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The master who was born to bat

March 16, 2012

Tendulkar's influence reaches well beyond the boundary rope. -File photo

NEW DELHI: Consistently brilliant, universally admired and modest to a fault, India's Sachin Tendulkar has ruled world cricket for more than two decades with his record-shattering batting.

As the “master blaster” became the first player to score 100 international centuries on Friday, millions of adoring fans in India and abroad bowed to the man often worshipped like a demi-god in his country.

Over years of high-pressure national expectation and fierce media attention, Tendulkar, who turns 39 next month, has barely put a foot wrong, remaining the smiling, boyish figure he was when he burst on the world stage in 1989, aged 16.

His 100th international ton adds another jewel to the glittering career of cricket's most celebrated living batsman, who holds all coveted batting records except Don Bradman's career average of 99.94.

Tendulkar, a copybook right-hander, has played more Tests (188) and one-dayers (462) and compiled more runs and centuries in both forms of the game than anyone else.

His 49th one-day ton -- alongside 51 Test hundreds -- came a year after he realised his childhood dream of being part of a World Cup-winning campaign.

Tendulkar has so far scored 15,470 Test runs at an average of 55.44 with a best of 248 not out against Bangladesh in Dhaka in 2004.

His one-day tally stands at 18,374 runs, including the first double-century in the format -- a 200 not out against South Africa in Gwalior in February 2010.

Now in his 23rd year in international cricket, Tendulkar remains as passionate about the game as he was on his debut against Pakistan in November, 1989.

But his batting had begun to be questioned in India, with unprecedented talk of his retirement following a disappointing recent series in Australia.

And the father of two took a year to record his 100th ton after getting the 99th in the World Cup last March.

The cricketing world first took notice of the child prodigy when, aged 17 and playing only his ninth Test, he hit a match-saving 119 not out against England at Old Trafford in 1990.

Tendulkar still regards that 100 as one of his best, but what followed in Australia in 1991-92 set the standard for a career as one of the modern greats.

Having scored an unbeaten 148 in the Sydney Test, Tendulkar mastered the spiteful Perth wicket to hit a brilliant 114 against an all-out pace attack.

The innings prompted veteran English writer John Woodcock to stand up in the press box and declare: “This has to be the best batsman I have ever seen...and unlike most of you I watched Bradman bat!”

Since then, Tendulkar's longevity and string of lucrative commercial endorsements for everything from watches to cement has brought him huge wealth.

He has an insatiable love of fast cars and is rumoured to drive around the streets of Mumbai in the early hours, but his otherwise humble, family-based approach to life has meant fans still feel a close bond with him.

News late last year that he had moved into a new luxury house in Mumbai with his wife Anjali, a medical doctor, and two children, was greeted nationwide with the interest of delighted relatives.

“It's been a privilege to play for India for so long,” Tendulkar has said.

“Cricket is my passion. I think it is a gift from God that I have been able to live that passion for so many years. It's just fantastic.”

Off the field, Tendulkar sponsors 200 under-privileged children every year through Apnalaya, a Mumbai-based NGO run by his mother-in-law, Annabel Mehta.

He has also helped raise funds for numerous causes like the crusade against cancer and the creation of basic facilities, particularly toilets for girl children, in 140 government schools across the country.

No longer keen to hold the captaincy, a role in which he did not prosper, he remains the most-prized wicket in cricket.

Fit, balanced and with hunger for more runs, retirement still seems to be far from Tendulkar's mind.