The God Of Big Things

As India's top cricketer--and the world's best athlete--Sachin Tendulkar carries the burden of a billion dreams

  • Sumit Dayal for TIME

    Cricket God Sachin Tendulkar, photographed in Mumbai in April 2012.

    (2 of 5)

    Even more impressive is Tendulkar's record as top scorer in both of cricket's main formats--the exhausting five-day tests and the intense one-day internationals. Usain Bolt would have to win the marathon as well as the 100 m at the London Olympics to approach that level of achievement. Unlike in baseball, a cricket batter keeps hitting until he is out. Tendulkar once hit 241 runs while whacking 436 balls without getting out. You need a calendar to keep score for this guy.

    Tendulkar's genius stems from a combination of physical attributes--superhuman hand-eye coordination, lightning reflexes, powerful wrists and near perfect balance--and a voracious appetite to keep accumulating runs to utterly dominate bowlers. Opponents have tried to intimidate him with speed and bounce, with guile and spin, all to no avail: he has no Achilles' heel.

    He performs within a national sports culture that is uniquely difficult. Cricket is important in England and former British colonies in the Caribbean, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, but it competes with soccer, rugby and other sports for popularity. In India, cricket is the all-consuming passion. Although it was introduced by the British as a pastime for elites, Indians turned the tables on their colonial rulers and made cricket a true people's sport, played with as much enthusiasm in the streets and slums as on the manicured lawns of exclusive clubs. It's hard to think of another nation so obsessed with a single sport. Indians like to say that of their top 10 sports, cricket ranks No. 1 through No. 9--and nobody knows or cares what comes 10th.

    So to begin to comprehend Tendulkar's place in the Indian consciousness, imagine how Americans might have felt about Michael Jordan if they followed no sport but basketball. Then imagine that Jordan's team represented not just Chicago but the entire nation. You might begin to understand that the common Indian expression "Cricket is my religion, and Sachin is my god" is not really a joke. Tendulkar says he tries not to think too deeply about the adulation and claims his fans' hopes for him don't match his own. "Something which still gives me sleepless nights," he says, "is, 'How will I go out and keep that standard and live up to my own expectations?'"

    1. 1
    2. 2
    3. 3
    4. 4
    5. 5