The Pulse

A “God” Retires in India

India’s greatest cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar, announced his retirement from professional cricket this month.

India might be seen as a diverse and multi-religious polity, but above all, the nation is united behind the religion of cricket. As such, an Internet search for the “God of Cricket” will yield the name of one man: Sachin Tendulkar. Tendulkar, widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest batsmen the game has ever seen, announced his retirement from cricket. He is expected to retire in November. Tendulkar had announced his retirement from Twenty20 and One-Day International (ODI) cricket in December 2012. Where can Indian cricket go without its “God”?

It may be difficult for non-Indians to grasp the magnitude of what Tendulkar means to the country. He belongs to a global cohort of athletes who are loved and admired by their nations not only for their physical prowess, but also for their humility and personality as well – Brazil's love of Pélé and Ayrton Senna is comparable. Tendulkar has lived an exemplary public life – an inspiration to India’s men, both young and old. The Economist, reflecting on Tendulkar’s life, wrote that "Tendulkar recalls a more modest and traditional India—the country he first walked out to bat for. A gods-fearing Hindu and devoted family man, who speaks little and has impeccable good manners, Mr. Tendulkar has long been for these millions of Indians a reassuring presence in public life.” Tendulkar’s career has inspired hope and national pride for India’s Generation Y, who grew up watching him represent India formidably on the world stage. 

The Indian government has repeatedly recognized Tendulkar’s achievements and sportsmanship in the form of civilian honors and awards. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan (India’s penultimate civilian honor), Padma Shri, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, and Arjuna Awards over the course of his career. In cricket-playing Commonwealth nations, Tendulkar is equally admired. He maintains a strong fan-base in Australia, despite occasional controversy.  His generation-spanning career encompassed several enthralling rivalries with other batsmen.

Tendulkar’s retirement may signal the final step in cricket’s transition from South Asia’s great old game to its modern remaking as a glamorous commercial sport. Tendulkar emblematizes both old India and old cricket. Today, the game is a massively profitable industry. The games’ heritage lies largely in the long, multi-day, white-uniformed test-match format. Today, a large sum of money in cricket surrounds the highly truncated and explosive matches of the Twenty20 leagues–the best known of which is the Indian Premier League.

Despite his retirement from the cricket pitch, Tendulkar will not be forgotten. His legacy in the sport will remain unmatched for years. He remains the most prolific run scorer in ODI cricket with 18,426 runs. He is additionally the highest run scorer in test matches, and holds records for the highest number of centuries (an achievement where a single batsman manages to score 100 runs over the course of a single game) in both test matches and ODI cricket. Narayanaswami Srinivasan, the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), in a statement on Tendular said that he "had truly been an ambassador for India and Indian cricket. He has been an inspiration for generations of sportsmen, not just cricketers. We respect his decision to retire, although many of us can’t imagine an Indian team without Sachin.”

All this said, Tendulkar may continue to play an important role in Indian public life. He was nominated to the Rajya Sabha, the upper-house of India’s bicameral legislature, along with other prominent artists and public figures. Reports from earlier in the year suggested that it was all-but-certain that Tendulkar would transition into national politics in India.  However, since announcing his retirement, Tendulkar has gone on to clarify his intentions; he seems reluctant to acknowledge any possibility of a future political career for himself.