There've been very few cricket subjects that have managed to sustain the fascination about them over a period as long as 24 years - Sachin Tendulkar is one of them. He's been an oeuvre, a macro, an alma mater - providing subject matter varying from longevity to age to motivation to dedication to warmth to endurance to performance to responsibility. But nothing's perpetual. And in Tendulkar's case, another chapter in his cricket career is drawing to a close. Deep into the misty twilight of his decorated career, in a fortnight's time, Tendulkar will bid adieu to Mumbai Indians.
The stage is CLT20, and the format one that Tendulkar chose to leave alone at the international level, to the young blood teeming with the adrenaline that waters Twenty20 cricket. But for Tendulkar, cricket - in any form - is like the earth with its gravitational pull. It's impossible for the two forces to be separated, and when Mumbai franchise came to life in 2008 and was named Mumbai Indians, there was only one Mumbai Indian who could be its icon - Sachin Tendulkar. The law of gravity had the last say.
Tendulkar's journey with MI is only one-fourth of his cricket career. But those six years comprise 99 percent of Tendulkar's T20 stats, after he chose to quit the India T20 jersey playing just one international. The Sachin-MI association is also weighty in terms of the motivation he's been to the team's youngsters. A Tendulkar nod in the nets for an Aditya Tare or an Ambati Rayudu can have medicinal effect. It happened in 2011, when Tendulkar didn't play but travelled with the team for CLT20 in South Africa. By winning their maiden trophy that year, MI figured out that they need Tendulkar's presence more than his batting.
But for a man who once slept-walk uttering "majha bat...majha bat [my bat, my bat]" and went on to join Sir Don Bradman as the two greatest batsmen, batsmanship is synonymous to worship. A T20 hundred kneeled before him in 2011, when he hammered the now-defunct Kochi Tuskers Kerala into submission.
And for a man to whom cricket is a square meal, nothing compares to playing the game - continuously, dedicatedly, undeterred. We saw that during the 1999 World Cup and the 2011 IPL. In 1999, he lost his father, left for his funeral, returned to join the team and struck a century against Kenya. In 2011, on April 24 - Tendulkar's birthday, his spiritual guru Sathya Sai Baba breathed his last. A visibly distraught Sachin attended his last rites and was back on the field to lead MI.
In terms of numbers, which Tendulkar has knocked over all through his career, his best season with MI came in 2010, when in 15 matches of IPL4 he scored 618 runs at an average of 47.53 to win the Orange Cap.
Overall, Tendulkar has played 91 T20s so far, scoring 2727 runs at an average of 34.08, strike rate of 121.79 and with highest score of 100*. Minus 10 runs from that total, and it gives you Tendulkar's contribution to MI. Those 10 runs he scored in the only T20 international he played for India against South Africa at Johannesburg way back in 2006.
Taking Tendulkar's complete career into perspective, those numbers may not be earth-shattering compared to the mountains he has erected in ODI and Test cricket. But, as said earlier, he's the stimulus that spurs MI into action. It's his presence that leaves a greater impact than his batting.
On that note, MI will be tempted to do what Real Madrid did with Zinedine Zidane once he decided to hang his boots for the Spanish league giants. Real roped in the legendary Frenchman as their Sporting Director to ensure that the best European football of the last 50 years remains a part of the club's set-up.
Not just 50 years, Tendulkar is one of the greatest batsmen ever to play cricket. What he has done for India has been described in odes, and what he has done for Mumbai Indians, the Reliance-owned franchise is very well aware of.
Considering that, it may be the last time we see Tendulkar on the field for MI but not the last time in their dug-out.