It was business as usual on a wet evening in a Management school in Chennai as I sat on my hostel bed thinking what to do. Having been in classes since morning and not having read the day’s newspaper, I reached out to my laptop to read some news online. And then the unthinkable happened! My heart skipped a few beats as I fixed my eyes on the single dreaded piece of news that I did not want to hear all my lifetime. Time travel ensued, except that it was to the past! My mind suddenly raced back to the mid-90s when I first started watching cricket. Though I don’t exactly remember the day when I started liking Cricket, I remember that it was my dad who made me interested in cricket (though I was lazy enough not to have taken it seriously at a playing level, I certainly became an avid cricket watcher I should say!).
And so I begin writing this confession to a human phenomenon that drew no parallels!
It was the summer of 1996 during the world cup in India when I started getting hit by this global phenomenon of being a fan of watching you play. I must confess that the 127 that time against Kenya and the 137 against Sri Lanka did do me more harm than good as I failed to see myself falling into the addictive trap of watching you play. Worse was when I didn’t foresee that I would eventually also start losing my food, sleep, studies etc just for the purpose of watching you bat. And then came the runs, the fifties and the hundreds with such consummate ease that I almost forgot that you were human. Run after run, match after match, series after series I found myself getting deeper and deeper into a state of limbo only to find out that I was not the only victim of the psychological impact that you had created by then. In between all this frenzy, you also gave us some milestones which gave us the joy that was still way above the pure joy that a child experiences on seeing his/her favourite candy or toy!
I would be doomed for life if I don’t mention the 169 against South Africa at Cape town in 1997 on a bouncy track against the likes of Allan Donald & Shaun Pollock, the back to back hundreds in the 1998 Tri-nation series in Sharjah which any mortal cricket loving soul at that point in time would not have missed even if he/she was in his/her death bed, the home series against Australia the same year in which one man named Shane Warne who was the greatest leg spinner of all time (if not the greatest spinner ever)lost all his morale and his professional ego to such an extent that he openly confessed to the media that he got nightmares of seeing you demolish his bowling, the 2003 world cup in South Africa where the innings of 98 off 75 in a high-octane quarterfinal clash with our cross-border neighbour & the ferocity of which could still send chills down the spines of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis & Shoaib Akhtar who were all ‘ordinary’ cricketers atleast as per your wisdom, the 175 against Australia in the home series in 2009 and the 2010 series against South Africa where the unthinkable, unimaginable score of a double ton was achieved in Limited Overs Cricket for the first time etc to name a few !
Nevertheless, I am still going to hold you accountable for all the sleepless nights that I have spent watching you play, the countless number of times when I have wasted my time watching repeat telecasts of most of the matches that you have been a part of and the enormous number of days when I was so glued to the television set that my family had to remind me to consume water at least once every hour. With every walk to the middle, you instilled hope that would only be second to the amount of hope that people have on the superpower above. Every strike that you took gave us sheer excitement that can’t be matched even if we were on the best roller coaster in the world. Every run that you scored kept our tryst with Mathematics alive by making us keep a count of your runs, every fifty that you got to kick-started a belief that was beyond bounds and every hundred that you scaled were perceived as nothing short of a beautiful present from you to us, who were your fans.
Having done so much and having been a quintessential part of my life for the past 18 years at least, the announcement of your retirement from Limited Overs Cricket last December came as nothing short of a thunderbolt to me. However, your decision to continue playing Test Cricket was the one incubator that kept me breathing since last December. But today, with the announcement of your retirement from Test Cricket also, I suddenly feel lost. And more so, feel betrayed!
People call you a purist and a genius, someone who can execute all the shots in the book – the thumping on-drive, the flowing straight drive, the ‘on the up’ drive through the covers, the impeccable square cut, the audacious pull through midwicket, the elegant leg glance, the improvised paddle sweep and not to mention the tremendous power behind an array of lofted shots – all of which were nothing short of sheer brilliance. No wonder they call you the greatest ever! And then there are those that have always been awe-struck at the records that you have broken along the way and the near impossible ones that you have also created. More than 33000 runs in both forms of the game (15000+ in Tests & 18000+ in ODIs) which includes 100 centuries and 160+ half-centuries, more than 400 ODI matches and close to 200 Test matches and so on & so forth that I am forced to deliberately avoid lauding your exhaustive list of records so as to keep this article short.
But let me tell you this! Though you have the most perfect technique in the history of cricket and have been a record breaker all along, these two facets no longer interest me like before purely because of the benchmarks that you have set already. But having said that let me also admit that the one thing that always fascinates me is the happiness that your game brings to fans like me. Your charisma, dignity and modesty on and off the cricketing field are another set of facets that would always remain the most valuable lessons that I have ever learnt. When you hang up your boots pretty soon, it would without an iota of doubt, signal the end of a great cricketer who transcended boundaries with his cricketing prowess and whose name would always be etched in gold for as long as Cricket and its glory lives!
Though you have been the ultimate symbol of modesty for millions of fans like me to worship and emulate, I would always take utmost pride in proclaiming that I lived in an era when Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar embraced a game called Cricket! You have given fans like me the happiest fairytale dream that we could ever think of and there is no doubt that if Cricket is a religion, you would always remain the GOD! Hats off to you Master! Take a bow!!!