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Bhat: Murray the fighter succeeds at last

June 30th

FoxSportsLogoAs a bleary eyed young reporter, I wrote this throughout the night so that it could be ready for the morning in Asia. (See archived version here).

It’s done. Murray, the great hope of British tennis, has finally fulfilled the annual expectations thrust upon him to win at SW19.

The moment they had all been waiting for happened just three hours, nine minutes into the final.

And the overpowering emotion was that of disbelief.

Not until Djokovic had netted a backhand, and Murray stumbled to the ground on what was his fourth championship point, had the crowd fully realised the importance of the moment. Almost everyone had expected Djokovic to mount a fightback, especially after the Serb went 4-2 up in the third, and they were entirely unprepared for the swift end to the proceedings.

They didn’t have to endure a five-set match for the kid from Dunblane to get a chance to run over to his mother, Great Britain Fed Cup captain Judy Murray, and celebrate the end of an unbelievable fortnight in the Royal Box.

But far from merely being a one-year wait to be crowned the Wimbledon champion for 2013, his journey actually began nearly eight years ago when the Scot first rose to prominence by defeating Sergiy Stakhovsky in the 2004 US Open juniors’ singles final (the Ukrainian came to his aid this year by dumping Roger Federer out of the tournament), just as Britain’s previous big hope – Tim Henman – was entering the twilight of his career.

Murray the fighter

This time last year, emotions had gotten the better of Murray as well as he broke into tears after losing to Federer in the final.

12 months ago, the country that holds the most prestigious of the four majors mourned along with Murray as he came so close but failed in his bid to end what was then a 76-year drought.

However, the defeat only seemed to have sharpened the player’s resolve and he came back stronger in the US Open months later, defeating Djokovic in an epic four hour, 54 minute final.

It was the fifth grand slam final of Murray’s career and even Djokovic, a friend of Murray’s since the age of 11, was happy to see him succeed.

Many have justly remarked that Murray should not have had to wait so long for his first grand slam. The Briton has had the misfortune of playing in an era blessed with the talents of three supremely gifted players in Federer, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.

Over the years, Murray found it as difficult to conquer Djokovic’s aggressive hitting as he did with Federer’s masterful baseline play. On the few occasions he got the better of the duo, he failed to find an answer to Nadal’s industry and never-say-die attitude.

Murray is not the first sportsman who had to struggle to thrive within a competitive environment. In cricket, for example, Rahul Dravid faced similar questions towards his aspirations to reach the zenith of his craft as he was continuously compared with the mercurial Sachin Tendulkar. But nevertheless, the Wall soldiered on with each match and Murray continued to believe in his grand slam hopes.

Moreover, the 26-year-old, much like many a sportsman, has taken some time to better understand his weaknesses and hone his strengths.

Murray himself remarked that much of the credit for this transformation has to go to Ivan Lendl, who himself underwent a trying time during his professional career.

“There’s not been one radical change [with Lendl],” he said. “A lot of it is minor details. But if you pick 10 small things to work on and change, that can turn into a big difference.”

The small changes were carried out by a remarkable team who have been dedicated to Murray’s success. Fitness coach Jez Green, in particular, has put Murray through a punishing fitness regime, often in the baking heat of Miami, and has the player on a strict diet that can often include up to 50 pieces of sushi in one meal.

The mental and physical training that Murray has endured has helped him gain the edge to make the reality of a British winner at Wimbledon possible.

Did Murray face a below-par Djokovic?

The above question has still been asked by many who do not credit Murray as a true champion.

The short answer is yes.

The Serbian gave away eight break points in the first set alone, he produced 40 unforced errors that were almost double the tally of Murray’s 21 and generally looked tired and unwilling to run as hard as Murray could.

Despite insisting he would be on top form, the Serbian’s record-breaking semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro looked to have taken its toll. Djokovic used drop shots with increasingly regularity in the third set, perhaps to shorten the exhausting rallies as he tired. Murray looked fresher in the summer heat and moved with more vigour as the match came to a close.

But does that undervalue Murray’s win? I don’t think that the hours he put in during training in order to have a shot at achieving success at Centre Court should be disrespected by such a suggestion.

The best summation of Murray’s winning mentality during the match came from musician Sir Cliff Richard who told Sky Sports: “I think Andy played for himself. He was masterful all the way through and even though he had those moments when he was down, he broke back [and] won his own serve.”

“In the last game I knew that Djokovic was going to be trouble because he doesn’t give anything away and it was just very exciting to eventually watch him finally pull it off.

“It was just fantastic for all of us but I’m hoping that he [Murray] feels really good about himself and then we can enjoy his winning.”

Murray had himself expressed his annoyance at the media hype that surrounded his every move and it appears Lendl and his team have helped the 26-year-old blot out all the distractions.

It was this, as well as an immense amount of self-belief, that played a part and it would be wrong to focus on Djokovic’s lethargy.

After all, wasn’t it Murray who failed to show up in January’s Australian Open final when Djokovic’s water-tight serve – the Serb was not broken once in four sets of intense baseline brutality – was praised but few gave the Scot his due?

What next for Andy Murray?

Murray may have been the home favourite but he has yet to really assert himself and expand tennis’ big three to include an additional member.

He can consider himself to have earned a fortuitous straight sets final victory but any future opportunities will be more like last year’s US Open battle instead of Sunday’s brief contest.

As much as the media would like to script the ‘rise of a legend’ story, Murray has to improve upon many aspects of his game and define his identity.

Djokovic is well-known as an artist of comebacks while Nadal punishes opponents on clay surfaces; Federer has already made a name for himself as the classiest act on Wimbledon. Murray, on the other hand, still has a story to tell and he’s only written the introductory chapter.

Sport has always loved the underdog, though, but now Murray has the chance to go beyond that tag. For now, the world will be perfectly happy to dwell on the relief experienced by the masses after the culmination of a long wait for a home champion.

Even Murray, in his stoic and dispassionate manner, understood that his victory meant a lot to all those who were watching: “That win was for myself but I also understand how much everyone else wanted to see a British winner at Wimbledon.”

“I hope you guys enjoyed it.”

We most certainly did. Let’s see if there’s more.

Who is Maria Sharapova? An Indian’s Take

Maria Sharapova @ Roland Garros

FoxSportsLogoIndians trolled Maria Sharapova after she said she had no idea who Sachin Tendulkar was. This was my attempt at explaining a modern cultural phenomenon. Please note I was just 23 when I wrote this op-ed and my editors had left following a merger. (See archived version here).

Earlier this week, Indians tweeted “Who is Maria Sharapova” in outrage after the Russian said that she gushed at the sight of David Beckham in the Royal Box but did not know another famous man – Sachin Tendulkar.

The Royal Box holds esteemed visitors at Wimbledon and the Indian was invited to attend the event for the first time as a retired cricketer. After 24 years of long servitude to the game, he is clearly enjoying life and it was a heartening sight to see the Little Master take his place alongside many other famous sporting icons.

He decided to attend Maria Sharapova’s third round match against Alison Riske which she won 6-3, 6-0. The 27-year-old subsequently lost out to Angelique Kerber in the fourth round but it was a valiant effort by the Russian.

In the post-match interview, she was informed that some very famous people had taken their time out to catch her game.

“I always feel I really understand and get starstruck more when I’m around athletes that have done incredible things in their careers rather than maybe musicians or other professions. I’ve met him (Beckham) a couple of times at different events in LA and London, he’s a great guy.

“I do get quite shy when I meet people like that. I randomly met Michael Jordan at a private airport once. I don’t even know why that made me nervous, I didn’t even grow up watching basketball.

“I was like, ‘Wow, that’s cool’. He recognised me, which is pretty cool I thought back in the day.”

But when she was asked the following question: “Sachin Tendulkar was the other person who came in at the same time as David (Beckham). Do you know who Sachin is?”

The French Open champion replied: “I don’t.”

Uh oh

Many Indians did not take the response well. Their unbridled fury has truly surprised me.

Annoyed at her supposed ignorance, they began to ask “Who Is Maria Sharapova?” in a dry attempt to play down the achievements of the Russian tennis star. They began to compare Tendulkar’s 24-year-long career to Sharapova’s 13 and outlined the list of achievements that Tendulkar has (it’s a lengthy, lengthy list) to showcase how he is worthy of notice in the world of sports.

They bombarded Maria Sharapova’s Facebook page with continual insults, made Who Is Maria Sharapova trend on Twitter and someone even created a website – whoismariasharapova.com! There are video montages on YouTube where people have sought to compare the two individuals while others have made memes to poke fun at the topic.

My favourite one has Luis Suarez complaining, “See! This is why I bite people!” next to an image that shows Sharapova confessing that she doesn’t know who Tendulkar is.

Some Indian sports fans have even leapt to Sharapova’s defence and written columns and blog posts over the nonsensical nature of the debacle.

Who Is Maria Sharapova? 

Let me try and provide some small recompense by writing words of praise for the explosive combination of beauty and skill that is Maria Sharapova.

She won Wimbledon at the age of 17 in 2004.

With her 2012 win of the French Open, she completed a Grand Slam at the age of 25.

She has doggedly pursued her love for tennis even when her phenomenal looks can get her a lucrative career as a model. The unnecessary fame that comes with such a tag has distracted other sportswomen in the past, preventing them from giving their all, but not Sharapova. (Her compatriot Anna Kournikova come to mind.)

She continues to carry out grueling training sessions even as there is always a fat paycheck available for a day-long leisure-filled photo shoot. Staying in shape requires considerable less work than being fit enough to last a tennis match but she does it and continues to compete at the highest level.

Ranked 63rd on this year’s Forbes Celebrity 100 list (ahead of Serena Williams, arguably the best player), she is a champion of women’s tennis. And we need champions like her because the women’s game gets far less coverage as a whole than the men’s edition.

I’m sure that many little girls around the world have been inspired to pick up tennis rackets after seeing Sharapova wave at the spectators after emerging victorious in a tennis match.

Outside the court, she has utilised her considerable profile on charitable missions, especially the Chernobyl Recovery and Development Programme, where she helps people in the disaster area recover from the effects of the nuclear accident that happened there in the 1980s.

India matters

Why is this a big deal? Because it’s not about these two individuals at all. Instead, it’s about perception and the manner in which India is accepted on the international stage.

Personally, it’s a bit of a struggle to even explain why this is a big deal to non-Indians. Sure, it’s a bit of an overreaction and, if you take out the venom from their words, it can even appear humorous.

Why should it matter that a tennis player know of Sachin Tendulkar?

Allow me to do a simple thought experiment.

Take a flight and land somewhere in the middle of a town where the natives have limited access to civilization. Would they know about Beckham? Possibly. His image is always on soft drink cans.

Do they have any idea who Michael Schumacher is? If they have any aspirations of making it big and riding a Ferrari, they might know about the mercurial German.

Roger Federer? Rolex watches. Rafael Nadal? That Spanish guy who goes shirtless at the end of tennis matches? Cristiano Ronaldo? Haircuts? Wayne Rooney? FIFA (the video game)?

Name one Indian sportsman.

Silence.

For a country of one billion people, India has not been defined by much. Sure, everyone laughs at Russell Peters’ mimicry of the Indian accent (even as Indians cringe on the inside), Slumdog Millionnaire makes one think that squalor and poverty reigns supreme there… all the dancing in Bollywood makes the Western world wonder about the peculiar entertainment tastes of the Indian populace.

Tendulkar, however, makes Indians proud.

As far as they are concerned, you cannot talk about modern cricket without Sachin. In their eyes, no other sport has a parallel.

Lionel Messi has a rival in Cristiano Ronaldo, Pele had a Maradona, Federer has been superseded by Novak Djokovic and the old always make way for the new.

In cricket, however, you can pick the careers of some of the best batsmen in history and Sachin’s statistics are probably twice or thrice as good. Imagine a football season when a striker scores 60 goals or an F1 race where the driver takes half the time to finish a lap.

It’s not fair to compare sports, of course. And ultimately, fans of one sport don’t need to care about another. Sharapova is entitled to be a fan of whoever she wants but if India has any claim to a sporting great that would catch the attention of the leading sports athletes around then many had hoped that it would be Sachin.

Unfortunately, Indians have to realise that sports media, in general, has a strong focus on Western sports and therefore any appreciation for Indian heroes (and the borrowed pride that a fan gets) can only come from within.

As an Indian sports journalist who correctly predicted that Manchester City would win the Barclays Premier League, Liverpool would become title contenders (back in December), David Moyes would be sacked (in January) and that the January transfers would flop, every single column of mine gets a comment – “You’re an Indian, what do you know? Go write about cricket!”

If anyone’s interested in reading more about Sachin, there’s a column that I wrote last year after Sachin’s retirement (A Tribute To A Cricketing ‘God’).

The highest rated comment is by my uncle, the second is by my aunt and the third is by my father. Normally, they don’t care much about my sports articles but that piece spread swiftly throughout the Bhat clan.

Be proud of yourself and your sporting heroes. Don’t expect the rest of the world to follow suit.

If they do, it’s just a bonus!

Askren stays unbeaten; Ng suffers controversial loss

FoxSportsLogo

The following article was part of the coverage for a mixed martial arts tournament in in Sept 2013 when I reported live from the ring. Find an archived version here.

Ben Askren carried out a successful One FC debut at Honor & Glory but Evolve MMA team-mates Bruno Pucci and Eddie Ng suffered unexpected losses.

Askren, a former welterweight champion at Bellator, was matched up against Azerbaijan’s Bakhtiyar Abbasov who was also on 12 wins prior to the fight.

The main event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium ended within the first round itself as Askren weathered the Azerbaijani’s high-tempo start and finished off the match with an arm triangle choke with just 39 seconds left in the clock.

‘Funky’ Askren secured the 13th straight win of his career and should now be a shoe-in for a title bout against current One FC Welterweight Champion Nobutatsu Suzuki.

Ng, on the other hand, endured his first defeat since 2009 as he was knocked out by Netherlands’ Vincent Latoel. But the defeat came under baffling circumstances as the Evolve fighter did not appear to have lost his senses and wanted to carry on fighting.

The Hong Kong fighter began the lightweight fixture with typical enthusiasm and the crowd was especially supportive of the 28-year-old who has been based in the city since 2011.

But he fell victim to a quick jab in the second minute that knocked him off balance and, as he fell to the floor, two further punches made it seem like he was out for the count.

After the decision was called by the referee, Ng surprisingly got to his feet and the crowd roundly booed Latoel – many felt the Dutchman had tricked the referee by celebrating too quickly – although the Evolve man accepted the defeat with grace.

The colourfully named Major Overall proved his worth when he handed rising featherweight prospect Bruno Pucci the first loss of his career.

Overall, who had previously lost on his One FC debut, had a laidback attitude against Evolve wonderkid Pucci and followed up a thundering right hook with a devastating soccer kick; the referee had no choice but to rush to the 23-year-old Brazilian’s rescure.

The tournament had earlier begun with a bantamweight match-up between Singapore’s Stephen Langdown and American Casey Suire which ended after three minutes when the latter successfully carried out a rear-naked choke.

But Radeem Rahman managed to restore some pride for both the host nation and Evolve as he submitted Malaysia’s Raymond Tan in a much-improved performance in the second round after struggling to respond to the Penang Top Team fighter’s extensive reach in the first.

A catchweight bout between Ritual Gym CEO Brad Robinson and Malaysia’s Nik Harris saw the businessman come out on the losing end via a split decision.

On the other hand, a heavyweight fight between Alain Ngalani and Chi Lewis Perry was a non-affair as the Cameroonian had to call off the tie after enduring a painful knee to the groin.

Honorio Banario, who suffered successive losses to featherweight champion Koji Oishi last year, failed to take the chance to get back into One FC’s good books as suffered a unanimous decision loss to Mongolian veteran Jadamba Narantungalag.

Honor & Glory also saw AMC Pankration’s Caros Fodor bounce back from his loss to Vuyisile Colossa earlier in the year with an effortless kimura hold on the hapless Willy Ni.

It remains to be seen, however, if Fodor will be thrust back into title contention as Colossa is expected to be given a shot against reigning champion Shinya Aoki.

One FC heads to Jakarta for the next edition titled Era of Champions on June 14 with the main card yet to be finalised.

Official results for One FC: Honor & Glory 

Welterweight bout: Ben Askren defeats Bakhtiyar Abbasov by Submission (Arm Triangle) at 4:21 minutes of round 1

Lightweight bout: Vincent Latoel defeats Eddie Ng by Knockout at 3:16 minutes of round 1

Lightweight bout: Caros Fodor defeats Willy Ni by Submission (Kimura) at 3:29 minutes of round 1

Featherweight bout: Major Overall defeats Bruno Pucci by Knockout at 2:52 minutes of round 1

Heavyweight bout: Chi Lewis Parry and Alain Ngalani declared No Contest

Bantamweight bout: Radeem Rahman defeats Raymond Tan by TKO (Strikes) at 2:14 minutes of round 2

Catchweight bout: Nik Harris defeats Brad Robinson by Split Decision at 5:00 minutes of round 3

Bantamweight bout: Casey Suire defeats Stephen Langdown by Submission (Rear Naked Choke) at 3:41 minutes of round 1

Liverpool climbing back onto the perch

FoxSportsLogoWhen I was an assistant editor, I had an uncanny knack of being right with my sporting predictions. Find the archived version here.

Back in December, I had declared Liverpool could be considered title contenders. Now, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched a statement anymore.

The Reds had just demolished the north Londoners 5-0 at the end of the previous year and they have now completed a double over the same opponents with a four-goal win at Anfield on Sunday.

Attack seems to be the best form of defence in Brendan Rodgers’ notebook and that approach appears to have paid handsome dividends over the past four months.

Chelsea’s capitulation at Selhurst Park on Saturday has seen Rodgers’ men to go top of the table for the fourth time this season.

The visiting defenders, admittedly, put in an abject performance at Anfield on the night but Liverpool’s gung-ho attitude makes you ponder if they can finally deliver Steven Gerrard the one medal he’s been craving throughout his career.

As arch-rivals Manchester United look set to secure their lowest points total in the Premier League era, the Merseysiders could finally get to finish in the one spot Sir Alex Ferguson had famously knocked them off for over two decades.

For now, Liverpool are back on the perch.

Maverick Suarez lives up to his promise

Michael Dawson may have produced a poor first touch, Younes Kaboul may have floundered on the ball but it was ultimately Luis Suarez’s opportunism and a masterful shot that got the Uruguayan his 29th goal of the season.

In doing so, he has now scored the most goals by any Liverpool player within a domestic season in the Premier League era. Imagine how many more he could have scored had he not missed the first six games of the season.

But the past is the past and the mercurial striker has to score just three more goals to break the all-time record for most goals in a season held by Alan Shearer and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Englishman’s record was achieved while Kenny Dalglish was in charge at Blackburn and the same man was in the stands as his successor at Anfield masterminded an eighth win on the trot.

Both men would gladly point at Suarez’s sterling form as being a key factor in Liverpool’s renaissance.

The star striker has endured a largely injury-free campaign but he deserves all the plaudits for turning a new leaf after a tumultuous two-and-a-half years at the club.

The club have done well to keep Suarez out of the spotlight as well and this has allowed him to concentrate on his football. And the South American has handsomely repaid the club faithful for their support during testing times.

“I signed my new contract because I’m very happy here and I want to stay where I’m enjoying football and life,” he told FourFourTwo magazine recently.

“This is my best season yet. I feel in a very good place, physically and mentally.

“Every day I feel better in this club. I hope to continue down this path because we want Champions League football for Liverpool and, personally speaking, I want to continue that mentality throughout the World Cup with Uruguay.

“I’d actually prefer not to win this Golden Boot and for Liverpool to qualify for the Champions League this season.”

Well, the Golden Boot is his for the taking and with six games left, he could yet lead Liverpool to more than just qualification for the Champions League.

The carefully chosen one

That was written on a banner describing Rodgers in a tongue-in-cheek reference to United’s moniker for their Scottish manager.

Rodgers must be credited for the turnaround in Liverpool’s fortunes. But man, did his methods take time.

At first, his possession-based footballing philosophy failed to stick with a side built by Dalglish where English industry was prized more than nimble-footedness and one-touch passing.

Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Couthinho and Raheem Sterling, however, are players that can understand the Northern Irishman’s ethos.

Furthermore, the focus on bolstering the attack when the defence was in dire need of improvements irked me quite a bit. The acquisitions of Simon Mignolet, Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho as well as the emergence of Jon Flanagan, however, has shown that Rodgers has belatedly made strides in that department.

Indeed, although the defence is still a porous one, it’s telling that Lucas Leiva is hardly missed as the Liverpool defenders have perfected the art of instigating counter-attacks and hitting their opponents while they are on the backfoot.

Instead of a midfield enforcer, Rodgers has done well to convert Gerrard into a deep-lying playmaker such that the captain does not tire himself out with box-to-box runs and instead uses his long-range passing ability to produce admirable results.

Can the Reds settle back on the perch?

Despite all the fervour, I still maintain that Manchester City are the favourites to win the title. The Citizens have just too much quality in them and have an easier run of fixtures ahead.

Moreover, an injury to a member of the Liverpool attacking quartet (Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling and Coutinho) may not lessen the goals but they would definitely hamper the winning mentality present within the club.

City also have a much stronger back four and it is a fact that the team with the best defence usually prevails in the end. It can just take a mistake or two at the back with profligacy at the front to derail a side’s hopes as Jose Mourinho discovered earlier in the weekend.

Rodgers’ marauding Reds have already conceded 39 goals and only once has a team that has crossed the 40-goal mark gone on to win the league in the past decade.

The view from the top is a comforting one but only the result of City’s visit to Anfield on April 13 will determine if it’s more than just a temporary stay.

But heck, just as in the aftermath of the previous triumph over Spurs, Liverpool fans can rejoice in a moment that has come far too rarely in all the years of their support.

In any case, they have to remember that time (and a wealthy and supportive holding company) is on their side.

It took Ferguson seven years to knock the Reds off their perch but the fans of the club can take solace in the fact Liverpool are now earnestly on the climb back.

A Tribute to a Cricketing ‘God’

Tendulkar's cover drive

FoxSportsLogoAn editorial written after Indian cricketing great’s final test match in November 2013. (See archived version here).

“Cricket is my religion and Sachin is God” has been the anthem for millions of Indians the past 24 years. Today marks the first day that Indians the world over have to accept the fact that Tendulkar will not be at the crease anymore.

The Mumbai-born batsman brought an end yesterday to a 24-year-long cricketing career that saw him break numerous records – he registered 100 international centuries across one-day internationals (ODIs) and Tests, the first double century in ODIs and the most runs scored in both formats of the game.

So it was fitting that when he gave his farewell speech, the 34,000-strong crowd, as well as many more around the world, broke into tears.

It was not just the end of the career of a brilliant sportsman. It was the end of a narrative that defined the nation across three generations and delineated the virtues of sportsmanship, humility, passion, perseverance and patriotism.

The feelings many experienced were probably similar to the moment when fans saw Pele get off the pitch or Michael Jordan score his final basket.

It was the end of an era – a phrase used too often but thoroughly appropriate on this occasion.

The language of the bat

India is a country synonymous with diversity; it has 1.2 billion people, 415 living languages, six major religions and is home to the second-largest group of billionnaires even as three-tenths of the populace live beneath the poverty line.

Because of its vastness, it is very difficult to reach a consensus and therefore its politics, bureaucracy, the religious, linguistic and regional discourse has been plagued with internal strife and disagreement.

It is hard for any individual to be representative across the strata of society. Hundreds of voices, equipped with metaphorical loudspeakers, seem to be constantly clamouring for attention with the result that noise has pervaded the system.

But in 1989, a 16-year-old Tendulkar rose to the fore becoming India’s youngest debutant, and, over the next decade, somehow brought silence within the room.

His bat did all the talking with the straight drives, the leg glances and the lofted drives when facing spinners. He then broke record after record by becoming the youngest Indian to score a century, scoring the most number of runs in a World Cup and formed a deadly opening partnership with Saurav Ganguly that dominated the best bowlers.

And while Kapil Dev and the 1983 World Cup-winning team had made India a powerhouse, it was widely recognised that Tendulkar had now become the face of Indian cricket.

Differences were erased for the duration of the ‘Little Master’s’ innings and the fervour with which adults watched Tendulkar inspired kids to adopt the man as their sporting role model.

And with Tendulkar’s name on the scorecard, every match was winnable. Tendulkar’s bat spoke for them all.

A paragon of humility

What stands out in Tendulkar’s career, though, is that he never let the fame get to his head. He played simply for the joy of cricket and for the pleasure of gladdening the hearts of his compatriots.

Despite being such a household name, he shied away from sponsorship opportunities in the early part of his career and shunned the limelight for the rest of it.

For a man of his stature, he did not want to utilise his considerable influence in the national arena even as many cricketers, actors and celebrities secured positions of power. This changed last year when he accepted a nomination to the Rajya Sabha (India’s upper house of Parliament) but, in typically Tendulkar-esque fashion, declined a bungalow that came with the position.

Tendulkar provided yet another example of his humble personage yesterday when, amid the backdrop of “Sachin, Sachin” chants that reached deafening levels, the batsman gave a farewell speech that started with: “For the first time in my life I am carrying this list, to remember all the names in case I forget someone. I hope you understand.”

He went on to thank, in his characteristic soft-spoken voice, all of those within his family, friends, colleagues both present and past, coaches, medical staff, fans, managers, journalists, photographers and many others. The list went on and on and the 40-year-old somehow made everyone feel part of his success story.

For a man who has conquered the sport, it still sounded like the fresh-faced boy from Mumbai felt that he had a lot more to learn.

Amitabh Bacchan, a famous Bollywood actor, wrote in similar terms in the Outlook magazine when he explained: “As a person, Sachin is the exact opposite of Sachin the cricketer.”

“If as a performer, he is dominant, aggressive and bold on the field, which are the hallmarks of a real champion, as an individual, he is humble, dignified and rooted.

“He comes across as someone who has not let success transform him and this is indeed incredible considering the scale of his achievements.

“In fact, if you watch his expression when he walks back to the pavilion after he’s out, whether after a low score or after he is out for a century, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”

Life after Sachin Tendulkar

In a sport obsessed with longevity, whether at the crease or elsewhere on the pitch, Tendulkar has outlasted them all.

He continued to achieve success well into the twilight stage of his career as he helped India win the World Cup in 2011 after five previous unsuccessful attempts, mentored the Mumbai Indians franchise in the Indian Premier League to their first success in 2013 and continued to score runs at an impressive rate.

Now, India has to consider how to move on after the exit of one of its favourite sons from the cricketing landscape.

However, the future is immensely bright.

The likes of Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Shikhar Dawan and Suresh Raina are ready to don the gloves and score the runs. Tendulkar had stopped being the focal point a while back anyway.

But the men in blue are no longer considered the underdogs and, like Brazil in football, have become constant favourites, espousing a brand of attacking cricket that is feared by opponents.

And this remains the hallmark of Tendulkar’s legacy: His feats left such a strong impression on youngsters that every child secretly dreams of playing for the Indian national team now.

India is assured of a constant stream of talented prospects that will form a team of worldbeaters for some time to come.

Life after Sachin Tendulkar will still never be the same, though.

“Cricket is my religion, Sachin is God”, a quintessentially outlandish Indian slogan filled with hyperbole and exuberance, explains it best.

When ‘God’ disappears from the picture, one can expect to feel a little hollow inside.

All that can be said is thanks for a tremendous career that has brought joy, hope, sadness, inspiration, pain and a cavalcade of other emotions to over a billion people.

It is truly the end of an era and cricket, for many, will never be the same without him.