A letter to Sachin
You don't know me, although I do know you. Actually, I don't really know you, but like hundreds of millions of others, I think I do. Which is why you can't leave the house. Sorry about that, but take it as a compliment: that's what happens when you are one of 'the few'.
What, you might ask, are 'the few'? Well, the way I see it, 'the few' are those sportspeople so great - the greatest of the great, if you will - that they can't even pop out for... well, anything actually, for fear of being trampled to death in Morrisons (or wherever it is celebrities pretend they do their shopping in India).
If it's any consolation, we've got a bloke in our country - well, he used to live here, before he outgrew Morrisons - called David Beckham, who might know how you feel. But, between me and you, with Becks, it's as much about his looks, which means he's not strictly one of 'the few' at all, more a very good footballer who they let in because he has a nice face.
Sorry, that didn't come out right, but please don't take it the wrong way. What I'm trying to say is, with you, it's all about the talent (and maybe a little bit about the face). But anyway, your skipper Mahendra Dhoni has got the 'Indian Becks' thing pretty much sewn up.
Apologies, I just realised I haven't actually told you why I got in touch... Congratulations on your 100th international hundred! And while I've your got attention, well done on winning the World Cup. And all those World Cup records you hold. Oh, and those 15,000 Test runs. And the other 18,260 in one-day internationals (sorry, by the time you get this, you'll have probably passed 20,000). Actually, I meant to ask, is there a batting record you don't hold?
Remember Maggie Thatcher? You probably don't, you were only a kid at the time, but she was our Prime Minister when you first toured England with India in 1990. The reason I mention her is that there used to be this great piece of graffiti on a wall somewhere in London which read: THATCHER OUT. To which someone had added: LBW B ALDERMAN.
My point being, Terry Alderman, who made Graham Gooch look silly in the 1989 Ashes, was still playing Test cricket when you started out - and he made his first-class debut in 1974. And now, 22 years after you made your Test debut (when I was 13, probably acting the goat in double history) you're still around. That, my friend, is what you call 'longevity'.
I saw you play at The Oval in 1990. Well, I saw you field. David Gower, a childhood hero, scored a ton that day. We loved Gower in England, thought he was great, but he wasn't one of 'the few', he just made us think he was with that gorgeous cover drive of his.
Of course, what I know now is that greatness is about more than looking willowy at the crease - it's far more about sheer weight of numbers. And while the unfurling of Gower's strokes resembled honey dripping off the back of a spoon, numbers-wise, he is but a delicate butterfly crushed under your steel-rimmed wheel. Then again, who isn't?
Brian Lara, maybe? Sorry to bring him up in the middle of what is essentially a love letter, but that lad could bat a bit, too. And many said he scored his runs with more style than you: as languid as Gower, but as rapacious as Bradman when it came to making runs.
But Lara called it quits five years ago, while you're still here after 22 years of unrelenting pressure, shouldering the expectations of billions, and it never managed to diminish you. When you call it a day, it will be on your own terms, and even some of your fellow 'few' (Lara, Diego Maradona, Babe Ruth) weren't able to do that.
They say things have got easier for batsmen in recent years - flatter tracks, smaller boundaries, not as many wicked fast bowlers on the prowl. But you made your debut against Wasim and Waqar and played against pretty much all the recent greats - Ambrose and Walsh, Donald and Pollock, McGrath and Warne, Muralitharan. You even played Test cricket against Sir Richard Hadlee, for pity's sake, and old 'Paddles' is now in his sixties.
You had a bit of a blip a few years back, in 2006, when England's quicks got after you and you kept getting hit. It was a bit like watching Muhammad Ali being bashed round the ring by a thrusting Larry Holmes. But while Ali was shot to pieces by that point, the following year you racked up 776 Test runs at an average of 55.4. Not much of a blip.
You know what somebody said to me the other day? "Tendulkar - great player, little bit dull." Bit out of order, to be honest. Dull - why? Because you don't abuse opponents? Or get boozed up in nightclubs? In more than two decades at the pinnacle of your sport, under the glare of more than a billion adoring countrymen and women, there has been barely a hint of controversy. That doesn't just make you a little wonder, that makes you pretty much a miracle.
This is getting a little bit embarrassing now - a little bit This Is Your Life, I didn't mean to come over all mawkish. But the thing is - and this is another thing that elevates you above the merely great - it is doubtful whether we will see your like again, because after you've gone, cricket, which is threatening to splinter into a thousand parts, may never be the same.
To play 188 Test matches... well, the mind boggles. And given the indifference towards Test cricket from many modern fans, surely no-one in the future will come close. Which means you could be one of Test cricket's last true superstars - like silent movie stars before 'talkies', a titan from a more innocent, more romantic, seemingly more lustrous age.
You know what someone once said about Chaplin? "It is doubtful any individual has ever given more entertainment, pleasure and relief to so many human beings when they needed it the most". Given how long you've been on the job, given how many people there are in your country and given the grinding poverty many of them still live in, I reckon you might just have trumped him. Which is why I wanted to say thanks.
Benjamin (you don't know me)