Usain Bolt was a three-year-old toddler finding his feet in the laid back town of Trelawny, Jamaica, when Indian cricketing great Sachin Tendulkar made his debut as a 16-year-old in 1989.
Twenty-four years later, when Tendulkar stepped on the hallowed turf of Eden Gardens in Kolkata, India on Wednesday for his farewell series against the West Indies, the fastest man on earth was glued to his television set in the middle of the night watching the little man bring down the curtains on a “remarkable career”.
“I hope Sachin scores a hundred and West Indies win the series,” Bolt told an Indian newspaper. “What Sachin has managed is a major achievement. He’s been playing cricket for a long time and I am really happy he could reach such a feat before he retires from what is hands-down a remarkable career.”
The 27-year-old, who has won six gold medals in the last two Olympics, said he was overawed by the longevity of Tendulkar’s career, something that he describes as being “beyond spectacular”.
“It’s beyond spectacular that Sachin’s been playing for so long. The constant will and determination in striving for excellence is what separates Sachin from the rest,” Bolt said. “I can only speak from my vantage point as an athlete but hard work, motivation and just raw love for the sport is what I feel pushes an athlete to greatness and longevity at the top.”
Bolt’s love for cricket is no secret. During his childhood, Bolt was a fast bowler dreamt of wearing the whites for the West Indies and has maintained that if he hadn’t specialised in track and field, he would have played international cricket.
And even though he has shone in the yellow vest for Jamaica and gone on to become an Olympic legend, his love for cricket remains undiminished.
Bolt said he grew up watching Brian Lara and Tendulkar and that they had left a lasting impact on him. “Brian and Sachin were the class batsmen growing up and in my book both will go down in history as two of the greatest batsmen ever,” he said.
Without the two, he said, there will be a big void in world cricket but hoped youngsters will take inspiration from them and ensure a smooth transition.
“It is hard not to miss Lara or Sachin when he retires because of the style and class they both played with. But I am confident that their contribution to the sports will only provide motivation to the other cricketers coming up today to want to be like them or even greater. In the West Indies, you see Chris Gayle and others stamping their class and I am sure in India, young ones will do the same,” Bolt said.
Asked to choose between Lara and Tendulkar, Bolt – arguably the best sprinter of all-time – said: “Wow, that’s a hard one. Both sit at the top as two of the greatest cricketers that ever played the game. I watched more of Brian’s innings so I am leaning towards picking Lara.”