Sachin Tendulkar would be missed by the Wankhede ground-staff

Sachin Tendulkar with Ramesh Mhamunkar (third from left) and the Wankhede Stadium ground staff before the start of the second India-West Indies Test © IANS

Sachin Tendulkar was felicitated by the ground staff at the Wankhede Stadium in their own small ceremony before the maestro’s farewell Test. For these unsung heroes, Tendulkar was a big part of their lives. Nishad Pai Vaidya spoke to Ramesh Mhamunkar, one of the curators at the Wankhede about the meeting of the groundsmen with Tendulkar before the game.

Following an emotional farewell speech and a moving lap of honour around the Wankhede Stadium, Sachin Tendulkar strode to the centre one final time. The legendary batsman bowed and paid his respects to the wicket — which was his stage for 25 long years. It was this wicket that had made him a hero and was where his glorious journey started. From being a ball boy in the 1987 World Cup to lifting the World Cup 24 years later, Wankhede has been a second home. And, the guardians of the playing arena — the men who tailored the surface and made the platform of dreams — are going to terribly miss him.

Ramesh Mhamunkar, the curator at Wankhede, has seen Tendulkar since his school days. Like most people, Mhamunkar and the ground staff too had moist eyes when Tendulkar delivered that speech. But, for them, his retirement means much more. Mhamunkar explained, “When he was taken around the ground, we had tears in our eyes. It was very emotional. We are quite used to his presence here — a routine for years. Now, it won’t happen anymore.”

Most of the ground-staff remember a baby-faced boy with curly hair walking into the big league as a teenager. When you ask Mhamunkar about his earliest Tendulkar memory, he instantly recalls the day he was a ball boy. “We knew that this kid was special and that he would go on to play for the country someday. His hard work and dedication has taken him very far and we all are very happy about it. Even after 24 years, he is still very humble. He respects you and listens to you when you speak,” Mhamunkar said.

There is a huge sense of loss among the Wankhede ground staff — someone who has been a big part of their lives for two and half decades. Mhamunkar said, “When he was practicing for the Ranji Trophy game, we told him then that we want to give him a bouquet during his last Test. He promptly agreed and said that he would also like to have a photo session with the ground staff.”

As the days went by and the hour came closer, Mhamunkar’s men readied themselves to give the Little Master a fitting send-off. In the lead-up to the Test match, they scheduled the session just before India’s practice and had put up chairs at the ground for that memorable photo. As Tendulkar entered the arena, he walked towards the assembled ground staff. They handed the bouquet to him and said, “We wish you score a century in your last game.” Tendulkar smiled and replied, “I hope your wishes come true.”

Mhamunkar recalls, “Vijay Tambe (a senior member of the groundstaff) and I handed the bouquet to him and he thanked us.” That wasn’t all, but he also handed the ground-staff envelope (obviously with cash) for them to share.

Even last year, he had given his entire earnings from domestic matches to the Wankhede ground staff. That is his gratitude for the unsung heroes! A batsman or a bowler makes a name for himself with a stellar performance, but what about the men who make that 22-yard strip for them? They only come into the limelight should anything go wrong with the wicket.

That he did not score a ton disappointed many, but his stroke-filled 74 was a blast from the past and one would say, a fantastic way to bid goodbye. And, the ground staff will always remember his farewell and consider themselves lucky to have been a part of it.

“We hosted the World Cup final and were happy when he was carried around the ground. That memory is of course there. But, we are also lucky to host his farewell,” Mhamunkar said.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)