NEW DELHI (Reuters) - After spending nearly a quarter of a century shouldering the burden of a cricket-crazy nation's expectations, Sachin Tendulkar should not expect life to get any easier following the last of his 200 test match appearances on Saturday.
Since his 1989 debut as a mop-haired, shrill-talking teenager, Tendulkar has been required to win matches, save them or at least lend some respectability to potentially embarrassing defeats.
His 34,000-plus international runs and countless batting records suggest the 'Little Master' more than lived up to those expectations.
Scores of companies have reaped handsome reward from 'Brand Tendulkar' over the last two decades. Given that quite a few of those associations will continue after his retirement speaks volumes of the stylish batsman's almost invincible aura.
Bonded to his prowess with the bat came an additional responsibility to act as the perfect role model for an expanding population disillusioned with the nation's politicians.
Tendulkar's largely controversy-free, even inscrutable image would indicate he conducted that aspect of his duties with skill and aplomb.
It would be fair to assume that after three decades of relentless cricket, Tendulkar is entitled to a life away from the glare of publicity, without any further pressure, but that alternate future appears remote to say the least.
Already, many are predicting a smooth transition into the role of a sporting administrator.
"He should become the Sports Minister, only then sports will benefit (from his experience)," wrestler Sushil Kumar said at a recent India Today Group programme to celebrate Tendulkar's career.
"He has given 24 years to the country... He knows what sportsmen need and what they should get," added the double Olympic medallist, whose opinion was echoed by former cricketer Chandu Borde.
Tendulkar, who has remained apolitical throughout his playing career, has already heard the call of a political future beckoning him when was nominated to the upper house of the Indian parliament last year.
However, former team mate Javagal Srinath believes Tendulkar will take a break before returning to cricket as an administrator.
"He will feel a huge void the moment he wakes up (after his final test). It's like a big part of his life has been taken away and this void won't be filled in a hurry," the former pace bowler wrote in a Hindustan Times column this week.
"There are plenty of avenues open to him but I strongly feel that he should get into administration.
"...it's my firm belief that Sachin can contribute a lot to Indian cricket if he aspires to become an administrator at some time in the future," the 44-year-old said.
Great players rarely make good coaches, often failing to teach what comes naturally to them but Srinath would not be surprised if Tendulkar turns his attention to mentoring son Arjun, who was part of the Mumbai under-14 team last year.
"The joy and delight that he experienced while raising his bat after scoring a hundred, that will never be replicated," Srinath added in his column.
"I suppose the only consolation he will get is if he coaches Arjun to a place in the India team, or if he mentors him in a way that Arjun goes on to become an India player."
Retired athlete P.T. Usha insisted Olympic sports needed Tendulkar more than cricket to help spread India's focus evenly across the sporting landscape.
As an entire nation spends each day eating, drinking and breathing all things related to bat and ball, Indian athletes are poor cousins of their rich cricket counterparts used to pop-star status.
While India has emerged as cricket's financial superpower, the country has been kicked out of the Olympic fold for handing power to tainted office-bearers in controversial 2012 elections for the country's Olympic committee.
"After his retirement, I would like him to change track and take up a lead role in promoting Olympic sports disciplines in our country in a big way," Usha, who won four Asian Games gold medals in 1986, told the Hindu newspaper.
"His personal involvement would be a great boost to Indian sport and I am hopeful that he would give due consideration to this request," added Usha, who came agonising close to taking a 400 metres bronze medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
(Editing by John O'Brien)
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