What is a World Cup without Sachin Tendulkar?
In my previous office during the ICC World Cup 2011, India were up against England in their second match of the tournament and Sachin Tendulkar, batting on 32 off 50 balls, was taking his own time to get going. A colleague (an anti-Tendulkar person), without realizing that I was a fan, said, “Ye itni dheemi gati sey run bana raha hai. Arey ye bhagwaan hai ya shaitan? Bataiye, aise jeetegi India? (he is scoring at such a slow pace, how will India win? Is he a God or a devil?)”.
I smiled and told him that it wasn’t easy for him to play big strokes, as the ball was not coming to the bat with ease. I also assured him that the Little Master would step up on the gas in a while and will go on to hit a big knock to which the gentleman just shook head in disappointment.
The batting legend did exactly that and went on to score his 98th ODI century – 120 runs off 115 balls. The news room was filled with joy the moment he reached the century and the gentleman, who called him a devil a while ago, had left the office early considering the ramifications he had to face after such a splendid innings from the batting maestro.
Several colleagues had been waiting in the office, even though their shifts were over, just to see the legend reach another ton.
When India played South Africa at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in the ongoing World Cup, the stadium looked like a blue sea where thousands of Indian spectators had gathered to cheer the Men in Blue. The first major roar was heard when Tendulkar was shown on the big screen. We have heard from several experts about how Tendulkar's appearance in a match would require the opponents to come up with multiple strategies to stop his run-scoring spree. But what we didn't know was that his mere presence at the ground could lift the morale of the Indian team.
And it was such a delight to see him at the World Cup. Ever since he hung his boots from international cricket, while there are players in the current Indian team who have made sure the fans are glued to the television sets whenever India play a cricket match, there is no one who has come remotely close to Tendulkar’s fan following.
In modern day cricket, while we see the bats getting heavier and the boundaries getting smaller, Tendulkar’s achievements continue to look monumental.
We all knew, sooner or later, Chris Gayle would slam a double ton in limited-overs cricket. Considering his swashbuckling style of play, it was surprising to see that it took him so long to achieve the feat, which came after three Indians had got to the landmark. It wasn’t an astonishing innings and one had to feel for the Zimbabwean bowlers, who could do nothing but watch Gayle clobber sixes effortlessly from the crease. But not to forget, the man who first achieved the milestone, was not as strongly built as Gayle, but with a very strong will power, it was the diminutive Tendulkar who demolished the Proteas bowling attack to become the first double centurion in limited-overs cricket.
While most of the fans throng the stadiums across the world to see their favourite players play live in front of their eyes, their family members, who are not sports fanatics, come along just to see that one player.
That one player, who is expected to single-handedly win matches for the team, steady the ship when the going gets tough and grabs the headlines no matter which two teams play.
People expect them to do something extraordinary on the ground, and while not many cricketers have managed to live up to the expectations, Tendulkar was one of the rare cricketers who made his presence felt across the world with consistent formidable knocks and drew spectators in massive numbers.
As kids, we couldn’t differentiate a cover drive from a square cut. We weren’t into the technicalities of the game, but this man had the power and the ability to make a nation sit and watch a sport, which was invented by the British.
As we began to understand the nuances of the game, this one batsman captured our imagination. Every time a ball hit his bat, we all wanted it to cross the boundary. Once it did, it was nothing less than a personal achievement. Every time he entered in the nineties, an entire nation prayed for him to reach the three-figure mark. Whenever he did, people irrespective of cast, creed and culture celebrated as if someone from their own family had made them proud.
No matter who won, no matter who lost, for Indian cricket fans, cricket was always about Tendulkar. When India registered an emphatic win against the Proteas in this World Cup, it was great to have Tendulkar at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. He might not have been a part of the playing eleven, but for over 80, 000 spectators, he was as much a part of the squad as anybody else.
While the modern greats in Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Younis Khan and several others continue to represent their countries in what is possibly their last World Cup, Tendulkar continues to enthrall the cricket fans across the world even though he is not a part of the tournament. None of the cricketers can fill the gap left by his retirement.
This year too, as the tournament progresses, records will be broken, we all will witness some breathtaking catches, world-class players will further strengthen their batting averages, and the speedsters will break some more stumps.
Like Gayle, some other batsman will make his country proud. Like all other editions, this one too will witness its ups and downs. But amid all these records, celebrations, what is a World Cup without Sachin Tendulkar?