And the journey ends. A journey that began 24 years ago on a chilly morning in Karachi came to a halt on a balmy, hot afternoon in Mumbai as thousands thronged the Wankhede Stadium, stayed glued to TV sets and tried hard not to drop a tear. After captivating the imagination of an entire nation for the quarter of a century, through at least one major war, two serious attacks that threatened bloody wars with a neighboring country, several scams and an economic upheaval, the journey of former India cricketer Sachin Tendulkar has come to an end.
Former India cricketer? Tendulkar? That does not sound right. For millions of fans across India, it might take some time for reality to sink in. Tendulkar is done with cricket, he will never hold another bat for India, never add to any of his 100 international centuries, never again will that short, stocky man take his position at mid-on, never again will India hold its breath at the fall of the second wicket in a Test match. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar has walked into the sunset.
And it was a farewell fit for a Master. After his shocking announcement last month, associations, fans and the like swung into action. Kolkata, like it was wont to, went overboard with music albums, wax statues, balloons and promises of a full-house. The Eden Gardens was deprived by an umpire not paying enough attention to everything that was going around him. Done for 10. But Tendulkar’s script was always written in the heavens.
Back in Mumbai, where Tendulkar started his glorious career in its maidans, the atmosphere was festive, if not as frenetic down east. The Wankhede was decked up for its favourite son and its occupants were ready to take on anyone who threatened his stay in the middle. Tino Best tried to unsettle Tendulkar and he got it right back from the packed stands. Don’t mess with him, not here, not now.
Tendulkar’s vintage innings brought back memories of old. The cover drives, those straight drives and the punch square of the wicket were reminiscent of the same young man, who had ripped apart hostile attacks in England and Australia years ago. What more could the Mumbai crowd ask for. Apparently not more, for his 74 had satiated their appetite even as two other young batsmen scored scintillating tons and India bulldozed a hapless West Indian team, who had it seemed merely turned out to facilitate a grand farewell for the most popular Indian on the planet.
Administrators, politicians, movie stars made the most of the opportunity. They all basked in Tendulkar’s glory. But the best was reserved by his own team, his extended family. After the last West Indian wicket fell, MS Dhoni ordered a guard-of-honour on either side of the pitch as the only man to play 200 Test matches walked off with tears in his eyes.
The post-match presentations were a mere formality. Pragyan Ojha was not applauded for his ten-wicket haul or his Man-of-the-Match award but for his gesture towards Tendulkar. “I dedicate this award to Sachin,” and Wankhede suddenly woke up. Rohit Sharma (Player of the Series), Darren Sammy and Dhoni went through the motions before Tendulkar was asked to address the crowd after receiving a plethora of awards.
Never before has the man been known to speak so well, never been has he been so articulate. An emotional Tendulkar thanked his family and drew a resounding applause at the mention of his brother Ajit, who had the foresight to take him to Ramakant Achrekar almost three decades back. Several teammates were thanked but his three closest friends in the Indian team, two of them former captains, got special mention after they came up on the giant screen. Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman looking on as Tendulkar bid adieu. A sight to behold.
The best was reserved for the wife, who hid behind dark shades. “I have had the best partnership with you,” said Tendulkar as Anjali dabbed her wet eyes with a piece of tissue. The cameras panned around the ground and she was not the only one. There were others who had joined in as they saw another side to the greatest batsman to have played the game since Bradman. Tendulkar the father, the son, the husband, the brother and Tendulkar, the common man who had dared to dream big. It was all too overwhelming for his legion of loyal followers.
A lap of honour around the ground followed soon, after the perimeter was secured by high-ranking police officials. Much like they had after the World Cup two years back, Tendulkar’s teammates lifted him up on their shoulders for one last time as the Little Master held aloft the tri-colour to chants of “Sachin, Sachinn.” The final goodbye was taking long but neither the fan nor his hero was in any rush. Time stopped when Tendulkar batted. Time stopped again to let the maestro walk back to the pitch and touch it in reverence before taking final, assured steps back to the change-rooms, never to look back again.