Do numbers produce sport? Or does sport produces numbers? Without numbers there is no sport, but without sport, what worth are the numbers?
These are complex questions. The answers of which are nebulous and difficult to fathom. Yet the crux of the debate carries with it an important message.
Numbers are part of sport. They are the determining factor of sport. Without them, measuring sport would be nigh-on impossible. But numbers...what are they, really?
Ultimately they’re a human construct. They are, of course, of enormous importance to sport, but they aren’t tangible and they aren’t palpable. You can’t feel a number. Numbers don’t evoke emotions. Numbers don’t make you cry. Numbers don’t make memories. Numbers don’t leave an indelible mark on your life.
Sport is—paradoxically, considering its ultimate goals, and for all but the most cold-hearted realists—about more than just numbers. Sport is about, as much as it is winning: entertainment, emotion, patriotism and pride, awe and inspiration. The great Sir Neville Cardus famously wrote almost a century ago that “there ought to be some other means of reckoning quality in this the best and loveliest of games; the scoreboard is an ass.”
It is with this in mind that the greatness, and legacy of, Sachin Tendulkar should be appropriately considered.
Statistically he is a giant of the game; a number-churning, record-munching monster. But to quantify him so narrowly would be missing the point. Tendulkar’s legacy transcends the playing field; his greatness goes beyond numbers.
Numbers didn’t make the Wankhede Stadium cry; numbers didn’t make Tendulkar a god in the eyes of a billion. There are more deep-rooted causations for why a nation fell so madly in love with one man. Such angles are fast becoming platitudinous, but what can one do but promote the truth?
The Times editorial on Friday did just that concisely, accurately and comprehensively:
Sachin Tendulkar, as befits a cricketing hero in the most cricket-mad country in the world, is more than a cricketer. He is a legend, he is public property, he is the face of every advertising campaign that does not feature his captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and he is freighted with the hope of national glory for modern India.
Tendulkar was and is the perfect vehicle for the heroism of a new India. His career as a Test cricketer began in 1989 and really flourished in the early 1990s, at exactly the point that India emerged from the doldrums of an economic system that is known as the “licence raj”. ...
Sachin Tendulkar was the poster boy of India’s rise from the second rank of nations. It is hard for non-Indians quite to conceive of the scale of the fame he endured. Throughout it all, he kept his eye on the ball. Tendulkar is the first batsmen to score 100 international centuries. He has been the first batsman to excel in three forms of the game — Test matches, one-day internationals and T20. He finishes his career as the highest run-scorer in the history of Test match cricket.
Through all of this, he has always been something more important than a cricketer. He has been a good man.