After playing 198 Tests and 463 ODIs in which he scored 100 international centuries, Sachin Tendulkar woke up a quadragenarian on Wednesday, but still with the same eagerness to play and perform as he had when he made his debut as a 16-year-old in 1989.
Speculations remain rife about his retirement, as has been the case for the last five years, more so since he lived his dream of winning the World Cup for India two years ago.
From then to now, Tendulkar quit ODIs to keep his Test career afloat but the flow of runs hasn't been anywhere near the standards he set for himself. In 21 Tests since India won the World Cup in 2011, Tendulkar has scored just 1145 runs at an average of 31.80. But that and media reports about his fast-approaching retirement haven't diminished Tendulkar's zeal to perform. In fact, he has a piece of advice.
"Your job is to write, my job is to play. I will stick to my job and you stick to yours," he said during a promotional event last week, adding, "People have been talking about my retirement since 2005, but that does not worry me at all."
Fifty-one centuries in Tests and 49 in ODIs are part of Tendulkar's 34,273 international runs, but he's been far from the batsman who Don Bradman thought was closest to how he played. It's something that finds evidence in his struggle to reach 100 centuries, which took a year to come.
The last of Tendulkar's Test hundred came in January 2011 in South Africa, when he scored 146. But undaunted, Tendulkar has chosen to march on, probably looking at another visit to South Africa later this year, even as compatriots Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly and more recently Ricky Ponting opting to hang their boots.
The fall in Tendulkar's batting standards was bound to invite a response, the most scathing of which came from his former skipper and Kolkata icon Sourav Ganguly after India surrendered against England at home in December. "He is getting a long rope because of what he has achieved," Ganguly was quoted as saying by Daily Telegraph. "As somebody watching it from outside, Tendulkar is not performing, and I think if I were Tendulkar, I would go [retire]."
But Tendulkar never ruled out retirement, but admitted it as something one can't run away from. He hinted about taking stock of how his body supports him after every series he played. "I am 39-plus and it is not abnormal for me to think of retirement," Tendulkar said during a TV interview few months back. "I will go by what my heart says. At this moment, my heart says I am okay."
As things stand and looking at how Tendulkar has approached every series in the last one year, it seems he has the South African tour on his mind and is mentally getting ready for it.
The last person to play Test cricket in his 40s after the turn of the millennium was England wicketkeeper batsman Alec Stewart. And he says age is just a number.
"While you still believe you have a love for the game, and the desire and passion to go out there and make an individual impact in a way that will help the team, then age is just a number - it's just a unit that expresses your cricketing experience," Stewart told Firstpost in an interview.
Should Tendulkar go on to tour South Africa, he will become the first Indian Test player in his 40s since Vinoo Mankad against West Indies in 1959.