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Our deep love for cricket has thrown up sev­eral na­tional icons right from the 1930s. The first Test cap­tain, C. K. Nayudu, was a hard- nosed Colonel re­spected for his de­fi­ant bat­ting. A se­ries of other play­ers went on to be­come house­hold names— Lala Amar­nath, Polly Um­ri­gar, Vi­jay Hazare, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, the spin quar­tet of Bis­han Bedi, Era­palli Prasanna, S. Venkataragha­van and B. S. Chan­drasekhar, and two stal­warts who trans­formed the In­dian game, Su­nil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev.

But the ad­vent of Sachin Ten­dulkar in 1989— a time when the Ber­lin Wall was still up and the In­dian econ­omy was about to open its doors to the world — proved to be a game- changer as far as na­tional icons go. He was at the right place at the right time, a young sell­able face for In­dia’s boom­ing new ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try. He was also very quickly recog­nised as a cham­pion who could stand shoul­der to shoul­der with the finest in the sport. What was most ex­cit­ing about the young Sachin was the prom­ise that one day he would break ev­ery bat­ting record. Po­ten­tial doesn’t al­ways trans­late into ac­tion but he has ful­filled the prom­ise many times over— of­ten sin­gle- hand­edly lift­ing the na­tional sen­ti­ment with a match- win­ning in­nings.

It’s true that he had slowed down over the last few months. He wasn’t in­spir­ing the kind of con­fi­dence he once did, and he wasn’t dom­i­nat­ing bowlers the way he once could. But Sachin’s de­cline was clear only in com­par­i­son with his own for­mer glory. It was trou­bling be­cause we weren’t used to see­ing him strug­gle but he wasn’t ex­actly block­ing the chances of another ta­lented young player by pig­head­edly stay­ing on.

Now he’s de­cided to hang up his gloves, call­ing time on 24 glo­ri­ous years af­ter the forth­com­ing two Test matches against West Indies. The farewell se­ries will be emo­tional. The crowds who usu­ally stay away from Test cricket are bound to fill the stands to get one last look at their hero, who leaves the team in fairly good stead with Vi­rat Kohli ready to step into Ten­dulkar’s cov­eted No. 4 slot.

Our cover story, writ­ten by Deputy Ed­i­tor Ku­nal Prad­han, who has fol­lowed Sachin’s ca­reer first as a cricket fan, and then as a jour­nal­ist for 16 years, ex­plains what sets him apart from other sports­men— as a player, as a brand, and as a true In­dian idol. “The ‘ Sach- in, Sach- in’ chant has be­come so syn­ony­mous with cricket in our coun­try that a sta­dium will seem like a dif­fer­ent place with­out it,” says Prad­han.

IN­DIA TO­DAY has fea­tured Sachin on the cover seven times in the past, which is just another re­flec­tion of his im­pact on the coun­try over the last two- and- a- half decades. He may not be around on the cricket field for much longer, but he will be spo­ken of when­ever fans of dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties sit down to ar­gue who the world’s great­est crick­eter was. So farewell, Mas­ter Blaster, and all the best for your next in­nings.


( Aroon Purie)

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