As the great man finally decided to call it a day on the illustrious career, he is not the only one who is going to feel a void in his life. Undoubtedly, cricket for him was more than a sport, more than a career. It wasn’t very different for me either. And I believe it probably is the case with a lot of people of my generation whose teenage years or a large part of them have coincided with Tendulkar’s.
The Early Days
I was too young to remember anything about Kapil’s devils and by the time next world cup came around, I had already experienced, possibly the biggest heartbreak that an Indian cricket fan would have seen till date, that last ball six of Miandad!
To be honest, I wasn’t a hardcore cricket fan when Tendulkar made his début. Being in just 5th standard, I could hardly understand the finer things about the game. I used to watch cricket in bits and pieces as and when my dad and other family members were watching. I did not watch him getting out on consecutive ducks, neither did I watch Waqar hitting him. But my first memory of Tendulkar is when he hit Abdul Qadir for those huge sixes in what was an exhibition match. Until then I don’t remember any Indian batsman taking the opposition bowler to cleaners. At that age, I did not know about swing or seam or googly or chinaman. Heck I hardly knew and least cared that the young man possibly had the best technique among all the cricketers plying their trade. But it brought a unique joy that I had felt for the very first time while watching cricket. In that match, he did to Qadir what I had seen only one other batsman doing to the best of bowlers, a certain Viv Richards and some said that he was the best batsman in the world then. I felt, at last we have someone who could give as good to opposition bowlers as their batsmen give to our bowlers.
The decade of 90s provided a lot more similar moments, moments that made me forget everything else – two board exams, IIT JEE and few other competitive entrance exams, gruelling academic schedule at IIT, even a prospective first date.
As the 90s progressed, Tendulkar started becoming better and better as a batsman and started making good on the promise he demonstrated. He could dominate any bowler on any track against any kind of field setting. Whatever the challenges that were thrown at him, he invariably found an answer. Along the way he provided some magical moments – that final over against South Africa in the hero cup semi-final, that majestic knock at the WACA, the knock against SA until Adam Bacher intervened, the desert storm innings which succeeded the single handed dismantling of Australia in general and Shane Warne in Particular. If these were some of the emotional highs, there were invariable lows too, may be more lows than highs. The heart still aches when I think about that semi-final against Sri Lanka in 96 WC, or that Test match against West Indies at Kensington Oval, or the “shoulder before wicket” at Adelaide or possibly the most painful of all, that 136 against Pakistan in Chennai.
But one thing that became increasingly obvious to the whole cricketing world during the 90s, that Indian cricket and Sachin Tendulkar became synonymous. When Tendulkar was at the crease, there was always hope, when he got out first there was heartbreak and then the reality, game over, switch off your TV and get on with life until the next match. I don’t think that a player has ever captured the imagination of a nation anywhere in the world like Tendulkar did. Every parent wanted a son like him. Every young kid playing with a bat (or anything that remotely resembles a bat) wanted to be like him. He became the heartbeat of an entire nation, a billion plus heartbeats, no less. He took the entire nation on an emotional roller coaster – when he was playing everybody watched with bated breath, the world sort of came to standstill, nothing seem more important than watching him bat on and on.
Tendulkar even started featuring in the prayers of common people, at least going by the evidence of one TV commercial where a little girl prays to God for one more Sachin century. Some went even further and elevated him to the status of cricketing God. But that is far from truth. A God, despite the presence of 7 inept colleagues and 3 match fixers would have surely beaten 11 opponents!
I don’t even remember how many classes I would have bunked at IIT just to watch him play. Exams during the matches would always bring dilemma, I would take my notebook to the hostel TV room and watch the match. The only way I would have studied for the exam was if Sachin got out early, but even to wish so was blasphemy. Everything was secondary in that moment. I was as crazy a Sachin fan as anyone in that age would have been. During SA’s tour of India when Tendulkar was in his 2nd stint as captain, the 1st match was at Wankhede and I was in my last year at IIT Bombay. At lunch Tendulkar and Dravid were at the crease. Suddenly I was possessed by a crazy idea to go to Wankhede and watch Tendulkar bat. And we did go, but by the time we reached the stadium, we were informed Tendulkar was out. We promptly came back to the hostel by the next local train. I am sure all of us have similar stories where Tendulkar defined the match.
I sometimes wonder “Had Tendulkar been born as an Australian or as an Englishman, by the end of the millennium itself, he would have been elevated to the status of the best batsman ever, surpassing The Don. But that’s a topic for another article.
The First Decade of the New Millennium
The new millennium arrived and I stepped into my first job. Despite the project deadlines, long office hours and CAT (GMAT like examination in India) preparation, I always watched cricket. The whole schedule used to revolve around cricket. Office timings during the cricket tournaments became function of India’s batting. And it remained so for a long time. The new millennium also saw Indian cricket came out relatively unscathed from the match fixing scandal. Post that dark period, the team actually became better. Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman along with Tendulkar were as daunting a batting line up as any in the world and in Kumble we had a match winning bowler. The results also started to show as we started winning matches overseas. The Indian cricket team was no longer overly dependent on Tendulkar. Although he was still the star of the team, he realized that he doesn’t need to go bang bang every time. He redefined his role, his approach to the game for team’s cause. And that’s where I see a lot of parallel between my own life and that of Tendulkar the cricketer. When you are out of your student life and enter the corporate world, you become a professional and are expected to behave like one. Suddenly maturity, career, planning, saving, finances are the words that become associated with you. And I feel that is what also happened to Tendulkar. He became mature, he was part of a team and there was a collective objective, a collective plan and he was a significant part of the plan. Earlier he was the plan. He can no longer be the flamboyant batsman that he was because that was now somebody else’s job. He transitioned from the destroyer to the accumulator, a mature guide and mentor for the younger ones in the team.
(To be Continued…….)