Cross-posted on CricketCountry.com. I do not usually cross-post CricketCountry URLs, but I simply could not miss this one.
There were two Sachin Tendulkars.
One of them was for the world. He scored thousands of runs and truckloads of hundreds. I know exactly how many, and even if I forget my birthday, these are numbers that will never elude my memory, these somehow take a backseat today. What stands out today is the other Tendulkar. My Tendulkar.
This doesn’t even begin with ODIs. This was an ODI curtailed to an exhibition match of twenty overs. India needed to score 43 from the last two overs. Krishnamachari Srikkanth, the Indian and a happy-go-lucky slogger himself, did not look too keen on chasing the target. Abdul Qadir, champion leg-spinner with a mysterious, somewhat tangled run-up and a legend from my school days, ran in. The boy, my Tendulkar, took him for 27 runs.
I had later heard that Qadir had baited my Tendulkar before the over, challenging him to have a go at him. The kid had accepted the challenge. He was still a schoolboy: I was still in shorts, and he was of the age that, in the 1980s, had merely migrated to trousers.
People are not supposed to face the fiercest attacks in their teens. They are supposed to stay at we affectionately refer to as hotel-de-papa; fight with their parents in the incessant struggle for extra pocket-money; bunk tuitions to watch movies; chase up girls and borrow money for Valentine’s Days; and perhaps consume copious amounts of paan-masala to cover up the odour of tobacco.
They were not supposed to take on the best bowlers in the world at that age. That too in their own den, thousands of miles away from the security of their home; representing their country; carrying the hopes of a billion on their shoulders; at the biggest stage of all.
Remember the 1990s? India were often set 250ish targets; we all tucked in (or had tea, depending on whether it was a day match or a day-night one) and waited with bated breath – for the batsman whose face emitted innocence and determination at the same time. We waited. We watched as the ball was overpitched; my Tendulkar’s elbow bent at an unmistakable angle as the familiar backlift happened; the bat came down in a menacing arc and bat met the ball, resulting in the sweetest sound possible; not a fielder moved; the ball sped past the bowler and crashed into the sightscreen.
We didn’t shout at that stroke. We smiled. We nodded. We looked reassuringly at each other. He is there, we thought. He batted on. He counterattacked in an era when we merely succumbed to the mightier opponents from all over the world. They had the advantage of ruthless batting and superlative fielding. We had a single weapon to stand up against them.
And when my Tendulkar got out, mostly because he needed to score fast as the opposition had succeeded in bottling up his partners, we changed the channel; or probably gathered at a friend’s to play carrom; or even studied. Because nothing else seemed to matter. Nothing. The match had slipped.
Remember Sharjah 1998? Remember how my Tendulkar took on the mighty Australians by the horns and sent them packing amidst an intimidating desert blizzard? Remember how we had read that half a dozen or so Australian cricketers had lined up outside the dressing room to take his autograph? Have you ever seen batting like that? Has anyone?
Remember World Cup 1999? When my Tendulkar had missed the Zimbabwe match (that we promptly lost) to cremate his father, and then came back to score that hundred that melted the hardest of hearts, moistened the driest of eyes? Would you lie today and say that you could hold back your emotions that day? I doubt.
Remember Nairobi 2000? Remember when my Tendulkar suddenly took Glenn McGrath’s aggression a tad too seriously and hit him over his head for a six? Remember how Harsha Bhogle, for once, could not hold his emotions back and gave a clarion call to all the viewers to ask their friends to turn their television sets on? It wasn’t a big innings – but have you ever seen such ferocity hidden behind that smiling disguise?
Remember my Tendulkar’s fairytale 175? Remember the day when my Tendulkar scored that 200, when Mahendra Singh Dhoni – then Indian captain (and a much popular one than his stature in recent times) – was booed for hitting a six in the final over, because it simply meant that Tendulkar was deprived of strike?
I know you do. All of you do. You see, he was the only one who had united all of you, across religions, languages, states or even countries. You have probably not helped your classmates before exams or backstabbed your colleagues up the corporate ladder; have belittled people on the grounds of money or caste; or worse, have shed the blood of your neighbours during riots; but when he batted, you became mates, hugging each other as every milestone was achieved. You certainly did not check the religion or financial status of the people you celebrated with on the streets when he won the World Cup for us.
Was it because the national flag never looked as apt as it had on his navy blue helmet? Perhaps. Or perhaps there was more to it.
He isn’t there anymore, though.
The earlier generations had cleaner cricket, involving less money and glitz, and thereby more unadulterated passion for the game; the future generations will probably lift fitness levels to new heights, break and set new records, and take technology and commercialism to new altitudes.