Time and again I have tried writing about the great man but have fallen short due to my lack of words to express what he means to me and millions of cricket fans around the world. I have many incomplete documents which I have never shared with anyone because they just seemed inadequate. But today I want to write and just continue writing….
It all started in 2002-2003. Until then I had only heard about cricket and the name Sachin Tendulkar meant very little to me but as soon as I moved to India, cricket was everywhere and I got hooked. India’s poor performance in the India-New Zealand series was soon followed by the 2003 world cup. I remember the initial matches vs Holland and Australia not going according to expectations and everyone was predicting that we would not go too far in the tournament but Sachin had other ideas. It started with his 80 odd vs Zimbabwe, labelled by Harsha Bhogle as the most important innings of the tournament, then came the big knock vs Namibia and a 50 against England. The uppercut that followed in the match vs Pakistan is etched in the memories of every Indian. The tournament went on, the man continued to score, and I had fallen in love with him and the sport. In the days and months that followed, my school bus used to leave me just outside the apartment complex I lived in, around 2:25pm, and I used to sprint 600-700meters with my bag, under the scorching summer of Delhi, because I did not want to miss the first ball of the matches which began at 2:30pm. It had become an addiction. One that would last for the next decade.
India’s tour to Australia at the end of 2003 was epic by all means. The matches used to start around 5:30am during my winter vacations. I did not have a phone or an alarm clock. I did not need one. I was just 11 years old but waking up early morning to watch the matches was just natural. That series brings back many memories. Sourav’s 144 in Brisbane, Dravid’s and Agarkar’s match winning contributions in Adelaide and the famous 241* by Sachin in Sydney to return to form. Soon after we were in Pakistan for the ‘Friendship series’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0uI3Tlll4OI) that would be remembered for many years to come. Sachin played one of his best ODI innings (140 odd) chasing 330 albeit in a losing cause. The next day on my school bus my seniors were discussing the match. One of the girls said something along the lines of “Sachin should not open. He should bat at no. 10 or 11 because after he gets out India does not have anyone to finish the match.”. That comment still makes me laugh when I think of it.
The love, passion and knowledge of the game continued to escalate over time. When my dad told me that we had been posted to Beijing in 2005, I was disappointed. All I knew about the place was that China does not have anything to do with cricket. But as it turns out, I learnt about online streaming sites and some of my favorite cricket playing days came in China. During those days, Greg Chappell happened and Ganguly was dropped from the team. Someone else captaining the team was unimaginable. Dada was the fighter, he had brought the Indian team so much success that it was impossible to imagine cricket without him. My support for the team dwindled during those days. I supported the opposition at times and I used to hope Ganguly’s replacement (often Raina) would fail miserably. On the other hand, Sachin was struggling with his tennis elbow injury and poor form as a result. The knives were out for the first time: “Sachin is too old”, “He should retire and let someone else take his place” and “He is well past his prime”. It made me angry. Perhaps because I had only started watching cricket. It had only been a few years. I argued with friends and critics online. Soon, Ganguly fought back into the team and became an even more consistent batsman. Sachin though was still struggling by his standards.
The 2007 world cup was a disappointment but what followed was shocking. Paani sar se ooncha ho gaya hai…paani sar se ooncha ho gaya hai….those words in Sachin’s squeaky voice still resonate in my mind. I was glad he spoke up. I, like many others have often felt that he did not raise his voice enough but it is not his fault. He never wanted to get involved in anything off the field. It was just not him. But those words marked the end of Chappell’s regime and the Ireland/England tour that followed marked the return of Sachin Tendulkar.
I was just watching his 171 vs England A in 2007 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wKQr1YXMbU). That innings and the preceding knocks vs South Africa in a 3-match ODI series in Ireland showed the world that Sachin was not done. The highlights of his 171 on youtube begin with Harsha Bhogle predicting that tour to be his last one in England. Well he has toured once after that in 2011 and will be touring again very soon. From 2007 to 2011, on one hand the younger generation was getting hooked to Dhoni and t20 cricket and on the other hand Sachin was at his best once again. Ganguly and Kumble left the game on a high but Sachin continued to roar. His last day match winning 100 vs England, 163* vs New Zealand, 175 vs Australia, 200 vs South Africa all came during that period. I remember on the day he scored his 175, one of the aunties in Helsinki wanted me to go look for her 7-8 year old son near the school as she could not find him. I had to oblige but I was running around while looking for him. Not because I was worried for him but because I wanted to go back and witness the magical innings taking place. The stream was also giving me issues on that day but I have seen the highlights of that innings so many times that I do not feel like I missed it at all. More sensible batting by Jadeja and PK would have taken India to a victory but all the critics notice is that it was another hundred in a losing cause. They wanted him to score 200 chasing 350. Others were expected to just watch him bat. It was all his fault. Always is. The expectations refuse to die down.
It is very rare that I miss a cricket match in which Sachin is playing but I did miss the 200. I had gone for shopping with my family. My friend kept me updated through texts. When I came back home I found out that Cricinfo servers could not handle the traffic that day. It was a remarkable feat at the age of 37. He just continued to score and the team still looked at him for inspiration. The opposition still wanted his wicket desperately. Nothing had changed. And then it was time for one last shot at the most prestigious ODI tournament – the cricket world cup.
I always admit that Sachin might have some competition in test match cricket by the likes of Dravid, Lara, Ponting and Kallis but he was the king in ODI cricket. The greatest by a long long way. The stats speak for themselves. Hence, it was only apt that he got a hold of the ODI world cup. The team did it for Sachin. Virat Kohli’s words after the match will be remembered for many years to come. The team carried him around. I sat in a lab at Texas A&M with friends watching the moments unfold on the projector. The tears in the eyes of Sachin and others showed how much it meant for them. Despite having stayed up the whole night watching the final, I did not feel like sleeping after that. I knew it would not feel the same after waking up. I was in a different world altogether. After 2007 I had bet with a few that he would play the 2011 world cup and lift the trophy at Wankhede. His dream had come true. Our dream had come true.
Since then he has gone on to play another few great knocks but 2012 was a struggle. Laxman and Dravid retired and it became very difficult for me to watch test match cricket. Then on Dec. 23rd, 2012, my birthday, Sachin called it quits from the ODI format. It was an unexpected news but I knew he was the right one to make the call. He still wanted to play the longer format and everyone respected his decision.
Tomorrow it is going to be the last time we see Sachin and Dravid playing a match in a blue jersey. I have always been a bigger fan of Sachin but this will be the last time we see Dravid playing competitive cricket. I do not know who to support. I want them both to play a couple of their trademark shots at the very least. Dravid flicking the ball through midwicket or playing the perfect cover drive. Sachin playing his favorite backfoot drive or a straight drive past the bowler. WOW. I am excited. But I also fear that either one of their innings could end with an ugly slog looking to accelerate and live up to the demands of the shortest format. I hope not. I hope they get out to a beauty by the bowler and not to an ugly swipe across the line. Or rather I hope they stay not out and give their best t20 performance ever. Its possible. They are legends of the game.
The word count shows 1500+ already but I don’t know what I have written. I am not going to proofread because I know its just not good enough. I am unable to describe Sachin without flashbacks of his best innings and what I was doing at that time. I am always short of words. I don’t even know if this was about Sachin. I just wanted to write about cricket and what it means to me. I am often told that I do not love the sport but just the players. I don’t understand. How can one love the sport without the players? How can the sport even come before the players? The sport does not play itself. The players are the ones playing and leaving us with memories. When I think of a straight drive, I imagine Sachin playing one off Brett Lee. When I think of a match winning six, its Dhoni’s 2011 world cup hit. Players come first for me. Yes my support for the game is not the same. I fell in love with a team that had the following individuals: Sourav, Sachin, Sehwag, Dravid, Laxman, Kumble, Harbhajan, Yuvraj, Kaif, Zaheer, Nehra, Agarkar etc. All my memories of cricket are associated with them. Some are still around trying to fight their way back into the team. I will follow them closely and hope the best for them but to expect me to watch the newer guys with the same intensity is just foolish. I do not believe those who say they do. They might feel like they do but would anyone want to watch a Rohit Sharma playing the Australian quicks in Adelaide over Rahul Dravid? I don’t think so.
Tomorrow when I wake up the match will start with either Dravid at the strikers end or Sachin at the non-strikers end. I will watch the match as a neutral and try to savor all the memories. Best of luck to both of them. Play well. You have made us proud and will always bring a smile to our faces.