Sachin once more
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Such is his legacy, it demands that he evolve into a guardianship role for the sport
Sachin Tendulkar left the playing field for the last time this weekend without, as always, putting a foot wrong. Offsetting the hysteria, howsoever genuinely felt, in Wankhede stadium and beyond, he paid a heart-felt tribute to cricket that not once flirted with triteness. Great sportspersons are like that — they lift the profile of their sport. Tendulkar did that at every point in his career, in many ways, and more than any other in international cricket. He did it most significantly by conveying through his presence in the field that the match mattered — whatever the drift of play, whatever the importance or not of the final outcome, and whatever the suspicions about the purposefulness of his team or his board at the time. In Tendulkar's time, his team coasted through many crises — with some, like match-fixing, with the potential of destroying cricket's credibility. Cricket was threatened, even more often, by irrelevance. It struggled to find a balance between many formats. He was not the only one to have played for India in the past quarter century who served, by his presence on the field, as a counter to cynical disregard for cricket, as a source of cohesion. But he did it the longest, most grandly, pushing the boundaries of what was seen to be possible. What will he now do, in the days after?
Every arena of Tendulkar's performance can be considered separately, and his place will be pre-eminent — in first-class cricket, Test, one-day, even league Twenty20. In each format, his mates would speak of his presence as a rallying force, on the field, at the nets and in the dressing room. He could not, it must be said, carry the burden of captaincy well — but he did, as generations of players for India fell away into retirement and new ones came, graduate to being elder statesman on the team. And perhaps, in these days after retirement, that quality is what Indian cricket needs for him to tap. He is not given to confrontation. But he has the two qualities, credibility and enthusiasm, to be a persuasive rallying point to bring to cricket from outside the boundary a sense proportion, a regard for context and seemliness that it so desperately needs.