In that time of the year when inevitable goodbyes were in the air, India lost two maestros from fields that a legion of Indians followed — music and cricket. Following the demise of sitar virtuoso Pandit Ravi Shankar, India’s pulse skipped a beat when one of its favourite sons called it quits from the shorter format of cricket 11 days later.
Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. A name — or not just a name rather — decided to retire from ODIs with immediate effect on 23rd December, 2012. News channels aired stats, shots and some of the epochal vignettes of the man who has given so much to the game, the format and a cricket-mad country and the fraternity in general.
But then he was the reason for the madness. At a time when the two of the most revered cricketers of the yesteryears — Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev — were done with or thereabouts, Indian cricket found its object of adulation for the next 23 years.
Ask them. During the 90’s, Indian cricket was loosely synonymous with Sachin. No one ever fancied that a simple player from a simple background from the simple maidans of Mumbai would become the superstar who took down many bowlers.
And he did it in his own nonchalant way. Shane Warne, part of a boisterous Australian attack, was literally buried at Sharjah in 1998 with Tendulkar’s famous back-to-back hundreds, which people will remember for ages to come. (“Oooh..ShashinTendulkaar,..” — Tony Greig probably accentuated the moment).
Wearing various shades of blue and the Test-match whites, Sachin has given us various moments to remind posterity that we lived in the time of probably the greatest ODI batsman, who played in the times of probably the best ODI bowlers, who played most of his career when ODIs were not adulterated by T20 cricket.
Public memory is never short when it comes to Sachin moments. The pinnacle of his batting was seen in the 2003 World Cup when he sent Andy Caddick and Shoaib Akthar to the stands with a ferocious hook and a crunching upper cut.
My favourite Sachin moment would be his hundred versus Kenya in the 1999 World Cup that came at the back of his father’s demise. When he went back home for the last rites, India played Zimbabwe and lost the game by 3 runs chasing 252. He was immediately flown back to England to play Kenya against whom he scored a hundred, a special one not because of the battle against the bowling attack but because of the battle with himself. He ultimately dedicated it to his father. This, to me, was very symbolic of that entire decade — the difference between a good total and a batting collapse. He was to India what Diego Maradona was to Argentina.
Another cornerstone of his ODI career is his World Cup batting figures. With just the 2007 edition as an aberration, he has shown why he is the best with the bat with some scintillating knocks through 6 World Cups — a record by itself and a eulogy to his longevity. Sachin holds records for the most centuries, most fifties and most runs. He also has the most Man of the Match awards in World Cup history, with the Man of the Series award in 2003 being the icing on a sumptuous cake.
Perhaps the cake would have been of the best order had he scored a match-winning hundred in at least one of his two World Cup final appearances. But then, sport is a leveller, and denied him of perhaps the distinction, congruent to what the great Sir Don Bradman was denied by Eric Hollies in his final innings for his pursuit of a three-figure career batting average.
But then, the very fabric of cricket would remember him of what he has achieved and stood for. He was what every Indian father who sent their children to a cricket camp wanted to be and what every Indian child who went there wanted to be. In a nation seething with corruption and tribulation, he was the one who put many Indians to sleep peacefully at night.
It would be a great gesture, the first of its kind in cricket, if the blue jersey numbered 10, could be retired in his honour — something that the New York Cosmos did to Pele and AC Milan to Paolo Maldini, a trend borrowed from North American sports in general. It is up to the BCCI and himself to agree to terms though.
Borrowing Harsha Bhogle’s words when Sachin was bowled by Ashley Giles in the 2002 Natwest Final, we knew that this was always on the cards..It was coming but not this soon. He could have played his last series versus Pakistan, at his happy hunting ground in Chennai.
We couldn’t get to witness a testimonial ODI match, but then, it is not over until it’s over. He has to get back to his important role of resuscitating the Indian batting in the Tests, along with his own batting.
Crowds will throng to every Test venue of the India vs Australia series, hoping to get a glimpse of his last playing (batting) days for India, probably with no home Tests, as of now, lined up before India head to South Africa late in 2013.
He has defied bowlers, critics, and journalists. But not Time. He has been down many a time, but he has come back and equalised, but Time, the infinite, has always scored one more. This time though, Time has settled the score as the winner. The ‘Ten’dulkar who carried ten others in a game of 11 vs 11, will now be seen with the coloured kit only on YouTube videos, TV highlights and IPL matches.
Wish me luck for the ‘afterlife’.
(Madhav Krishnan is a student from Birla Institute of Technology and Science (Hyderabad), pursuing M.Sc (Chemistry) and B.E. in Mechanical Engineering)