GOODBYE, BHARAT’S RATNA
Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell speech left a billion in tears; govt conferred on him the country’s highest civilian award
Sachin Tendulkar struggled to hold back tears as he said goodbye to a glittering 24-year career here on Saturday, sending his fans — several thousands of them also teary- eyed — into a wild frenzy of ‘Sa-chin, Sa-chin’.
Hours later, India chose to bestow its highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, on the Master Blaster — making him the first sportsperson, and the youngest person, to receive the honour. The 40- year- old later dedicated the award to his mother Rajni. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led the country in congratulating the retiring batting legend, calling him on the phone to wish him success.
As soon as the last ball was bowled at the Wankhede, Tendulkar collected a stump and made his way through a guard of honour, head bowed under his white floppy hat. He climbed the stairs to the dressing room and was gone. The crowd stayed put.
He was back soon after, for a moving farewell speech and a lap of honour on the shoulders of his team mates. “All my friends settle down, let me talk. I will get more and more emotional. It’s getting a little difficult to talk but I’ll manage,” he began.
“My life’s been 22 yards for 24 years. It’s hard to believe that wonderful journey is coming to an end,” he said in the 20-minute speech. The first tribute was to his late father: “Without his guidance, I don’t think I would be standing here… He told me, ‘Chase your dreams but make sure you don’t take shortcuts’. Above all he told me to be a nice human being.”
There were tributes to his family, the best perhaps for his wife Anjali: “You are the best partnership I’ve had in my life.”
To his coach Ramakant Achrekar, who came in a wheelchair to watch him play, Tendulkar said, “In 29 years, sir has never said ‘well played’ to me because he thought I would get complacent. Maybe now you can, sir, because there are no more matches.”
Later, after the speeches, tributes and chants, Tendulkar walked alone to the middle, where he bent down and touched the pitch reverently. By then, there wasn’t a dry eye to be seen.
The Test and the 2-0 series win against the West Indies will be largely forgotten as a contest but remembered as a fitting farewell for a man who cast a giant shadow of greatness over cricket in India and beyond.
LAST BOW After all the speeches, tributes and the lap of honour, Sachin Tendulkar walked alone to the Wankhede pitch and touched it with his right hand in a sign of reverence.
Anjali Tendulkar breaks down as she and children — Sara and Arjun — listen to Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell speech on Saturday.