Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sachin Tendulkar & Me

Once in a lifetime comes a man like Sachin Tendulkar…

The whole country, if not the whole world, is either talking or writing or seeing something about Sachin, and it is hard not to indulge myself into the heat of the moment. Well, what can one say, after so much has been said already by so many people. But then what I am writing now is not for anyone to read or anyone to rate my article. It is more for myself, as an outlet to the pent-up emotions of seeing Sachin go.

I am 33 now. One amongst the millions of Indians born in the 80’s to have experienced Sachin. 24 out of my 33 years have been embellished due to Sachin and it is immensely disheartening to see him go. My earliest memory of him, I guess like most others, is of that Pakistan match in Peshawar where he hit 4 sixers in an over of the famed Abdul Qadir.

During the early 90s, more often than not, India used to lose the match. India, although having had a World Cup victory in 1983, was still an underdog team and not as competitive as Australia or many other countries. And it was sad to see so many losses, consequently. And at this juncture came this 5’5 man who challenged the monotony and tried to give hope to billions of Indians for an Indian victory in every match he played. And because of this, he became famous. I am not sure if he had made debut now, when India is on a high, he would have become as famous. But this fact that when he stood alone when all around him wickets were falling down is what made him as unique as ever. In many cases, his score alone would be more than half of the entire team’s total.

Sachin, I came to know, wanted to be a fast bowler but was turned down, and he then took to batting. Despite his innumerous success with the bat, he even had the country rooting for him in 1993 when he took responsibility of bowling the last over to South Africa in Hero Cup Semi Final in Calcutta when the opposition needed only 5 runs to win. It was stunning to see him get India through to victory from the jaws of defeat even when he was not batting.

When he started, he used to come to bat at the death of the innings and he quickly became known for the extraordinary hitting, which was very much needed to win the match, considering the asking run rate to be hovering over or above 6.  So, one day in 1994 when I got up early in the morning to see India’s match against New Zealand, I saw Sachin batting and I feared the worst – that India was already 6 or 7 wickets down and it was still very early in the match. But I saw that we weren’t really so many wickets down and it took me sometime to understand what had happened – Sachin had opened the innings! And what a spell-bound innings that was! This was a brilliant game plan which I had never imagined could occur, but once I realized it, it made so much sense – especially with the 15 hour field restriction in place. If only he had started his career as an opener, he would have had so many more centuries under his belt.

And Sachin continued to cement his place in the playing eleven, for many years. By mid 90s, he was the pillar of the Indian cricket team. He stood constantly while the entire team changed year after year. The selectors only had to select the playing 10 since Sachin by default held his post with his consistency. Every match was seen because of Sachin. If Sachin was not in the game, the interest was halved.

As Sachin amassed century after century, a ‘Sachin century’ became the focal point. An automatic expectation came along with his entry every time to the pitch - a century was the least ask from him. In fact he became so consistent in his knocks that I started tracking his runs in every innings in a small piece of paper, to analyze it better. This was in 1998 and it was by far his greatest year since he amassed over 1800 runs in that year alone. And what I deduced from that small piece of paper stunned me. He was getting a century in every 3rd innings in test match and 7th innings in an ODI, and it kept getting better every match! So each time he came to bat, I was fervently praying for a century. He was easily breaking all records and I was eager to see him get to the top at the earliest.

1998 was a tough year for me since I was sitting for my 12th grade board exams. Everyone knows what happened between India-Australia in Sharjah 1998. There was this semi-final on 22nd April when Australia made 284 and India had to get a certain amount of runs to qualify for finals against Australia. With intense concentration and focus, Sachin ensured that India were past that score but a victory was quite improbable and even superfluous. And yet, Sachin continued to toy the bowlers and there was this amazing hit by him when Tony Greg, the commentator gasped “Sachin Tendulkar wants to win this match!” which sent goosebumps across the country. I can never forget that powerful statement. After this mind-numbing semi-final came the final on his birthday where again, he single-handedly guided India to a victory against a team that had not lost 6 straight matches in the tournament, and again with a brilliant century. These 2 consecutive centuries were the greatest ever I have seen. Added to this tension were the summer power-cuts at crucial junctures, the exam preparation. Boy, life was hard those days!!

The small piece of paper then became a full-fledged ledger where I started to track all his scores – both ODI and Test matches. Another thing I noticed was how well he used to play in the World Cups. His consistency (average) in the World Cups was unbelievable. When I noticed, he was already amongst the top 5 batsmen. So I started tracking this too in the ledger. I continued this for a long time until cricinfo took over! After the golden year of 1998, came some lull in the life as he encountered injuries, he took over captaincy and could not deliver much, etc. But the passion remained same, the expectation remained same. There never was a doubt that he will stop being part of the team.

1999 too was another eventful year. His father passed away when he was playing in the World Cup tournament. Despite this, he returned back to the team and made a wonderful 100 against Kenya. He also got his the then highest ODI score of 186 against New Zealand which was so good to see. In the same year, there was this brilliant 136 Vs Pakistan in Chennai which he fought so hard single-handedly to win the match but finally lost. This century was very poignant because he was in intense pain with his body and yet managed to get India so close to victory.

The same year saw Shoaib Akthar get Sachin out for a first ball duck in Eden Garden, Kolkatta. It was sensational stuff. This would make the viewers want more of Sachin-Shoaib. Sachin finally got the better of Shoaib in subsequent matches. Individual competitions continued with old great bowlers and new ones boomed. With Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Muttiah Muralitharan and other great bowlers. It was a pure pleasure to see the battle, to see the game embellished by these legends of cricket.

And slowly, things changed, India changed, the team started winning more and more games, I got into college and then got into a job and then travelled abroad, but whenever there was a cricket match, I always looked forward to see Sachin and his score. This never changed for over 2 decades. It never needed to change. His dream of securing a World Cup victory finally occurred under the leadership of Dhoni (whom he had nominated to BCCI for captaincy) in 2011. In the same year, he hit a double century in ODI (first-ever by any batsman). A Sachin retirement was something I never thought about because it just didn’t seem necessary. As he neared 40, there were talks everywhere – media, office, press, etc – and it irked me as to why we were pushing the icon to think about it.

It is said that he has groomed so many cricketers who shared the dressing room with him which has made them better players. There was this interview with Aamir Khan where Aamir revealed how Sachin used to predict the bowler’s next ball. Boy, such insight would help any batsman in the team immensely. And this surely has made India a better team now. Scoring over 300 runs in an ODI was only possible if Sachin did 80% of the batting but now this is no longer necessary. If Sachin gets out early, it doesn’t matter much now but back in the 90s, most television sets will be turned off and few people would have even ended their lives if Sachin got out in a pressure situation in a tense match.

In the same interview, Aamir mentions how each of us felt happy when Sachin hit a four or a six. If Sachin hit a century, we felt as happy as if we hit a century. This is so true. When he struggled with pain, the country suffered with him. When he cried (which was so rare), the nation cried with him. And when he lifted his bat after each century and looked up at the sky, the nation gave him a bow.

He has hit a 100 hundreds. Although I am blessed to have been born in the same era as him, I have been very unfortunate not to have witnessed even one of those hundreds live in the stadium. The couple of occasions I did have the chance to shout ‘Sachin, Sachin’ in the midst of thousands of people in Bangalore stadium, he got out poorly.

His retirement from ODI last year was a mild blow and without much fanfare. It seemed the country was prepared for it for a long time and with so many mini-Sachins now, he wouldn’t really be missed. But these last few days, when the public knows they are seeing him for the last time in the international arena, everybody has gone overboard to make the farewell special for the greatest sport-star son of India. His own farewell speech [and the lap of honor (as well as his last walk to the pitch to pay respects)] was extremely touching when he thanked all those behind-the-scenes people who gave us the Sachin a billion Indians wanted.

I used to collect a lot of articles written on Sachin. We used to subscribe for Deccan Herald in the 1990s and DH always had great photos of Sachin hitting great shots, and those clips adorned my cupboard. Wherever I saw a great article written on Sachin, I used to cut it and put it in a file folder. Soon the digital world grew and there was internet full of amazing articles on Sachin, stunning clips of his shots and even videos of his great games. So I stopped collecting. But deep within, he was always near me. Like an extended family.

I may never get to meet him personally, he may never get to know me personally. For him, I will be just another fan like billions others and there are far better fans for him than me - like those who have fasted for him when he was batting, who have flown countries to see his batting live, etc. And today, when I watched him bid adieu to the game, my soul ripped. There was this huge lump in the throat. I was controlling, yes, and there were no tears but it just hurt. Just plain hurt to see him go, and to not see him again playing, to not see his name on the Indian scorecard. It isn’t the life that I am used to. I have never seen it before, and never wanted to. His retirement, although inevitable, has caused listlessness. I keep staring blankly as if life has come to a stop. His presence in the team made us all look forward to life, to his enchanting, invincible and impeccable batting. It kept us asking for more, hungry for more. His hunger for runs kept us hungry and increased our expectation on him. And now, there is nothing. A huge void.

Tomorrow, life goes on, as usual. People go to office, children go to school, doctors go to hospital. Sachin Tendulkar, for the first time will not be in the next playing eleven, he will be out of sight, and out of sight is out of mind - soon he will fade away into the past. But what he has given us in his capacity as an entertainer has surpassed all expectations and will forever be etched in our memory. Sachin Tendulkar has made our lives special – with us just being spectators, seeing him, the Master, like a Maestro, in action.

Once in a lifetime comes a man like Sachin Tendulkar…and the pleasure was all mine. 
From the bottom of my heart - a big salutation to the greatest batsman of my time. 

Amen.

1 comment:

CGS said...

Excellent article on "Sachin". You are another "Little Master" in remembering various achievements of Sachin Tendulkar at various stages. Keep it up.
CGS Rao