You can read the 1st part of Growing Up With Tendulkar, here
The first decade of new millennium
The new millennium came and I stepped into my first job. Despite the project deadlines, long office hours and CAT 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 come 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. A mature fan like me understood this very well. There were some fickle fans who felt that he should always bat the way he batted during the 90s and it was difficult to explain the transition to them. And it indeed was no simple transition, earlier he was the team, now he was a member of the team, albeit the most significant one. Overall it benefited the team. As a true fan of the sport, I actually loved this transition as it led to lesser heartbreaks. And then the next world cup came around, in South Africa. We started poorly but ultimately it was Tendulkar who came to team’s rescue. His batting gave the Indian team a lift from the stuttering beginning and carried the team to the final. Two of his shots that are still etched in the memory of every Indian cricket fan – the pulled six off Caddick in Durban and the upper cut off Akhtar at Centurion. And in the end, it was like 90s all over again, India riding on the back of Tendulkar’s genius went until the last hurdle but failed. Despite having the best batsman of the World Cup at our disposal, we couldn’t win it. This World Cup final defeat brought back memories of ’96 WC. There were similarities– in 96, the eventual winner SL beat us in the group stage and then again in the semi-final and in 2003 the eventual winner Australia beat us first in the group stage and then in the final. But somehow this defeat did not feel as painful as the one against Sri Lanka in the 96 world cup semi, to me at least it did not. May be because by the time we came out to bat in the 2003 WC final, we knew that task was nearly impossible. Only a perfect script could have ensured a win and perfect scripts are for movies or fantasies and this was real. Or may be by this time, as a Sachin fan I had matured enough to understand that a perfect script where Sachin taking us to win against all odds is just a fantasy and will remain that, a fantasy. No shame in admitting that we lost to the team that had won every single match in that World Cup and will do so again in the next edition.
And I think it was this maturity as a fan that has helped me remain sane during the next few years as a cricket fan. There was a period of 3-4 years after the 2003 world cup when Sachin admittedly hit a bad patch in his career. Of course more than a decade and half of toil, injuries and aging body did not help matters. There were trigger happy cricket fans, pundits, tv anchors and journalists for whom bashing Sachin became favourite past time. I for one could understand the hysteria when in a space of few years, the same people who had elevated Sachin to the status of cricketing demigod have now made him their favourite punching bag. Every loss was because of him, if he did not score then he was to be blamed for the loss and if he had scored, still he was to be blamed because his score did not help India to win a match. Every tom, dick and harry had an opinion on the position at which Sachin should bat, the way he should bat, the kind of shots he should play. This was possibly the best period an armchair critic of Sachin would have had and some did try and get as much mileage as possible. There were some who made a career out of Sachin bashing and few in their enthusiasm to jump on to the “bash Sachin” bandwagon even crossed the limits of lunacy. I met one such intellectual who in his zeal to prove that Sachin should retire, picked up some random period where Mutthiah Muralidharan outscored Sachin by few runs! The point being, in the selected period Mutthiah Muralidharan was a better batsman than Tendulkar. And then there were some who I had the fortune of never meeting, a certain dumb-wit who even coined a term “Endulkar” and a leading daily published an article with the same term way back in 2006. I am sure some of the pseudo cricket fans may have even reasoned that somehow global warming is caused by Sachin. But one good thing actually came out of that period was that it separated the real fans from the bandgwagoners. As far as I was concerned, I knew it’s a phase that was bound to pass. Yes sometimes Sachin did appear out of touch but more often than not he appeared in good form but somehow was not able to convert the starts into something big. As a Sachin fan, that truly was a depressing time. Not because I did not believe that he will come back to form soon, but because every lowlife and his dog wanted him to quit the game. I was even mocked when I said that I am sure Sachin is going to play the 2011 World Cup in India. And that was even before the 2007 World Cup.
And as a true Sachin fan had hoped, things did turn around for good. Yes, they did become worse and the 2007 World Cup was possibly the nadir. But what a turn around it was. We again saw the same Sachin, especially against Australia in 2008. And he went on to get some big scores from then on. In the process he did address some of the charges levelled against him such as not scoring a century in an ODI final while chasing successfully or not scoring a century and winning the match in the 4th innings of a test match when India is set a difficult target etc. Had he not done that, I don’t think his greatness would have been any lesser. Anyways it was particularly interesting to see the same people who criticised Sachin and were baying for his blood during 2004/05-2006/07 were now posting on Facebook as the biggest fans. Well success does bring some bandwagoners with it.
The closing stages
One by one, Sachin started calling it a day from other formats of the game. And now finally the time has come when I will not even see Sachin walk out to bat anymore. When the news broke out, it took some time to sink in. The realization that you will not be seeing the same cricketer play ever again that you have grown up watching was hard to take. In the last 2 decades, I have slogged to get into an IIT and an IIM, worked in multiple companies, travelled to multiple countries, have had relationships and their highs and lows, made new friends and lost touch with some old friends, enjoyed the joys of fatherhood and the endless sleepless nights changing diapers. But one thing that has always remained close to the heart is cricket and Sachin. And I don’t think in this age and era I will again be able to give two decades or more of my life to a single sport and a sportsman.