Take One: November 15, 1989 – A child prodigy, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, all of sixteen years, makes his debut for Team India against the fierce pace attack of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis in Pakistan and in his first Test scores fifteen runs. He hit Waqar for two fours, another cricketer who was making his debut, before being bowled by him. That day, even though Sachin had come to the team after creating waves in the domestic circuit, no one would have been able to fathom that he would last for twenty-four years and capture the imagination of the people not just in India but around the world. But last he did and how, with innumerable batting records against his name, demolishing the best bowlers of his time and making a 100 hundreds along the way.
Take Two: November 15, 2013 – Exactly twenty-four years later, the batting genius and the God of Cricket slammed a half century, his 68th in his 200th Test, against the West Indies in his home ground in Mumbai’s Wankhede stadium, and gave his fans memories for posterity that they would talk about for eternity. As another great of this era, Rahul Dravid put it aptly – “Sachin’s innings was a snapshot of all his shots which he had played for the past twenty-four years.” Yes, in that sublime innings of 74, the Little Master was effortless and in great touch and seeing him bat like that, it was hard to believe that he had struggled for the last two years.
Straight drive, cover drive, sweep, cut, flick and twelve boundaries – it was simply vintage Sachin all the way and it was as if we were seeing a replay of the man’s greatness. One almost felt that God had written a fairytale script for him and he may just score a century in his last Test. However, it was not to be but fans like me were more than happy that he got runs in his last outing. Every run that he scored was precious and every minute that he spent at the crease was memorable and the joy when he slammed a four to reach his half century was simply immeasurable.
Having said that, the fact is that even if Sachin had not scored what he did in his last Test, it would not have mattered to his fans whose unwavering support for one of the greatest sporting icons that India has produced has been with him through thick and thin. His 200th Test was a celebration of all that he has done for past two decades, the great innings that he has played, the runs that he has made, the heights that he has taken Indian cricket to and the pride that he has bestowed every Indian with.
No wonder after Sachin edged the ball to first slip off Deonarine’s bowling, the hearts of those watching in the stadium and on the television must have missed a beat. It was difficult not to feel a lump in the throat and it was difficult not to be teary-eyed when he started his walk back to the pavilion and into the sunset. It was difficult to believe that there would be no Scahin when India plays the next Test series later in the year in South Africa. It was as if two decades had passed in a jiffy. And when he stopped and acknowledged the standing ovation that he was getting before resuming his walk to the dressing room, one wished that somehow the clock could be turned back.
However, these emotions that one felt were nothing compared to what happened the next day – on November 16, 2013. The moment that last West Indian wicket fell on the third day of the Mumbai Test, I realized that the moment had come and the clock could not be turned back. I used to tell everyone that it would be unbearable to see Sachin walk away from the cricketing field and that it would make me cry. And I did cry.
It was impossible to hold back the emotions after seeing tears in the eyes of the legend as he was given the guard of honour by his teammates; to hear him make that wonderful speech after the end of play and say thank you to each and everyone who had a role to play in his life and career; to thank the fans who had been chanting ‘Sachin, Sachin’ incessantly for the past three days and to see him walk back alone at the end of it all and pay his respects to the 22 yards by touching the soil in salutation.
The India-West Indies series has been a carnival dedicated to Sachin and rightly so, even though the man may have preferred a better opponent for his swansong. But nonetheless it was good that he played his farewell match in India and bid adieu to international cricket on his own soil and even though the man has been loved by multitudes for more than two decades, he must have been overwhelmed by the cheering fans. As Sachin’s former teammate and former India captain Sourav Ganguly put it – “The farewell accorded to him befitted the player that he was.” Yes, Sachin’s send-off was special and unlike anything seen before in this country and the day and date when the maestro bid adieu to international cricket will always be imprinted in the minds of millions of his fans.
We may not be able to see Sachin play in Team India colours again; never see him wear the India cap again; never see him walk up to the crease, take guard and score a century again; never witness his boyish exuberance on the field but we will always cherish the memories he has left behind and talk about his legacy for years to come. Sachin will never retire from our hearts. But because it was sad to see a great like him struggle like he had been for sometime now, one must add, that his decision to quit the game has been right.
In times like these no words seem apt to describe the true extent of what one is feeling but another batting great that India has produced, Sunil Gavaskar, summed it in perhaps the best way that he could. As the Master Blaster started climbing the steps to the dressing room where his teammates were waiting for him after getting out at 74, Gavaskar said – Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, Thankyou, Thankyou, Thankyou!
Tendulkar may have had his detractors but I can bet that their numbers are too miniscule to talk about. He may have been criticized at times for being diplomatic and not taking a stand on certain issues but then he had his own ways of letting people know what he felt. Some may have said that he did not play match winning knocks but then they simply forgot the uncountable number of times that Sachin single-handedly shouldered the responsibility of the whole team without flinching.
His average both in the ODIs and the Tests are a testimony to the fact that he never played for himself but for the country. He was also criticized for delaying his retirement but then he is human too and he probably thought that he still had cricket left in him. And the message that Sachin left for Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his team, speaks volumes of where he places his country and cricket. He asked them to serve the nation and the game in the best of spirits.
Sachin is not just one of the greatest cricketers in the history of the game but he is surely one the greatest sportsperson that the world has seen, transcending time and space. The heart says that there may never be another Sachin Tendulkar but for the sake of Indian cricket, one hopes that another child prodigy comes along and fills the space. But for the time being it seems that the likes of Virat Kohlis are ready to take Indian cricket to the next level just like Sachin did along with Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Anil Kumble.