Many cricket fans would say that the Maya calendar was not wrong after all. It just missed the mark by two days. Instead of 21st December, 2012, the world ended on 23rd, as Sachin Tendulkar quit One Day cricket.
Called the most complete batsman of the era, he quit as the highest run getter in the 50-over format, by miles. The domination can be estimated by the fact that next three in the highest runs list have already retired and the one nearest to him and still playing has scored not even two thirds of the runs yet. Some sport stats remain etched in memory for long. Like Don Bradman’s average of 99.94, the run total of 18,426, 49 centuries and 23-long playing years will continue to amaze sport fans. Yet, sport is not about mere statistics.
Yours truly recalls an incident that probably defines Tendulkar. A friend was so charmed by Sachin’s charisma that he wanted to play cricket, in one of the intra-college matches. The first ball he faced, he tried to paddle sweep, à la Tendulkar, and was clean bowled. Upon his return, he confided, “Having seen Sachin play the shot, I thought it was easy.”
It was not. That’s Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar for you. His contribution has not been in making mountain out of molehills. Rather, he made difficult things – almost impossible ones – look easy to accomplish, as long as he had willow in hand. And the generation who grew up in 90s – us, the mortals – learnt that even small beings could achieve greatness.
Born in a region that follows cricket as a religion, he became God. And asking too much from him came natural to us. I’d ask myself if he was a human, as we yearned for a century every time took to the crease. When he scored 1, some of us said, ’99 more required’. Call it demanding? Maybe not… Maybe it was followers, asking God for a blessing. There were times when I’d switch off TV, to avoid seeing him getting out. Pain it was, to see the man who brought joy to millions, depart. As if the world had ended. Tuning in TV at late hours to watch the highlights, just to re-live the pleasure of his century was common, no matter if you had board exams staring at you or your dad demanding lights off on time. It was about one more minute, one more shot. Even when the ton was completed, you’d want to see one more straight drive from him. If not that, maybe a cover drive, or a late cut, or upper cut, even a paddle sweep would do.
It wasn’t necessarily about runs that he scored. It was about the joy he brought us while scoring through those exquisite shots. Believers in Hinduism often chant ‘Aham Brahmasmi’. The Sanskrit sutra, which translated into English means ‘the core of my being is the ultimate reality, the root and ground of the universe, the source of all that exists’. Meaning I am God. It was visible when he batted. A meek voice, short in height, just like us… It was as if you were Tendulkar. He represented you facing all those tall and stocky bowlers bowling at 150 kmph. It was a common man – the small beings – with self effacing modesty facing the brutal onslaught. And for that he did not need anything else. No big talk, no promises made, no show-off on the pitch. It was an artist, with willow in hand, making a Leonardo da Vinci. His work was as much craft as an art.
It was the best example of eastern philosophy that has cherished modesty for long. The humility remained while he set about doing unthought-of things, achieving lofty heights, often arrogant by eastern standards. He kept his nerves as everybody around were losing it. An incarnation of stability, as India was a burgeoning economic powerhouse, on the path of progress. Progress that brought in arrogance in the entire populace. Arrogance that started demeaning others around them.
But here, Tendulkar stood like a beacon, as world cricket started seeing more and more loud, rowdy boys taking to the field, wearing Indian flannel. To us, people residing miles away, across the border, it was soothing sight. The news of India encroaching border was associated to every Indian sans Sachin. Even some of our relatives living across the border had to face our rant, but SRT was spared. Not everything about India had to be despised.
A man without a country? Maybe yes, as he continued being worshipped by India and revered by Australians, at the same time adored by West Indians and loved by Sri Lankans. Great men do not belong to a country; their greatness cannot be subjected to territorial rights. And Nepal? Well, we always loved the shy, introverts, the ones not making political speeches. Boisterous, loud players never interested us.
You’re often asked of your favorite Tendulkar moment. It’s difficult to pick, for memories come like a fast train, making a lot of noise as it arrives in hordes, and leaves you drained. However, an image will stay on in mind, forever. During 1999 Cricket World Cup, his father passed away. He came back home from England, for the last rites. He could’ve stayed, but his family urged him to go back and play. He played against Kenya, scored 140, off 101 deliveries. He stared at the sky, commitment and integrity written all over his face… The gaze was longer and harder than ever, as if trying to find his father up above. It wasn’t satisfaction of scoring a century. The God was paying tribute to the God he believed in.
And now, he’s retired from the format that he owned. For the small beings – the ‘us’ – cricket, and the emotions attached with it, is as good as over. With Sachin Tendulkar not on pitch, cricket may not remain ‘the gentlemen’s game’ anymore. The gentlemen’s reign is just over. The boisterous, noisy cricketers may take over now.
Let me pack my bags and retire, from watching One Dayers. For, cricket would not be the same anymore…
PS: The write-up appeared in yours truly’s weekly column in The Kathmandu Post – OFFSIDE – on 29th December, 2012