India Today - - COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE - By Bo­ria Ma­jum­dar

It was a few min­utes to 3 p.m. on Oc­to­ber 11 when the phone buzzed. See­ing ‘Un­known Num­ber’ call­ing, I won­dered who it might be. I’d spo­ken to Sachin Ten­dulkar at length that morn­ing and was sure it wasn’t him. There was no rea­son for him to call. I picked up the phone. “Just thought I’d let you know that have de­cided to re­tire af­ter the West Indies se­ries,” Sachin said with­out pre­am­ble. “I have con­veyed it to BCCI.”

The words did not reg­is­ter for a few sec­onds. While work­ing on his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy for the last two-and-a-half years, we had dis­cussed the is­sue a few times. We had touched upon it that morn­ing as well. Yet, I had ab­so­lutely no idea. There was an odd si­lence while I re­gained my com­po­sure. Sachin, how­ever, was calm and com­posed. “Don’t get emo­tional,” he said. “An­jali (his wife) and Ajit (his brother) are get­ting emo­tional. Don’t por­tray me as a re­tired crick­eter even be­fore I have re­tired,” he laughed. “I still have two Test matches to play and I want to play them well.”

Sachin had al­ready started plan­ning for the West Indies se­ries. He had sensed what could hap­pen around him for the next few weeks and had de­cided to shut him­self off from all the hys­te­ria and frenzy. It was time to get ready for the farewell. Well past mid­night, Sachin was still awake, try­ing to come to terms with the an­nounce­ment that had rocked all of In­dia; try­ing to ac­cept the fact that he had de­cided to give up the only thing he has done for the last 30 years of his life—play cricket.

What about life af­ter re­tire­ment af­ter 40? What will he do come Novem­ber 19? Is the fu­ture all chalked out for him? Th­ese are dif­fi­cult ques­tions and there are no def­i­nite an­swers yet. The fact is it hasn’t sunk in, even for him. Know­ing Sachin, he isn’t ready to face up to re­tire­ment just yet. He still has a duty to per­form: Walk out for In­dia one fi­nal time in flan­nels. And that, more than any­thing, is oc­cu­py­ing his mind at the mo­ment. There are three dif­fer­ent post-re­tire­ment prob­a­bil­i­ties. First, as Nita Am­bani has con­firmed, Sachin might play a sig­nif­i­cant role for the Mum­bai In­di­ans in IPL

MAN­DAR DEOD­HAR/ 2014. Sec­ond, as Ra­jya Sabha mem­ber, Sachin has al­ways nur­tured an am­bi­tion to con­trib­ute to the im­prove­ment of sport at the grass­roots. He had sub­mit­ted a work­ing pa­per to the hu­man re­source de­vel­op­ment and sports min­istries ear­lier this year out­lin­ing the way for­ward. He is likely to fol­low through on and push for­ward those plans. Fi­nally, he will be a more dot­ing fa­ther than he has had a chance to be be­cause of his play­ing sched­ule, spend­ing time at home with An­jali and his chil­dren Ar­jun and Sara.

Now that he is hang­ing up his kit­bag, what does cricket mean to him? An­swer­ing this ques­tion will help con­tex­tu­alise his life af­ter re­tire­ment. Cricket, sim­ply put, is his life. It is his pas­sion, liveli­hood, ob­ses­sion, and pro­fes­sion. I re­mem­ber ask­ing him about re­tire­ment in the mid­dle of the Test se­ries in Aus­tralia in early 2012. I wanted to know by when he thought we needed to wrap up the book I was writ­ing on him. “Let’s not talk about this at the mo­ment,” he said. “We will see when we get there.” It did not take much to gauge the apprehension in his eyes. It was as if he had been born to play cricket and the very thought of giv­ing it up one day was pet­ri­fy­ing. Records, ac­co­lades, sta­tis­tics, noth­ing re­ally mat­tered in the end. All he wanted to do was pick up the wil­low and stride out to his tem­ple, the 22-yard strip. That’s where he found his refuge and that’s what he is now giv­ing up.

Days af­ter he had made known his in­ten­tion to call it a day, I re­quested Sachin for some time to record the book’s next chap­ter. It was im­por­tant we doc­u­mented what prompted him to make the an­nounce­ment. Sachin wasn’t too keen. He was in his zone and wanted to give it his all to get ready for the West Indies. “Let’s get back to the book af­ter the se­ries is over. I’d just want to con­cen­trate on pre­par­ing for the next few weeks,” he said. That he’d play the Ranji tro­phy match against Haryana to get into the right frame was a fore­gone con­clu­sion.

What we did not know was what awaited him in Lahli. “It is a green top,” he wrote at the end of the first day’s play. He was dis­missed for 5 in the first in­nings, to a de­liv­ery that jumped awk­wardly, and Mum­bai were strug­gling to chase 236 af­ter the loss of some early wick­ets in the sec­ond in­nings. Sachin knew what he had to do. He had done it for 24 years. This time, he was do­ing it one fi­nal time for Mum­bai with a match-win­ning 79. He knew the coun­try was watch­ing. He was aware that for once in its his­tory, the Ranji Tro­phy would have the TRP of a saas-bahu se­rial.

“It was real good prepa­ra­tion. The pitch had a lot in it for the bowlers. God is great,” he wrote af­ter the match was over. Did he mean prepa­ra­tion for the South Africa se­ries or did he mean prepa­ra­tion for the twin Tests at Kolkata and the Wankhede? Had he, maybe for a split sec­ond, for­got­ten that he was not go­ing to South Africa? He wouldn’t have to play on a green top at ei­ther the Eden or the Wankhede, so what was the prepa­ra­tion for?

Sachin landed in Kolkata on the night of Novem­ber 3,

why the best of um­pires—Si­mon Taufel, Aleem Dar, Rod Tucker and now Nigel Llong—some­times make sim­ple mis­takes when it comes to him. Does his stature put ad­di­tional pres­sure on them? Sachin was left to de­bate th­ese ques­tions as he left Kolkata for Mum­bai for his farewell. An­jali, who des­per­ately wanted her hus­band to shine, was left to feel the pangs of pain.

Kolkata, how­ever, partly made up for the dis­ap­point­ment. The way they fe­lic­i­tated him left a last­ing im­pres­sion. Sachin was over­whelmed as Sau­rav Gan­guly em­braced one of his clos­est friends on the cricket field, much to the de­light of the Eden crowd. He was also glad that the 199 kilo­gram of rose petals weren’t show­ered on him, as they were sup­posed to be. “He would have been crushed un­der the weight,” quipped one of his clos­est friends, Vivek Palkar, be­fore break­ing out into a hearty laugh. “At least he would have smelt nice,” added another of his childhood friends who had made it to Kolkata for the Test match.

As Wankhede ap­proached, Sachin again got down to what he is best known for—pre­pare to per­fec­tion.

What made the oc­ca­sion ex­tra spe­cial for him was the pres­ence of his mother Ra­jni, who watched him from the stands for the first-ever time in his life. Soon af­ter the Kolkata Test match ended, Sachin texted friends in Kan­pur re­mind­ing them to de­liver a spe­cial pair of shoes for his ail­ing mother to make it com­fort­able for her to step into the Wankhede. A ramp had al­ready been con­structed at the sta­dium un­der his watch.

On the eve of the fi­nal Test, his close friends hosted an evening in Sachin’s hon­our. Or­gan­ised by childhood buddy Su­nil Harshe, it was a per­sonal trib­ute to the leg­end by what I call ‘The Sachin Gang’. As An­jali said dur­ing the In­dia To­day Group’s ‘Salaam Sachin’ Con­clave on Novem­ber 12: “We just want to live each and ev­ery mo­ment. Ev­ery ges­ture that is be­ing made is spe­cial. Sachin and I will re­mem­ber th­ese days for­ever.” While they will cher­ish th­ese days, we, as a na­tion, will not for­get the last 24 years.

When Sachin was leav­ing for Kolkata, he said it was the last time he was say­ing good­bye (be­fore he went to play a Test). As he left, I could not stop my tears. I had to go to Kolkata.”

—An­jali Ten­dulkar

a day ear­lier than he usu­ally does be­fore a Test match. In­dia were to prac­tise at 10 a.m. the fol­low­ing morn­ing and he could well have taken the early morn­ing flight on the 4th. But Di­wali at home could be given a miss, not prepa­ra­tion for his 199th Test match. His at­ten­tion to de­tail was best brought out when we met on Novem­ber 4 at the Taj Ben­gal. Sachin was typ­i­cally en­grossed with his bat. The logo, which is just be­low the bat han­dle, was smudged. I asked him how this had hap­pened. “The bat lam­i­nate comes off on oc­ca­sion and when you are play­ing on bouncy wick­ets, like in Lahli, it may re­sult in an edge. I did not want to take a chance.” Such at­ten­tion to de­tail is rare in any dis­ci­pline, not just sport. As Al­lan Don­ald, one of his fore­most ad­ver­saries, says: “His prepa­ra­tion is what sets him apart from Ponting and Lara. It also ex­plains his longevity over the last two and a half decades.”

The first day at Eden Gar­dens had two un­ex­pected spec­ta­tors, An­jali and Ar­jun. Nei­ther was sup­posed to come and Sachin was sur­prised to see them. An­jali had been say­ing for two weeks that she wouldn’t want to come to Kolkata be­cause her be­ing there might be a dis­trac­tion for Sachin. At the last minute, how­ever, she could not re­sist. “At Mrs Nita Am­bani’s birth­day party, a very dear friend of mine told me that af­ter a few days I’d never get the op­por­tu­nity in my life again. It was a shock­ing re­al­i­sa­tion,” An­jali says. “And then, when Sachin was leav­ing for Kolkata he said this was the last time he was say­ing good­bye to me be­fore he went out of the city to play a Test match. As he left for the air­port, I just couldn’t stop the tears. I just had to go to Kolkata.”

Sachin was de­lighted to see her and Ar­jun. Soon af­ter the first day’s play ended, he man­aged to spend an hour with them in his room. He gave Ar­jun a ball, which he hap­pily car­ried back to Mum­bai. “In the one hour we spent to­gether, not for once did Sachin leave his bat alone,” says An­jali with a smile. He had done all he could to pre­pare for his in­nings the next day.

How­ever, not al­ways do the best prepa­ra­tions yield the best re­sult. Um­pire Nigel Llong’s fin­ger went up to de­clare Sachin LBW af­ter the ball had hit his thigh pad and was clearly go­ing over the stumps. For Sachin, it meant the end was near. With In­dia pil­ing on, thanks to a bril­liant de­but hun­dred from Ro­hit Sharma and some great bowl­ing from Shami Ahmed, Sachin was left with just two pos­si­ble op­por­tu­ni­ties to bat at the Wankhede. He was left to pon­der­di­a­to­day­im­




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