Big win for cricket's Little Master

Nigel Reed writes that cricket batsman Sachin (The Little Master) Tendulkar of India should retire on top now that he has secured the World Cup title which had eluded him throughout his stellar career.

He didn't hit the winning run. He didn't take a wicket or cling on to a game changing catch.

In fact, Sachin Tendulkar was little more than a spectator for much of Saturday's Cricket World Cup final. But he was still the star of the show.

After six World Cups, the 'Little Master' is finally a winner. It has taken him more than half his life to scale the summit, but he has finally conquered it — carried shoulder high to the peak.

In the midst of a team triumph and a national celebration, it all came down to one small man.

Tendulkar will soon turn 38. He has been playing international cricket since he was a teenager — a precocious teenager at that. He was just 15 when he became the youngest Indian to make a century in his first-class debut in a city then called Bombay.

It is where he was born. It is where the journey began and ended. The Wankhede Stadium in what is now Mumbai was the arena in which he completed his memorabilia collection with the missing World Cup medal.

Suffice to say, the career cake has been lavishly iced.

On a day when the only centurion represented the opposition, India deserved another party. The first followed the emphatic semi-final victory over Pakistan in a game that brought the subcontinent to a standstill.

For many, that was a final in itself.

But one thing leads to another. Beating their arch rivals turned out to be merely the appetizer to the main course. In successfully chasing down Sri Lanka's target, India became the first country in World Cup history to win the trophy on home soil.

It also completed a remarkable transformation. Four years ago, India left the Caribbean in disgrace after failing to negotiate the group stages. At the 2007 tournament, not even Tendulkar could stop the rot as his country fell to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in Port of Spain.

So India devised a plan.

It had little to do with improving the team's batting or bowling and almost everything to do with mental fortitude. The players had to believe they would reach the World Cup final and were encouraged to talk about when, not if it happened.

Paddy Upton was never a great cricketer. He played a handful of matches in his native South Africa, but was never remotely close to representing his country at the World Cup. Yet his influence as India's mental conditioning coach cannot be ignored.

Working alongside compatriot and business partner Gary Kirsten, Upton set about the task of faith healer to team India. He and Kirsten determined the on-field talent existed, but India was not mentally prepared to deal with the pressure of hosting and winning the competition.

For a year, the players visualized competing in the World Cup final. The day before the game Upton knew they were ready for the big occasion. He also knew his players were better prepared than the opposition.

The rest is now cricket history.

When Tendulkar perished for a meagre 18, there was no panic. Others were there to pick up the slack and continue the run chase under the Saturday night lights. The pace of Lasith Malinga and the magic of Muttiah Muralitharan were met with a combination of responsibility and aggression.

India's chief run makers, Gautam Gambhir and MS Dhoni, were rarely troubled. By the time Gambhir went for the big hit to celebrate his century and missed, the home team was almost home and dry. His captain ensured there would be no further unnecessary risks.

Indeed, it was Dhoni who collected the Man of the Match Award before being handed the World Cup trophy itself. Yuvraj Singh, who partnered Dhoni to the winning hit, was named Player of the Series to make it a clean sweep of accolades for the local heroes.

Upton earned his commission. Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka's beaten captain, was gracious in defeat, acknowledging that the Indians "were one step ahead of us." For their part, the Sri Lankans must rebuild without the now-retired Muralitharan.

Tendulkar should follow suit. He had nothing to prove before the World Cup and there is nothing left to achieve. His legacy of inspiring a nation was secure long ago.

Now he should do what comes naturally — step aside and inspire the next generation.