Sachin Tendulkar cried, and the nation cried with him

Sachin Tendulkar bid an emotional goodbye to international cricket © PTI

During the final moments of his career, the legendary Sachin Tendulkar wiped his tears in public while walking through the guard of honour formed for him by his teammates. Tendulkar also brought tears to millions of cricket fans by touching the hallowed 22-yard cricket pitch for one last time to show the special bond he shared with it for 24-long years. Arunabha Sengupta captures those special moments of Little Master which would be penned with an indelible ink forever.

He had stood there, in the leg trap, in that extraordinary field set by MS Dhoni.

The moment Mohammed Shami’s delivery crashed into Shannon Gabriel’s stumps, his arms spread-eagled in habitual delight. The momentousness of the occasion was temporarily forgotten, the perpetual ecstasy that accompanies a win in a cricket match took over.

And then it perhaps sunk in. A man who was not born when he had made his Test debut, had brought an end to his final Test match with his inswinging delivery. Walking through the moving guard of honour formed for him by his teammates Sachin Tendulkar actually wiped his first tear shed in public.

At this moment my cell-phone beeped to life. The number on the screen started with +1212 … from New York. I know that city never sleeps, but there it was around 1.00 in the morning.

A friend was on the line, someone whom I never quite associated with a diehard cricket fan.  His voice choked up as he made his request. “Could you send me a list of the best Test innings of Tendulkar? The ones that are on YouTube?”

The last minutes of the master followed. The tributes, the presentations. One kept hearing that there was not a dry eye in the commentary box, in the stands. And I believed it. A turmoil inside me was sending waves of emotion straight from the heart to the eyes, creating all sorts of obstacles in between.

The speech followed. Simple and sublime, rooted to modesty and the basic human sentiments, humility and gratitude. It showed us glimpses into the man, a peek into the character behind greatness. There were revealing facets of his family, how it had rallied around him through his career, the good times and bad.

It was perhaps the purest speech ever heard in the nation. The runs and hundreds are by-products of a core that rests on a secure fundament, built from the truest human ethics.

A message popped up, from an old friend, with whom I had first watched the man bat in a stadium 1991: “#@$% … tidal wave of tears.”

And then that final gesture — the moment will be remembered forever by all the thousands in the ground and the millions watching on their television or laptop screens. Sachin Tendulkar walked away, alone, unaccompanied, to the middle of the ground. To the 22-yards that had been his undisputed kingdom for so long.

In this scarcest of solitude garnered from the relentless glare of the spotlight, the master bent down, touched the turf and then his heart, thus paying his last respects to the game that had been entwined with his soul for as long as he could remember.

Sachin Tendulkar cried, and the nation cried with him

TV grab shows Sachin Tendulkar walking one last time after the speech and the lap of honour to pay his respects to the Wankhede Stadium wicket.

The gesture demonstrated a special bond. Between the master of the game and the game itself. A connection that can be only marvelled at, never quite fathomed, never understood.

It is this attachment that had allowed him to play on — under the crazy media glare; transcending the extreme unfairness of expectations, sheltered from the deafening voices of the millions of irrational critics.

This act of gratitude broke millions of hearts — even though none could really work out the intricate details of the union between cricket and one of its greatest savants.

The game was his solace when he was on the ground. And his core group of family and friends off it. As the world thanked him for 24 years of entertainment, he thanked the ones who had helped him pull through —and did it from the very bottom of his heart. The purity of the speech tugged the heart.

And then he walked, out of the ground, into the pavilion, away from the misty eyes of the millions, where beyond all the maddening noise perhaps he will find a door to peace.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twiter.com/senantix)