SALAAM SACHIN

THE WORLD’S GREAT­EST CRICK­ETER CALLS IT A DAY

India Today - - COVER STORY - By Ku­nal Prad­han

Sport­ing epi­taphs are meant to be easy to write. You string to­gether a few po­etic lines, add a dash of sta­tis­tics, sprin­kle some mem­o­rable mo­ments, and voila, you have a farewell note that passes muster in the half light. But writ­ing a Sachin Ten­dulkar eu­logy is dif­fer­ent— a per­sonal in­vest­ment for any­one who has been touched by his bounty. His ca­reer is not his story. It’s the pri­vate his­tory of ev­ery In­dian with a pas­sion for this crazy game. Most days in our lives are un­re­mark­able. They start and they end, with­out leav­ing be­hind any last­ing mem­ory. But there was some­thing dif­fer­ent about Wed­nes­day, Novem­ber 15, 1989. It was the first time that a curly- haired 16- year- old stepped on a cricket field in an In­dia shirt. We re­mem­ber where we were that day. Just as we re­mem­ber what we were do­ing when he first opened the in­nings in a one- day match on a chilly morn­ing in Auck­land in 1994. When he waged a lonely bat­tle against Pak­istan in Chen­nai and fell just short in 1996. When he sin­gle- hand­edly dis­man­tled Aus­tralia at Shar­jah in 1998. When he amassed 241 in Syd­ney with­out hit­ting on the off- side in 2004. When he pushed the bound­aries of the one- day for­mat with a dou­ble cen­tury in Gwalior 21 years into his ca­reer. And when he was car­ried on their shoul­ders by a bunch of deliri­ous team­mates af­ter In­dia won the 2011 World Cup at the Wankhede Sta­dium in Mum­bai. It’s hard to imag­ine Sachin with­out cricket, harder to

imag­ine cricket with­out Sachin, but per­haps hard­est to re­sign to how our own dry, dour lives will no longer be en­livened by his ge­nius.

Sachin, 40, an­nounced on Oc­to­ber 10 that the forth­com­ing two- Test se­ries against West Indies, which will take his per­sonal Test match tally to a stag­ger­ing 200, will be his last. It’s a mile­stone re­tire­ment— some­thing that doesn’t al­ways sit well with crit­ics who want team play­ers to be re­lent­lessly self­less and dis­ap­pear with­out cer­e­mony. It may not be his best- timed shot con­sid­er­ing how des­per­ately the In­dian team would’ve needed him on the away tour of South Africa in De­cem­ber. But Sachin had long said, some­times un­der in­tense pres­sure from his in­ter­view­ers, that he’d quit when he felt he wasn’t en­joy­ing the game enough. He has de­cided that time is now.

Over the last 24 years, Sachin has be­come a metaphor that has de­fined a gen­er­a­tion. From boy won­der to su­per­star to elder states­man, he’s ful­filled ev­ery role. But un­like many other sport­ing greats, he is more than just a feel­ing or sen­sa­tion. He’s col­lected such in­cred­i­ble num­bers— nearly 16,000 Test runs, 18,426 one- day runs, 100 in­ter­na­tional hun­dreds— that you wouldn’t need to have been here, in our life and times, to un­der­stand his im­pact. He’s not like Viv Richards, whose aura was mag­ni­fied when he walked to the pitch lazily chew­ing gum. Or like Brian Lara, whose one hop­ping cover drive was worth the price of a sea­son ticket. Sachin’s story can be told through score­cards alone. If W. G. Grace was the first bats­man to play both on the front foot and back foot, and Don­ald Brad­man the per­fec­tion­ist who made the bat a nat­u­ral ex­ten­sion of his limbs, Sachin took bat­ting to a sta­tis­ti­cal high- point where the sheer vol­ume cap­tures the en­tire story. He did so much for so long that he made class tan­gi­ble.

The early part of his jour­ney is as en­gag­ing as what we’ve seen on tele­vi­sion. Taken to Ra­makant Achrekar as a mis­chievous pre- teen af­ter he was caught steal­ing man­goes from a tree, Sachin’s first earn­ings as a crick­eter were the 25 paise coins that his coach would give him if he went through an en­tire net ses­sion with­out get­ting dis­missed. He’d ride pil­lion on Achrekar’s scooter, go­ing from venue to venue, match to match, play­ing up to four games a day. Pre­par­ing for matches be­came an ob­ses­sion.

Ev­ery In­dian cricket fan claims a spe­cial kin­ship with Sachin. Mine is this: he made his Test de­but in 1989, and we ac­quired a colour tele­vi­sion in the same year. Ever since, I have had my life en­riched by the magic of Sachin Ten­dulkar at the crease. I have watched him bat many times live, and many other times on the box. I have mar­velled at the range of his stroke­play, at his com­mand­ing con­trol of both the Test and the oneday game, at his ex­tra­or­di­nary abil­ity to mas­ter dif­fer­ent wick­ets, grounds and bowl­ing at­tacks, and above all at the cool au­thor­ity and un­der­stated calm with which he has borne, for this past quar­ter of a cen­tury, the ab­surdly in­flated and some­times ma­ni­a­cal ex­pec­ta­tions of mil­lions of his coun­try­men.

Ra­machan­dra Guha

Au­thor, on cricinfo

He still can’t sleep well be­fore a Test. Iron­i­cally, some of his op­po­nents— Aus­tralian leg- spin­ner Shane Warne for one— couldn’t sleep ei­ther, wor­ried about what Sachin would do to him the next morn­ing.

His emer­gence, co­in­cid­ing with a newly lib­er­alised In­dia, made Sachin even more ma­jes­tic. The Rs 100- crore con­tract in 2001 and the Rs 200- crore deal in 2006 were all sto­ries that a fast- trans­form­ing na­tion was as­pir­ing for. His per­sonal worth is now es­ti­mated to be around $ 120 mil­lion ( Rs 720 crore). If he was the new God, tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials put him in heaven. In one of them, he sat on a chair flick­ing cricket balls with a stump as ‘ Govinda ala re’ was re­placed by ‘ Sachin ala re’ in the back­ground.

With great power comes great re­spon­si­bil­ity, and Sachin un­der­stands this pop cul­ture dic­tum bet­ter than most. Al­ways po­lite, al­ways happy to play the role model, he usu­ally keeps cricket opin­ions close to his chest. To an ex­tent that he some­times gives the im­pres­sion of be­ing too self- ob­sessed with his own bat­ting to care about larger is­sues such as ad­min­is­tra­tion and di­rec­tion. But there have been oc­ca­sional for­ays into un­charted ter­ri­tory that have es­tab­lished the weight of his words. Af­ter the 2007 World Cup de­ba­cle, when it seemed the In­dian cricket board would not sever ties with coach Greg Chap­pell, Sachin stepped in with a mem­o­rable one- liner: “Paani sar se oon­cha ho gaya hai. ( The wa­ter has risen to dan­ger­ous lev­els)”. The BCCI had no op­tion af­ter that— Chap­pell was sacked and or­der was re­stored.

As the first of the golden gen­er­a­tion to ar­rive and the last to go, Sachin’s de­par­ture on the back of the ex­its of Sourav Gan­guly, Anil Kum­ble, Rahul Dravid and VVS Lax­man over the last four years fi­nally puts the spot­light on a new In­dian team. Luck­ily for In­dia, the core of the mid­dle- or­der is in some sort of shape. Chetesh­war Pu­jara is a player in the Dravid mould, and Vi­rat Kohli will per­haps be pushed up as Sachin’s suc­ces­sor at the num­ber four slot. But the In­dian line- up with­out Sachin’s name in it will take some get­ting used to. Aus­tralian opener Matthew Hay­den once said, “I have seen God. He bats at

I got to know the Mas­ter when we started play­ing the Un­der- 15s against each other. Then it­self, I knew Sachin would play for In­dia but never thought he would end up with all the crick­et­ing records pos­si­ble. I have en­joyed his jour­ney the most, more so be­cause I also had the priv­i­lege of lead­ing him. If I know him well, and I think I do, the two mo­ments that stand out for him would be win­ning the 2011 World Cup and win­ning the Test se­ries in Pak­istan in 2004. With Sachin’s re­tire­ment, the No. 4 po­si­tion in Tests will be a very dif­fi­cult slot to fill but we will have to live with this void. He took the de­ci­sion at the right time. The two Tests will be a mem­o­rable send- off and I am lucky that I will be there as a com­men­ta­tor.

Sourav Gan­guly, for­mer In­dian cap­tain No. 4 for In­dia.” Not for much longer.

Sachin’s crick­et­ing nar­ra­tive, of course, is not all over yet. There is an epi­logue to fol­low in the two Test matches against West Indies— an oth­er­wise mean­ing­less se­ries, per­haps put to­gether for his farewell, has sud­denly gained tremen­dous sig­nif­i­cance. It will be one last op­por­tu­nity to hear a par­ti­san crowd cheer the fall of the sec­ond wicket, seam­lessly switch­ing to In­dian sport’s most fa­mous four- syl­la­ble chant: “Sach- in, Sach- in.” He will mark his guard, do a cou­ple of manda­tory sit- ups, shuf­fle be­fore he faces his first de­liv­ery. In all like­li­hood, he’ll play it to­wards mid- on and ges­ture to the non- striker that there is no run. But af­ter th­ese two matches, the on- drive for four, the up­per- cut for six, and the bat raised to the heav­ens with his head thrown back af­ter yet another mile­stone will be rel­e­gated to nos­tal­gic video clips. Rest as­sured, you will re­mem­ber where you were the day he walked back to the pavil­ion for the last time.

Sachin Ten­dulkar’s ca­reer is em­blem­atic of a young, ris­ing In­dia. He pre­dates ev­ery­thing— flashy cars, mo­bile phones, lap­tops, the In­ter­net, six- fig­ure start­ing salaries, and the hope of a bright fu­ture. He is the most em­phatic sym­bol of how be­ing young and suc­cess­ful could make you iconic. It’s per­haps fit­ting that he’s step­ping away at a time when the mood of the na­tion is som­bre be­cause of a stum­bling econ­omy, Gov­ern­ment paral­y­sis, and ris­ing crime against women. Once, we could turn to Sachin to for­get about th­ese trou­bles for a while. Who will we turn to now?

Fol­low the writer on Twit­ter @_ ku­nal_ prad­han To tweet about the story, use # Wil­lMis­sUSachin

SACHIN GET­TING APEPTALK AND APAT ON THE CHEEK FROM KAPIL DEV DUR­ING HIS DE­BUT TOUR OFPAK­ISTAN IN 1989

Since the age of 16, when he made his test de­but, Sachin Ten­dulkar has known noth­ing but pres­sure. You have to see him in In­dia to re­alise and un­der­stand the weight of ex­pec­ta­tion on his shoul­ders and the way that his life is re­stricted by the adu­la­tion of his fans. The way he con­ducts him­self and han­dles the fame and ev­ery­thing that goes with be­ing Sachin is an ex­am­ple to all sports­men... Cricket has been for­tu­nate to have a won­der­ful player and a first rate brand am­bas­sador, and to me he plays the game in the right spirit.

Shane Warne

For­mer Aus­tralian bowler

Ex­cerpt from Shane Warne’s

Cen­tury: My Top 100 Test Play­ers

IN­DIAN EX­PRESS

( ABOVE ) SACHIN RID­ING SHOT­GUN WITH HIS BROTHER AND MEN­TOR AJITTENDULKAR IN 1998; ( BE­LOW, FROM LEFT) POS­ING WITH HIS SON AR­JUN, DAUGH­TER SARAAND WIFE AN­JALI NEXT TO HIS WAXSTATUE AT MADAME TUS­SAUDS, LON­DON, IN 2009

GETTYIMAGES

SACHIN CEL­E­BRAT­ING ONE OFHIS 100 IN­TER­NA­TIONAL CEN­TURIES, AGAINST ENG­LAND DUR­ING THE 2011 WORLD CUP IN BAN­GA­LORE

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