There are so many things that Sachin Tendulkar is to so many people, that it is sometimes forgotten that he is first and foremost a batsman of unparalleled ability, dedication and mind. If he had taken to some other sport in early childhood, his persona would have been invented -- by coaches who want to teach their wards the virtues a tight technique that allows attacking shots, by film-makers who want to create celluloid fantasy by depicting the perfect batsman and superstar, by marketing men who want to appeal to the broadest strata of public imaginable and by cricket fanatics who want to see batting perfection embodied in one person.
Tendulkar has been in the spotlight since before he made his international debut, and has conducted himself in exemplary fashion, even though he has been India's biggest news-worthy item for two decades. His debut in 1989 was a fiery introduction to international cricket, when as a 16 year old he had to face up to the might of Wasim Akram, Imran Khan and Waqar Younis in their backyard.
Since then he has gone on to amass records by the dozens, a few of which are unlikely to be surpassed during his lifetime. He has the most number of runs in Test matches as well as One Day Internationals, and the most number of centuries in both forms as well. His tally of more than 30,000 international runs is not likely to be overtaken by anyone, as is his list of international centuries. He looks set to become the only man in history to get to 100 international centuries.
More than numbers though, it is what Tendulkar brings to the arena everytime he sets foot on the field that touches fans, cutting across boundaries and nationalities. He has been hailed by Sir Donald Bradman as the man most resembling the Don in batting style, and he has lived up to that by scoring runs consistently against all comers and on all surfaces for a time-frame and a number of matches that has been unmatched by anyone in the history of cricket.
Tendulkar has also been the single biggest factor behind the explosion of popularity that cricket enjoys in India which led to the Indian board becoming the richest and most powerful in world cricket. In a country already predisposed to cricket, Tendulkar gave the people a hero they could look upto regardless of age, colour, creed or sect -- and catapulted cricket from a sport to a religion in the subcontinent.
And in the cricketing religion, Tendulkar rules as the presiding deity.
If there is one batsman in the Indian team who looks capable of taking on the mantle of Sachin Tendulkar's successor, it is Virender Sehwag. It is not just the fact that two have an uncanny resemblance when dressed in Indian colours. Sehwag bats with the freedom that Tendulkar batted with in his youth. He has the same ability to make the situation, the bowler and the pitch look irrelevant. In fact, in what Sehwag himself considers to be his greatest compliment, Tendulkar has said that of the younger crop of players, it is Sehwag who most resembles his style of play.
Sehwag's approach to batting is based on a simple philosophy: if the ball is there to be hit, he will hit it. Of course, his idea of a ball that can be hit differs considerably from most other batsmen's!
Due to his style of play, Sehwag was initially typecast as a limited-overs specialist, and had to wait two years after making his ODI debut to play a Test match, but in an ironic twist of fate, it is his Test record that is far more imposing, while he has not done justice to his enormous talent in One Day Internationals.
After some middling performances when he came into the scene initially, Sehwag literally exploded off the blocks when sent in to open the innings against New Zealand in his 15th ODI match. He scored a century off 69 balls, and first displayed his big-hitting ability then.
His strike-rate in ODIs is second only to Shahid Afridi amongst batsmen who have scored at least 1000 runs, but his average of just 34 runs is far below his Test match average of 50+. In ODIs, Sehwag has always threatened to take the match away from the opposition, but not done it often enough. Even so, he is the man to smash the fastest century by an Indian in ODIs, getting to the landmark off just 60 balls against a hapless New Zealand attack that didn't know what hit them.
However, it is a different story in Test matches, where the long innings have not been sporadic. In an astonishing statistic, each of his last eleven centuries have been scores in excess of 150. He is among only 3 men Lara and Bradman being the others to have scored two triple centuries in Test cricket. He is also the only Indian to have scored a triple century in Test matches.
In what perhaps sums up his style and flair best of all, when he was batting on 295 and about to become the first Indian triple-centurion, Sehwag chose to get to the landmark by smacking the bowler for a six.