (set to touch 200), runs scored (15,837, close to 3000 more than the next active batsman on the list), tons hit (51) and so on. There are, however, other numbers that hint at more varied and not so obvious areas of expertise. The fact that his career has stretched over three decades means Tendulkar's value in the team derives also from his intimate knowledge of various opponents, playing conditions and match situations. Tendulkar has played 103 Tests overseas, and of his teammates in the last match he played, M.S. Dhoni, 32, comes in next best, with 37 matches abroad. More than almost any Indian batsman, Tendulkar knows what it takes to win Tests abroad, a challenge the side is still only gradually coming to grips with. Tendulkar has been a part of 20 overseas Test wins (the most in the current set-up by a distance), averaging 80.68 per innings in them, the highest among Indian batsmen who have been part of more than one Test win abroad. Dispensing advice and settling disputes, the 40-year old's has been the sage voice in the dressing room.

Tendulkar was, in a way, Indian cricket's first celebrity. Largely staying away from controversy despite the singeing effects of media scrutiny, something that only increased in intensity towards the autumn of his career, Tendulkar was also perhaps the prototype that inspired later cricketers to successfully compartmentalise the game and aspects of superstardom. Dhoni, who was made captain at Tendulkar's recommendation, is his own man, but Tendulkar's presence and example certainly would have helped the captain, who has since gone on to become the most marketable face of the sport, in dealing with celebrity. All this does not even begin to go into the joy that Tendulkar's play afforded his innumerable fans, teammates and, more often than not, opponents. In a debate so perforated by numbers, it is something as intangible as this that may settle the argument.

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