If the arc of Sachin Tendulkar’s career now appears inevitable—raw talent rising to the top, where it always belonged—that is due to the flawed vision of hindsight. Talented youngsters burst on to various scenes all the time, but their subsequent progress is not assured. Talent can exhaust itself; it can prove temperamental; it can produce good or even great but not spectacular work; it can succumb to politics or distraction. The most telling case in point, in fact, is possibly Tendulkar’s own boyhood foil and accomplice, Vinod Kambli.
Tendulkar’s truest talent—the one that has just seen him hit his 50th Test hundred and brought him close to a 100 international centuries— is not his ability to see the ball early or to pick spin out of a bowler’s hand or to hit through gaps in the field or to pace his batting. It is his ability to want to do these things over and over again, to better how he does them even when he has seemingly perfected them.
This is the talent that helped him avoid the pitfalls in any lengthy career. When this particular ability is called hunger, it sounds grand and magnificent. The more accurate word—discipline— is also the less sexy word. Discipline involves tirelessness and incremental improvement, and how can that be worthy of awe and admiration?
Yet, over the last two decades, if Tendulkar’s batting has shown us anything, it is the sheer virtue of discipline—of the extra half-hour spent in the nets, even after younger, spryer colleagues have hit the bars. That discipline is why, even at 37, Tendulkar can pile up 1,500 sublime runs in a calendar year, enjoying a purple patch that eludes not only freshly blooded youngsters but even comparable peers like Ricky Ponting. Such is Tendulkar’s effect, in fact, that for many of us who have watched him over his international career, his discipline is even more attractive than his straight drive; the latter is only the mastery of a cricket ball, after all, while the former is the mastery of a formidable mind and body.
The question of whether there will ever be another like him is a natural one, and it’s easy to be pessimistic in answering it. Tendulkar’s generation started playing before modern life became congested with distractions and temptations, crowding out the space needed for single-minded hard work. If a cricketer ever surpasses Tendulkar’s achievements, we can be sure that he will owe it not to better hand-eye coordination or footwork but to even more staggering levels of discipline than Tendulkar’s.
Is Tendulkar’s record too steep to be surpassed? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org