Sachin Tendulkar will soon be playing his last Test, the only format he still plays in.
What will happen after that is something no one had ever thought about...or even would like to think about, at least while the maestro is still playing.
Tendulkar has played 198 Tests, 463 ODIs and a solitary Twenty20 international. Of those, a majority are innings to be remembered, with silk flowing off his bat and throats going sore in the stands.
Selecting the best 10 out of those is an almost impossible task, but we’ve tried our best here...
This was a record that Sachin Tendulkar just had to make his own after ruling ODIs for so many years.
Viv Richards’ 189, Saeed Anwar’s 194, then Charles Coventry’s unbeaten 194 had stood in the record books
But nearly 40 years after the advent of the ODIs, the format’s first double-century was scored by arguably the best ODI batsman of all time.
Just like a typical Tendulkar innings, this one started with crisp drives but was affected by cramps given the heat and the humidity. Virrendar Sehwag had departed early, but Tendulkar, who consumed nearly half of the innings’ deliveries, hit 25 boundaries and three sixes as India amassed 401 against the mighty South Africans.
The Little Master reach the magic figure of 200 in the last over of the innings.
Former England captain Nasser Hussain waxed lyrical about Tendulkar after this innings:
Better than Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting, the other two great players of my era. Better than Sir Viv Richards, Sunil Gavaskar and Allan Border. And I would even say better than Sir Don Bradman himself.
Saeed Anwar had hit a century earlier in the day and helped Pakistan to a competitive 273 in this World Cup match.
With Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar in the lineup, the task seemed difficult for India. Tendulkar, though, did not waste much time in cutting that attack down to size, smashing Akhtar for a six and two fours in the second over of the innings.
Younis did manage two wickets in two balls, but Tendulkar refused to stop, picking up runs at will, and although he missed his century by just two runs, the result was all but sealed by the time he was dismissed.
He had not slept properly for 12 nights ahead of this match. After this brutal assault, Pakistan players and fans were not able to sleep for months to come.
This was Steve Waugh’s last Test and Tendulkar’s 241 ensured the Australian captain had to bow out with a drawn series.
Tendulkar’s form wasn’t too assuring and the series was definitely not his best. India had decided to bat and Tendulkar walked in at 128 for two but was still standing when the tourists declared their innings at 705 for seven.
It wasn’t the most sublime innings of his career but one that helped India draw the series.
Of his 33 fours, 28 and 188 runs came on the leg side as he added 353 for the fourth wicket with VVS Laxman. So valuable and important was this innings that Tendulkar himself, following his unbeaten 241, said that he would “put this innings right at the top of my hundreds."
India were reeling at 28 for two in their first innings after South Africa had piled up 362 in Cape Town.
The tourists were aiming for their first series win in the country, but Dale Steyn was adamant that he would not let that happen.
Tendulkar, however, took that on the chin, stood outside his crease, defied the fiery spells and his 314-ball vigil helped India not only take a slender two-run lead but also kept their hopes alive of saving the match.
As ESPNCricinfo put it:
The world’s best fast-bowler terrorised the acclaimed batsmen of the number one team with frightening spells of accurate out-swing bowling at high speed. Most did not survive the menacing attack, but the world’s best batsman did, and he dragged his team forward through the harshest of circumstances.
Tendulkar has to his name every batting record worth having, except one perhaps: a fourth-innings century in an Indian win.
Having struggled against the spin of Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar in the first innings of the Chennai Test, India were left to chase 387 on a deteriorating pitch.
The explosive start, which put England off track, was provided by Virender Sehwag, the final touches by Yuvraj Singh. But in the middle Tendulkar nurtured the chase, hardly ever looking under pressure, scampering through for singles like a teenager, breaking shackles every now and then with odd boundaries.
The final one of those boundaries finished the chase and also brought up that elusive century. And it worked a treat that it came at the same venue that was the scene of a supreme heartbreak nine years earlier against Pakistan and weeks after India faced one of its worst terror attacks.
As ESPNCricinfo put it: "With Tendulkar, India smiles again."
Sydney hosted the first final of the CB Series and Tendulkar had a few pending issues he had to address: an ODI century in Australia, a century in 37 innings, a chase-winning century since 2001, a century in any chase since March 2004.
All those boxes were neatly and effortlessly ticked in the 120 deliveries he faced in the middle as India eased past the 239 runs that the hosts had scored.
India were in a spot of a bother at 87 for three, but Tendulkar combined well with Rohit Sharma to draw first blood in the finals.
Watching this, an average Pakistani cricket fan was divided.
On the line was a victory against India, but on the other hand, Tendulkar was playing the innings of his life. On show were heroics that were to see a tragic end with India, chasing 271, failing to beat Pakistan.
At 82 for five, Tendulkar found an able ally in Nayan Mongia and rebuilt the innings, but running out of partners and his back giving way, the task looked all the more impossible with every passing delivery.
Tendulkar sensed that and started dealing in boundaries, but the cunning Saqlain Mushtaq, coming round the wicket, induced a faulty stroke and the lofted drive was caught at mid-off.
India went on to lose by a mere 13-run margin, but Tendulkar, against the odds and not 100 per cent, played an innings to remember.
It had been a decade since Tendulkar made his Test debut, but he was yet to score a century in the West Indies.
He finally delivered in 2002, helping India to only their third win in the West Indies. Wisden Almanack noted in its report that "Tendulkar’s was a resolute rather than commanding innings; Dravid looked the more assertive in a partnership of 124."
India managed a 94-run, first-innings lead and went on to win the Test by 37 runs. VVS Laxman was adjudged man of the match, but it was Tendulkar who would have been the happiest after breaking his century drought in the Caribbean.
Sehwag’s majestic 309 in Multan handed India a convincing innings victory, but in his shadow was a sublime, unbeaten 194 by Tendulkar that took away any hopes the home side had of salvaging pride from the remains.
The duo absolutely demolished the Pakistan attack that contained Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Sami and Saqlain Mushtaq. Pakistan spent over 161 overs in the field, conceded 675 runs, but despite cameos from most of their batsmen, the hosts were unable to draw level with India’s effort.
Tendulkar weaved his magic with the ball as well, picking up a brace in the first innings, but the Little Master—unruffled, unfazed by spin and pace—was on top of his game with the bat.
Rahul Dravid did spring up a huge surprise when he declared the innings with Tendulkar on 194 and despite matters being sorted in the dressing room, Tendulkar admitted to having felt let down.
After all that has happened, you still go back to your first.
England piled up 519 on a benign pitch and India replied with 432. The hosts stretched the lead to 407 and though the pitch was still good and the bowling not terribly menacing, India found themselves in deep water at 127 for five with only one recognised batsman left.
Tendulkar was only 17 years old, but he battled for nearly four hours, grimly but never dourly, and ended the day with 119. India lost only one more wicket, ending up with 343. With one more session, they might even have won.
And that is how it all started...