Sachin Tendulkar retirement: Goodbyes are never easy, especially when it’s to the last link to your childhood

For a generation born in the early 1990s, Sachin Tendulkar remains an integral part of their lives © AFP

By Akash Kaware

Perhaps the most annoying feature of social media is the way seemingly nostalgic chain messages lose their charm due to repeated forwarding. One of the more bearable ones though are the ones which say ‘You are a 90’s kid if…’. The references to life before the internet, mobile phones, and simple joys of life like book cricket, rewinding audio cassettes with pencils, and Mario and Contra video games somehow never get old. But for some reason, these messages always seem to miss out on one constant feature of the 90’s. The one thing that was solidly, dependably present on our TV screens that decade, whether with a bat in hand and a helmet on the head, or flashing that radiant smile selling soft drinks and energy drinks, swatting cricket balls with a stump. Yes, you were a 90’s kid if you switched off the television when Sachin Tendulkar got out.

Then again, they probably miss out on talking about him because while book cricket and audio cassettes are now relics of a happy past, Tendulkar is still very much a part of our lives — though not for very long. In about two weeks’ time, he will walk out to bat for India for the last time ever. Some of the televisions that will be turned off after he gets out in Mumbai during November 14-18, 2013, may never turn on a cricket channel again.

Sport has a way of keeping us enthralled, even when some of the protagonists who make the game what it is walk away. Roger Federer at his best sometimes touched peaks beyond perfection, but his fading has somehow managed to make men`s tennis even more captivating. Tendulkar walked away from one-day cricket almost a year ago, yet India seems to have found an array of young batsmen whose daring strokeplay would make the carefree Tendulkar of the 90’s proud. None more so than Virat Kohli, who at a similar stage of his career actually has better numbers than the great man. Nobody’s bigger than the game, not even Tendulkar, and the show will go on with or without him.

Yet, somehow, this is different. Especially for a generation like mine that has not known cricket without Tendulkar, this void will take a while to fill. Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli seem to be able replacements, but in a Test match, it still feels strange that the No. 3 on the Indian batting card is not Rahul Dravid, or that the No. 6 is not VVS Laxman. Well, No. 4 on that card has only had one name pencilled in for nearly two decades. It is going to take a while to get used to seeing another name there. Wise heads have always told us not to take anything for granted, especially the good things in life. They were right, for even Tendulkar couldn’t have carried on forever. Still, this feels like losing a lifelong friend.

A mark of the connection that fans share with an iconic sportsperson is the way they remember with unfailing accuracy where they were and what they were doing when their hero achieved or did something memorable. For me, the connection was cemented in the 1998-99 season, where Tendulkar played some of his best innings, while I struggled through my SSC year. I for one have never really understood how the Indian schooling system prepares kids for future life, but that year Tendulkar did teach me some life lessons.

Even for someone talked about in divine terms regularly, the dismantling of Shane Warne in 1998 was a result of single-minded focus on preparation. Tendulkar made leg-spinners in the Mumbai nets bowl to him into the rough outside his leg-stump and practised hitting against the turn. The lesson to be learnt was that even for the gifted, preparation is the key to success, the more meticulous, the better.

Then came the two remarkable nights in Sharjah. During the course of the first of those two gems, Tendulkar single-handedly carried India into the final of the tournament, but even after he had accomplished that goal, he went after the Australian attack in a manner which plainly told them he wasn’t done yet. Getting to the final wasn’t enough, he wanted to win the game! Off his own bat! Never rest on your laurels, there’s always something else to be achieved was the lesson for those who paid attention.

That whirlwind was only ended by an umpiring decision that can politely be called questionable. After waiting for a moment to confirm that the umpire hadn`t called a head-high ball a no-ball, he walked for a caught-behind appeal even when the umpire had not given him out. Tendulkar was in the zone that night and had the Australians at his mercy, but even then fairplay came first. For me of course, two late nights in a row meant missed homework two days in a row, but somehow India`s win made even my teachers seem more human, and I got away with it!

Then came the heartbreak of January 1999. Pakistan were in town after more than a decade and the first Test in Chennai was living up to the pre-series hype. It all came down to the fourth innings, where India chased 282 against a varied Pakistani attack. Tendulkar played what should have gone down as the innings of his life, but a bad back, a Nayan Mongia brain-freeze and a typical collapse from the Indian tail ensured that it was instead the most painful. As I winced with him every time Tendulkar stretched his dodgy back, a valuable lesson was learnt that serves me well even today – never leave for others to finish what you started.

My exams were over, and it was time for the World Cup of 1999. I was at a non-descript hotel in Manali when I found out that Tendulkar was not playing the game against Zimbabwe. A bit of asking around confirmed that it was because he had flown back to India to attend his father’s funeral. As I watched the game, watched the Indian bowlers concede a record number of extras that led to four overs being docked from their innings, I was afraid to say it out loud, but the heart kept saying, Ì have a bad feeling about this!`. Sure enough, the Indian lower and middle order had a collective meltdown and India lost an utterly winnable game that haunted them for the rest of their campaign.

The next game against Kenya was only a couple of days later, and I was flabbergasted but silently elated that Tendulkar was playing. If anyone ever needed an example of putting the team before self, this was it. As Tendulkar walked back, with 140 against his name, Bob Willis cried on air India’s campaign has finally ignited here in Bristol. There were probably more than a few moist eyes around the country that day.

Those few months were also special in hindsight, because for reasons best known to him, Tendulkar the batsman changed forever after that time. He probably scored more runs in the rest of his career, and probably scored them at the same rate as before, but thereafter he was more of an accumulator than a destroyer. More Sunil Gavaskar than Viv Richards. It probably had something to do with the emergence of the likes of Dravid, Laxman and Saurav Ganguly. Tendulkar was no longer a boy on the burning deck who always went out all guns blazing, he was part of a quartet where each and every one had a role to play. There were many more memorable feats of run-making and Indian victories to savour, but for a boy of 15 now about to enter his thirties, the bond that was formed watching those magical innings of 1998-99 endures till today, and will probably continue beyond November 18th, 2013 as well (Thanks, Youtube!)

Goodbyes are never easy, especially when you`re saying it to the last link to your childhood. A goodbye to Tendulkar is as much a goodbye to the boy within us as it is to him. It is as much a story of our own life as it is of his career. From November 18, 2013 onwards, as the applause dies down at the Wankhede, as the sniffs and tears of grown men subside, he will need a new story, and so will we.

Sachin Tendulkar Retirement

(Akash Kaware is an Indian IT professional, who would’ve been a successful international cricketer if it hadn’t been for an annoying tendency to run towards square-leg while facing tennis, rubber or leather cricket balls hurled at anything more than genuine medium-pace! Watching Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid convinced him that breaking into the Indian team was not going to happen anytime soon and hence he settled to become an engineer and MBA, who occasionally wrote about cricket. A few months ago, sensing his uselessness and constant use of cricket websites at work, his company banished him to Canada. His hopes of playing international cricket have, thus, been renewed!)