I’ll admit; I only started watching cricket and Tendulkar in 2006; what many consider to be well past his peak. However, I was fortunate enough to watch pretty much every ball of every innings of his resurgence from 2007-11, and I have watched tapes of every one of his centuries and significant innings. To grow up in Mumbai as a young opening batsman was to live in awe of Tendulkar, and to consider above reproach. I hate when people underestimate Tendulkar, when they mock him because of his voice or the diluted image of the man in his middle-age.
The cult of Tendulkar took a hard hit during the Greg Chappell years, when the batsman battled with his tennis elbow and confidence. Chappell sent him down the order in ODIs, and refused to subscribe to his immortality. While Ganguly came out of that era with his reputation bolstered, Tendulkar was pulled down in the eyes of many. Perhaps it was because those years were the first time we had Tendulkar approach mortality in all his years in the public eye, and we could simply not deal with seeing him as a shadow of his former self.
Even though Tendulkar recaptured imagination with a golden period leading up to and including the victorious 2011 World Cup, his record thereafter makes him look like a far lesser batsman than he is in retrospect. He scored no more Test centuries after that World Cup, and only one more, painstaking ODI century. That last ODI hundred was his 100th in international cricket, and came a long, long time after his 99th. His search for this 100th hundred, in the face of declining form and advancing age, decayed his ultimate image in the eyes of many.
His Test average ended at 53, down from nearly 57 after he scored his last hundred. If you take away his century-less last 21 Test matches, he still has a longer Test career than anyone else who has played the game with a higher average that anyone who has played 100 Tests bar Sangakarra, who played little outside the subcontinent.
Millennials don’t understand the India which Tendulkar’s generation inherited. Prior to liberalization, India was synonymous with desperate poverty, and matching up to international standard in any respect was a matter of great national pride. Tendulkar didn’t just match international standard; he was the standard. Yes, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev had been great cricketers in their own right before him, but they did not stand out against their contemporaries like he did. To compare Tendulkar to Kohli, especially in one-day cricket, is misplaced, because of the sheer difference in the eras that they played in. Context is necessary for evaluation, and in the context of the adversities he faced, the pressure on him, and his consistent brilliance, Tendulkar has no par.