By Nishad Pai Vaidya
In a career spanning almost 24 glorious and extraordinary years, Sachin Tendulkar has captured the imagination of millions and is a figure beyond the boundaries of the cricket field. Such is his following and fanfare that he could bring a country to a standstill with the magic of his willow. While there would be millions who would claim to be his craziest fans, there is only one man who is undoubtedly his biggest devotee.
To call this man a fan is an insult to his devotion and love for Tendulkar. He is a veteran of over 20 Tests and 170 One-Day Internationals (ODIs). No, he is not a player, but a fan who follows the Men in Blue. The name Sudhir Kumar may or may not ring a bell, but he is easily the most recognisable face in the stands with his body painted in the tri-colour with the master’s name on it.
His story is one that truly grips the heart as he has gone miles to support the man he adores. The writer met Sudhir Kumar in November 2011 during the India-West Indies Test match at Mumbai. He talked about his experience, his undying admiration for Tendulkar and the great man’s unwavering support.
It all began in October 2003, when Sudhir — a young man then — cycled all the way from his hometown in Bihar to Mumbai to witness an India-Australia encounter. Moved by Sudhir’s effort, Tendulkar called him home to listen to his story. “The Master handed me the pass for that game and since then it has been the tradition,” Sudhir recalls.
True fans stand by their team and players through thick and thin. Even when India suffered the embarrassment of being knocked out in the first round at the 2007 World Cup, Sudhir was undeterred and cycled to Bangladesh for the team’s first assignment after the tournament. Tendulkar, in particular, had failed to match his high standards due to injuries and a number of “critics” called for his head. That didn’t shake Sudhir’s faith and belief and he stood by the Master.
Such is his regard for Tendulkar that cycling the long road isn’t Sudhir’s only way of expressing it. For years he has been sending a thousand litchis to Tendulkar’s house as a tribute to his support in arranging tickets for him.
The biggest moment of Sudhir’s life came when India won the 2011 World Cup. The whole tournament was built up as Tendulkar’s dream and the whole nation wanted to taste world glory for its favourite son. As the Indian team celebrated its biggest moment, an emotional Tendulkar didn’t forget the man who has been there for him. He summoned Sudhir to the dressing room to be a part of the triumph and lift the trophy.
“Sachin’s dream had to be fulfilled. I was just two years old when we won the 1983 World Cup and 28 years later I was witnessed the triumph live. The proudest moment of my life was when the Master Blaster himself called me into the dressing room to click pictures with the World Cup. To be a part of the dressing room on that day was something I will remember forever. All the players were happy. There were quite a few dignitaries who had come to witness that game but I was the only one who was invited by Sachin to the dressing room. I forgot all my hardships and all my struggles to watch games. That moment put an end to my difficulties as my dream was fulfilled“, Sudhir said with a twinkle in his eye.
With his tone becoming more emotional, Sudhir added “Meri nau saal lambi tapsya uss din samapth hui jab maine unke saath trophy uthai (My nine-year journey was complete the moment I held the trophy with him).”
Today, Tendulkar walks into sunset and a nation mourns his exit. With his superhuman feats he has become a part of our lives and his retirement leaves an unmistakable void. However, people learn to move on and would get on with their lives in the passage of time. But, what would this Tendulkar devotee do with his idol away from the field of play?
Sudhir Kumar has attended games Tendulkar hasn’t played with the words “We miss you Tendulkar” etched on his body. Those words signified the hope and eagerness of watching him play in the future. What is Sudhir going to do with that hope gone? Maybe, get the “We miss you Tendulkar” tattooed on his body.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)