Can I call you Tendlya? Or do you prefer Sachin? Either way – I have always referred to you in this fashion – like a friend, never as some Mr Tendulkar who plays cricket and has no direct connection with my life whatsoever.
Before I begin, let me just say that I got into cricket late for a typical Indian kid – I was 9 years old and was wondering what the big deal was that the entire family had to sit around the TV to watch a bunch of people playing this game I still hardly understood and was more or less completely aloof towards. I saw a few balls , then stayed on for a few overs and ended up watching the entire match . You see India was playing Australia, chasing (what was in the mid 1990s) a huge 258 runs and tottering at 7-2, but I was told “Sachin is still playing, so there was still hope”. You ended up scoring a superb 90 runs and falling to Mark Waugh (of all people). The living room went silent – my grandmom said “Only a miracle can save us now” and went to her room. And that was my introduction to cricket – a typical Indian match – you play well, everything else crumbles and India lose. The only positive for me was your innings so it could be said that you are the reason I started watching cricket.
For all these years – I have either watched every game India played or followed it. When I was out and could not watch the game – my inquiries to random strangers was always two-fold – “Whats the score?” and “How is Sachin doing?”. The second question was always what I gave more importance to, for the biggest thing I will miss about you is the feeling of reassurance that I felt – the comfort that you are still there. If you were batting – anything was possible. No target was too large, no bowler remotely threatening, no amount of sledging of any consequence whatsoever. Irrespective of the score, irrespective of how many wickets had fallen, or how high that required run rate was – the thought always was “The best batsman in the world is at the crease, batting for us right now. What could possibly go wrong?” Yes, I know this was irrational and somewhat stupid, but this is something that I could not help feeling – perhaps it is the infallibility that comes with the deification of someone (that I, like many millions in this country, have been guilty of) or perhaps it is simple bias that comes from seeing only one person carry the country for so long, a bias that started building for me from the very first cricket match I saw.
I always tell people that cricket is one sport where the softer aspects take precedence over statistics and numbers. You can measure an athlete’s greatness by looking at medals won or world records held, but this does not work in cricket. There are times when a 134 at Sharjah is a bigger deal than 200 at Gwalior; times when a century in vain in Chennai is way more impressive than any test double century. So, if 20 years down the line, some young cricket fan asks me “What is the big deal about Sachin Tendulkar?” – I would scarcely mention the 100 centuries, or the 33000 odd runs. I would certainly speak of how you so often dominated some of the best bowlers in the world – of those few overs when you took apart Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar in 2003, or of the time you hit Andy Caddick out of the ground, or of Desert Storm and THAT six off Warne, or Brett Lee in Sydney, or so many more such instances.
I would speak not just of you playing well, but also of the rest of the team not showing up at all on so, so many occasions.
I would speak of that sublime straight drive, exquisite cover drive, the effortless flick off the pads, the six over the bowlers head, the paddle sweep and of course, the stunningly beautiful, down-to-the-microsecond timed punch down the ground – no effort, no movement, no follow trough, just perfect, bloody perfect timing.
I would speak of how, beyond a point, it is impossible to put in words what you meant to cricket fans and what joy, what euphoria your batting generated.
You leaving the game is certainly the end of an era in cricket, but it is also the end for some part of my life as well, for this is the one thing that has remained constant ever since I started watching cricket 17 years ago – which won’t be there anymore. That permanence, that rocking of the foundations on which my love of this game was built is perhaps what makes all this so hard.
Thank You Sachin, for everything. Its been a privilege.