THE WORLD’S GREATEST CRICKETER CALLS IT A DAY
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.
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?
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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.
Former Australian bowler
Excerpt from Shane Warne’s
Century: My Top 100 Test Players
( 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
SACHIN CELEBRATING ONE OFHIS 100 INTERNATIONAL CENTURIES, AGAINST ENGLAND DURING THE 2011 WORLD CUP IN BANGALORE