Why Sachin is no God of cricket

(This piece was originally published on 8 May 2011 and is being republished on account of its relevance after Sachin has announced his retirement from Test cricket) 

We -- our media, but also our chattering classes, as visible on social media -- call him God. We say he is gifted, that his skills are superhuman, and that his records will never be broken.

One begs to differ.

Every time you ascribe divinity to the man, you're doing him a great disservice. You're ignoring the hours and hours of practice that made handling a bat second nature to him. You're ignoring the fact that his coach, Ramakant Achrekar, ferried him from game to game at maidan after madian on his scooter, so that on a given day he got more turns at bat in a competitive environment than anyone else. You're ignoring the more than 10,000 hours of purposeful practice that he had put in, honing his skills, before he made his India debut; hours that most others managed to do only by their late teens at best, more likely in their early twenties.

Sachin Tendulkar of India is chaired around the field by team mates as they celebrate victory after the 2011 ICC World Cup Final. Hamish Blair/Getty Images

Sachin Tendulkar of India is chaired around the field by team mates as they celebrate victory after the 2011 ICC World Cup Final. Hamish Blair/Getty Images

You're also not paying due respect to the giants on whose shoulders Tendulkar stands, his wonders to perform: the generation that brought India's first cricket World Cup home, thereby inspiring countless young lads for whom cricket was suddenly more viable as a vocation, as a way of life. Which, in turn, encouraged the setting up of hundreds of cricket academies, and, in time, the channelling of advertising money into the game, which made it even more viable for all those lads, which in turn inspired even more... you get the picture.

We live now in an age when, thanks to the IPL, hordes of young men can aspire to a life of reasonable affluence on the back of nothing more than cricketing skill. They don't have to make it to the national team for the money to start rolling in. And their aspirations are being reinforced by the many hours of cricket being streamed into our homes by television and the internet, by the many advertisements starring cricketers who are the flavour of the month.

Which means more cricketing academies, more trained coaches, better facilities, and definitely more striplings wanting to play cricket.

Chances are, as you read this, many millions of little boys aged five to ten are out there in the playing fields of the towns and villages, dreaming of being Tendulkar, much like he dreamt of being Gavaskar.

In a few years, some hundreds of thousands of them will actually get to play the game with some level of seriousness, maybe for school or college, or impromptu neighbourhood teams.

Of those multitudes, many will drop out even while still in school, sure. But some will genuinely fall in love with the game and want to put in the extra hours in the pursuit of happiness (and excellence).

Some tens of thousands of them will have pushy/supportive (your adjective may differ) parents who send them off to cricket classes.

Of those, a few thousand will have the good fortune to receive high-level coaching, the kind that hones the basics but also innovates, pushes boundaries, teaches mental strength as well as physical skills, all without burning the tykes out or making them thoroughly sick of the game. These kids will go beyond making it to the school and college teams: they'll play for clubs and states, and probably in smaller, more localised versions of the IPL, of which, I think, there will be a fair number of, and from which scouts for the big franchises will find their talent.

Of these, dozens will be good enough to be in contention for the national team. And they'll be playing at a level that is much higher than the current incumbents can. This is natural: standards rise over time, and cricket is much further from hitting a theoretical wall defined by human limitations than, say, the 100 metres track event.

What are the chances that at least one of them -- inspired as a child by the winners of the 2011 World Cup, nurtured by parents and coaches, favoured by circumstances, and with the mental strength and the physical conditioning to last through a long career -- will beat all Tendulkar's records?

Sacrilegious as it may seem, pretty good, I think.

Well, okay, maybe the little big man's Test records will never be broken. Because that form of the game will have vanished by then.

Peter Griffin is Editor, Special Features, at Forbes India and ForbesLife, India.