February 8, 2013: Sachin Tendulkar scored a hundred in the Irani Trophy that helped his draw level with the most hundred in First-Class cricket by an Indian, held by Sunil Gavaskar. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the joys of watching Tendulkar bat in the dying stages of his fairy-tale career.
Sachin Tendulkar romped to his 81st First-Class hundred as I started writing this article. The commentators had written Mumbai off for the Irani Trophy fixture, but he had kept his side with a display of batting that can be only described as, well, as nothing that is a part of my limited vocabulary.
It has suddenly become irrelevant that he has just now reached 25,000 runs in First-Class cricket. The fact that he has taken Pragyan Ojha, the best Indian spinner, for 37 runs off 27 balls with five fours and two sixes, is also completely irrelevant now. He may bring Mumbai back into contention for the tournament, the same way he brought his country back at Sharjah nearly 15 years back, or he may not.
This is not, though, about who wins the Irani Trophy. This is not about how much Tendulkar scores. This isn’t even about the paddle-sweeps off Ojha or Harbhajan Singh, or the blazing cover-drive off Shantakumaran Sreesanth, one ball after he was hit on his shoulder by a snorter from the same bowler. This isn’t about the crowd cheering for his hundredth run, when it had actually been a leg-bye.
In a year’s time he will possibly sit behind a microphone or take up coaching or get involved in politics. I have no idea what he will do. What I do know, though, is the fact that the joy of watching cricket will not be the same anymore. The drives and pulls and cuts will be history. That Indian tricolour on his helmet will not be seen again. And worse – possibly the worst – bit is that someone else will walk out to bat for India with two wickets down. That is something that has not happened since what seems like the beginning of time. But it will happen.
So this innings, just like whatever he will offer us more, is to be savoured without a word. This may be his last season. He may not pick up a bat again; the cover-drives may not pierce brutally through the unsuspecting grass again; the bowler may not applaud anymore if the ball is driven straight past him to the fence; the slog-sweeps off a spinner may not look as regal; and that smile that looks so infectious and innocent even at forty will not adorn the ground in future.
Let us forget everything for the next few months. Please. Let our sore eyes cherish whatever he has to offer in the final phase of his career. Let us stop with the criticisms altogether. Let us simply sit back and enjoy. He will not be around for long now. Let criticisms not be the last words we have uttered during his illustrious career.
Let him enjoy the sport. And let us enjoy the fact that he is still enjoying his sport, after handling the pressure of a billion over a span of 23 years. Let us allow him to bat in peace for this one final time. Let us simply sit back and relax, and bask in the glory of being his countryman.
Make the most of him while he’s still there. Once gone, however you repent, he will not be back again.