Approaching his 40th birthday, Sachin Tendulkar's "insatiable hunger and incredible talent" has fetched him glowing tributes from fellow cricketers who say the batting great's longevity and passion for the game can never be surpassed.
Tendulkar, regarded as one of the greatest batsmen in modern-day cricket, will turn 40 on April 24 and some of his contemporary cricketers doffed their hats for his unprecedented achievements on the cricket field.
While former India skipper Sourav Ganguly rated Tendulkar as the greatest player he had ever seen, Australia captain Michael Clarke said his passion for the game is unprecedented.
"Suffice to say, he is the greatest cricketer I have ever seen. I haven't seen Bradman, but he is as close to perfection as you can get. His insatiable hunger, combined with incredible talent, makes him a real genius. When people criticise him, all I point to them is the 100 international hundreds," Ganguly said in an article published in 'Outlook' magazine, which has brought out a special edition on the legendary batsman to commemorate his birthday.
The special edition carries brief articles on Tendulkar from several former and current players, administrators and celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan and Lata Mangeshkar who have known the batting maestro for long.
"The difference between Sachin and a really good player is the latter, if he scores a hundred in the first innings and has once again scored a fifty in the second, will, in all likelihood, play one loose shot thereafter. It happens to us all. Sachin, however, will leave nothing to chance and will get the second innings hundreds as well," Ganguly wrote.
"That's why I always say that (Brian) Lara was a great and Ponting too was a brilliant, but Sachin, without any hesitation, is the greatest. He is the best I have ever seen and will perhaps ever see. No batsman in the next 50 years can score 100 international hundreds," added the former skipper.
Ganguly said his favourite Tendulkar knock came against Pakistan in the 2003 World Cup in South Africa.
"This is about the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. It was a tournament where we played some of our best cricket ever and Sachin was in imperious form right through. Before the tournament there was a debate over his batting position. I felt he should bat at number four and guide the middle order.
"Needless to say, I was wrong. We had a meeting in South Africa between John Wright, Anil Kumble, Sachin and myself, and Anil suggested that he should open the batting for us. I asked Sachin what he wanted to do and he preferred to bat at the top of the order," recollected Ganguly.
Clarke said Sachin's uniqueness was his ability to keep the intensity going even after 24 years of playing international cricket.
"When you have achieved the amount Sachin has, it is very easy to let your guard down. Sachin's uniqueness is his ability to keep the intensity going even after 24 years of international cricket. He still chases every ball hard, runs every single with intensity, appeals with great passion and celebrates like a youngster.
"Such passion for the game is unprecedented and I think every youngster should learn from him," said Clarke.
Former India coach Gary Kirsten felt whether he saw Tendulkar as an opposition player or as his coach, his view about the legendary batsman never changed.
"I have always found Sachin to be a thoroughly decent person. He is a humble man considering his cricket status around the world. He is cricket's greatest role model and continues to provide a great example for young aspiring cricketers on how to conduct oneself throughout one's career.
"Although I got to know him better when I was with the Indian team, my views have never changed," said Kirsten.
The South African said Tendulkar always puts the team above self.
"I felt he had a fantastic presence in the dressing room without having to say too much. I used to really enjoy watching him have conversations with the young players on how to deal with match situations. In the time I was with the team, I always felt he had a strong desire for the team to do well, regardless of his own personal success."
Recollecting his most memorable moment of Tendulkar, Kirsten said, "I love spending time in the nets with Sachin. His desire to continue asking questions and learn about his game will long live with me. However, the evening his wife Anjali came up to me to say thank you for everything I had done will remain a highlight of my coaching career."
Former Australian fast bowler Glenn McGrath said while a glare or a few aggressive words from him rattled most batsmen, the same strategy hardly worked against Tendulkar.
"I always felt it made him more determined. My success against him came when I didn't say a great deal. I realised quickly it was best not to talk too much," McGrath said.
Citing an incident, which McGrath said he would never forget, The Australian recalled: "I remember clearly the days he smashed us around for 100s, but also the World Cup back in 2003 when he hit me for four off the second ball and I happened to get him out next ball.
"I'll always remember Sachin as a quality cricketer, one of the best of all time. Importantly, he is also a great bloke, one of the nicest I have met in the game."
Sri Lanka spin legend Muttiah Muralitharan said Tendulkar inspired him to play positively and aggressively.
"I saw the curly-haired cricketer for the first time in 1993. Soon after his debut a few years ago, he was the most spoken-about and discussed and was also touted as the next big thing in cricket. He was just 19 and I had not seen much of Sachin then. He didn't open the innings, he'd come out to bat at No. 5 in the one-dayers.
"When he stepped onto the ground, everyone was speaking about his talent, but I was wondering if this young bloke was really good enough to challenge us...I thought he is much greater than what people think, he was better than some of the established players," said the former Sri Lankan bowler.
"Sachin inspired me, because I thought if such a young player could play positively and aggressively, then I can surely put in hard work and contribute to the team success."
Muralitharan said Tendulkar was the world's no.1 player in his list.
"He is the world no.1 in my list simply because of the way he has performed at the highest level for such a long time. In that journey, I also take into account the number of years he's been on the road, records by his name. In fact, statistically too, he has performed much more than any other cricketer.
"He is a very quiet person, doesn't interact much, but I have always heard he is a great team man. He has always shown respect to his opponents, an important yardstick for a great cricketer," he said.
Muralitharan said the only bowler against whom Tendulkar ever struggled was Sri Lankan spinner Ajantha Mendis.
"I don't think he struggled a lot against opposition because he knows how to handle and play bowlers. But the only player who I saw him struggle against was Ajantha Mendis, when he first saw him during India's tour to Sri Lanka (in 2008)", he said.
"For the very first time I saw Sachin couldn't pick a bowler. But it was the only time and with his desire to outplay the opponent, Sachin analysed videos of Ajantha and picked him well in the next series," said Murali.
New Zealand batsman Ross Taylor was also all praise for Tendulkar's passion for the game and his mental toughness.
"It's Sachin's drive for success and his mental toughness that has sustained him. Nothing compares with his passion for the game and his hunger for success. He just loves to play cricket and has always enjoyed doing so. Unless you love the game as passionately as Sachin does, you cannot be around for as long as he has.
"I will forever remember Sachin as one of the greatest players of the game. In fact, it is something I look forward to telling my grandchildren in the future -- that I played against one of my childhood heroes. He has been one of the greatest cricketers ever and it has been a privilege playing with him and against him. It can surely rank as one of my cherished cricketing memories," said Taylor.
New Zealand's former pacer and current bowling coach Shane Bond said Tendulkar will go down as one of the game's all-time greats.
"His most important legacy would be the amazing run he has sustained for such a long time. It is just staggering for someone to be able to do that and for this reason alone Sachin will go down in the history as one of the game's all-time greats.
"When you add to this the way he played, the number of matches he has won for India, and the fact that he has played all formats of the game with distinction and is still playing the IPL, you are left slack-jawed!," said Bond.
"I must say that Sachin has enriched world cricket immensely and has served the game well for 24 long years. And I am looking forward to enjoying what's left of this wonderful man's wonderful cricket career," he added.
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