There are stars, there are heroes, there are legends – and then you have someone with the status that Sachin Tendulkar has in India.
The Little Master, now 38, has dominated the nation’s sporting landscape for the best part of two decades, and is close to an amazing milestone. But it’s one that, for the moment at least, eludes him to the frustration of over one billion countrymen.
The sport is of course, cricket, and the prize that Tendulkar is on the verge of claiming is to become the first batsman ever to hit one hundred international hundreds.
The century in cricket is the target of every batsman every time he steps out onto the pitch. To score 100 runs and more can takes hours, days even, of careful shot selection, patience, nerve, balance and stamina. It’s a mental and physical challenge, and just one mistake can end it all.
So far, the Mumbai-born master is on 99. As soon as he completed that century innings in March against South Africa, the question has been asked again and again of when, not if, he will get the 100th hundred.
The player himself, accustomed to pressure as he has demonstrated time and time again, is trying to downplay the significance of the milestone.
“When I got my 90th international century, nobody said anything,” he told Indian media last month. “Even before my 99th century, nobody said anything. So why now? I don't understand.”
He does understand of course, no matter how often he tries to convince journalists that he thinks it’s “just a number.”
Every time a player moves from 99 runs to 100, he takes off his helmet and raises his bat to the stadium to take the acclaim from the fans. All know what it means. Tendulkar is fully aware of why the nation is waiting with bated breath to see him complete the ultimate century.
He missed a few opportunities in England in the summer, but in some ways that was OK as it all pointed to an emotional match in his home city of Mumbai.
That came in November as India hosted the West Indies in a test match (the five day event, and the true form of cricket according to many as opposed to the quick-fire one day and then 20/20 versions).
He moved onto 94 runs, to leave just six left for a national celebration that would have rivaled anything on the sub-continent for years. He was within just one shot of doing it.
The stadium was packed with fans just waiting to celebrate one of the greatest feats in the history of cricket. Then he was out to stunned silence at the Wankhede Stadium. The West Indian bowler Ravi Rampaul was literally named as the villain of the piece by the Indian media.
Next, India are in Australia. Tendulkar has tormented the Aussies on numerous occasions over the years, and while the hosts aren’t quite the dominant power they were just a decade ago, a trip down under is never easy.
His every move will be watched back home.