The office had moved. A new TV had been installed. This was two months ago. The TV was a prop, essentially. No one turned it on. Ever. There was no set top box attached to it. Neither was there a PS3 or and Xbox or a blu-ray player. Like I said, it was a prop. What a waste, I often thought when I walked past, for, to get to my seat from the entrance, I always needed to pass that central bay that housed the TV.
And then there was two weeks ago. The Tata Sky HD box appeared, as if right on cue. I wondered why. The West Indies test series – the one that I was vehemently in denial over – was to begin the next day. ‘Ha!’, I remarked, to myself. What a farce.
I was opposed to this series. I do not know what I am using the past tense here. I still am opposed to this series. Actually, I am not so sure now. When this series was announced, I genuinely was pissed off. Not so much that there was this dummy-obligatory-Sri-Lanka-esque series that was being held but more that the South Africa series – one that I had, after a very long time – actually been looking forward to, was being shortened.
I, as I am sure countless others, was really looking forward to seeing how this new Indian team actually handled themselves when properly tested. Bah! At any rate, I was not really ticked off by fact that this whole new series was being created so that Sachin could play his 200th in Mumbai. That was alright. After all, he deserves that much, at least.
What really really irked me was that he announced his retirement close on the heels of the announcement of this series. Now, this was pathetic. It really was. No, not because this whole farce of a series was being scheduled to commemorate him but because my only thought was that he was, surely, beyond this. Wasn’t he? Sigh.
I was angrier that he opted to play these two tests. Let me make one thing clear – I still think Sachin can cut it in South Africa. I still think Sachin is needed. Just his presence makes a difference. It really does. So when this is the case, I was so god damn angry that he decided to retire after Mumbai. I mean, this was, almost admission of the fact that he was not good enough. Really? Sachin, you’re not good enough? Your body has really had that much that you cannot play two tests in South Africa? I refuse to believe that.
That is the reason that I believe that this retirement and all the hoopla that surrounds it is not his choice. I think that it is being forced onto him. I really do. Yes, he has not been the Sachin of old and maybe he should’ve retired a while ago but this, surely, is not right. No, not in my eyes.
So all this being said, I decided to ignore all before me. As far as I was concerned, this test series was like the moon landing. It never happened. I did not read any tribute. I had the Cricinfo Sachin page open as a tab for two weeks but did not once read anything in it. Why did I not just close the tab then? Honestly, how could I?
The party rolled in to Kolkata. India bowled. Predictably, West Indies failed miserably. India began batting. A couple of wickets fell. Sachin came in to bat. I wanted to watch. No, I did not. Yes, I did. I’m fickle that way. In any case, I did not. Not even a replay. I heard that the LBW decision was a dodgy one. I did not care. Or so I thought. I watched one stray replay of that LBW – in real time, not in slo-mo – on a news channel. I knew that it was not out. I did not care. Only, not.
The only two moments I witnessed of that entire first test were Rohit Sharma bringing up his century and then Ashwin bringing up his. India would win. Of that, I had no doubt. Hence, I did not care. I learnt from somewhere that they were planning all sorts of things with 199. Someone told me that it was 199 million rose petals or something of the sort. I knew that that would never happen but this is India and in India, and when it comes to going over the top, one cannot discount anything. Ever. (Later on, I learnt that the plan was some 199 kg of rose petals which, if still absurd, was a lot more plausible.)
And so the lull in between the two tests. We now, of course, had two extra days of ‘Sachiiiiiiiiiin…… Sachin’ and the whatnot to bear on TV. To compound that, there was no football either, so nothing else on TV. I really did not want to watch any of those tributes and stories and histories. I really did not. Bloody hell, man! Why should I? Inevitably, however, I did end up watching a stroke when flipping through the channels. Of course, when I was on channel 202 on Tata Sky, surely, I could comfortably skip past 403,404,405,406,413 and the whatnot that showed the Sachin shows. Of course, I could just keep pressing the right arrow for when I did, I would still remain on 202 but would know precisely what was coming on the other channels and hence could avoid ‘inadvertently’ watching those shows. And yet, I ended up putting on one of those shows. For no more than a couple of seconds. But those couple of seconds would yield one stroke. Just the one. I could bear to watch no more. I scanned the other channels for anything else. There was nothing else that I wanted to watch. I still would not let myself tune into those channels. I’d rather switch the TV off. I did.
The second test approached. There were even fewer tickets for the public in Mumbai that in Kolkata. This was another of my several reasons for hating the very idea of this series. I was determined to boycott the test. This was just wrong. And then the test became ever closer. The tab still lay open. Chrome installed some update. The browser restarted. With it, refreshed all the tabs. The Cricinfo20 tab that lay dormant was now updated. I had to steal a glance. I did. I saw the range on the page. I read the Osman piece on Tendulkar vs Pakistan. Secretly, I outraged. I read another couple. Something stirred. I was embarrassed with myself. I was a hypocrite. No question, now. The strange thing, however, is that I simply did not care any longer. I am a hypocrite. So be it.
And so, it slowly dawned. Sachin was really going. That part of me, that non-hypocritical one, still asked the most fundamental of questions – so what? And so, the test started. Dhoni won the toss. He chose to bowl. Good. Or not. I did not care. The West Indies started well. That was good. I always have had a soft spot for them. I really hoped that they put up a fight. It looked like they would. And then the inevitable happened. They collapsed. I walked by the TV on my way to pick up some coffee. The only ball I saw of that West Indies innings was the second ball that Sammy faced. That was enough to disgust me no end. Walk away.
And then India started batting. Vijay and Dhawan were going along quite well. I saw one straight drive that Dhawan played. It went straight to the fielder but it was a thing of beauty. He then punched one brilliantly through the covers. Vijay then came on strike. A couple of outstanding shots. Good. The pair would bat through the day, I hoped and went back to my seat. Even the Cricinfo match tab that is usually open was closed. I had no access to the score. I couldn’t care less.
There was, suddenly, this noise building up next to the TV. Maybe one of these chaps had reached a fifty. No. it was not that. It was not a noise of applause. It was not one of appreciation. There was something else in the air. It was anticipation. I quickly opened the Cricinfo tab. It said that India were two down. Sachin was heading down the stairs. I rose from the chair. I sat down again. These moments, literally, were excruciating. Sachin. Mumbai. One last time. Me. Hypocrisy. The sham of the series. My pride. All those pent up feelings. I could not let myself down. Sachin. One last time. Mumbai. Adidas. MRF. Power. Whites. Helmet. Crotch adjustment. Looking up at the sun.
I was in front of the television. There are some things that are bigger than you or your ego. Sachin is one of them. I looked around. There was a smile on so many faces. I looked at the TV. He was taking guard. They cut to the guard of honour that the Windies had formed. What was that feeling inside? Emotion? Sentiment? No. Pride. Yes, that’s what it was. How was it that I could take any pride in his success, I wondered later on, on reflection. I did not have an answer. I still don’t. however, I did take pride. Immense pride.
I looked at the scene. There were, perhaps, 50 people there. There were 3 chairs, only one occupied. All the others had just come to watch Sachin bat for a ball, maybe an over. And then they had to get back. After all, the world does not really stop for Sachin, although, briefly, it did. So there was no one on those chairs. In retrospect, more of the standing, I think, was the tension. I believe that people could not bear to sit. I know that I could not. And then there was that first ball.
A wild slog. Under edge. A single. No duck. A huge sigh of relief. I could feel the tension lifting all around me. As for me, no. I did not breathe a sigh of relief. I smiled. I knew what that was. It was a release. It was evident. The first one was out of the way. It was a signal. This was not going to be a builder’s innings. This was going to be an innings that was Sachin’s alone. It was for Sachin. This was an innings that was less for the country and more for him. It was for everyone who ever mattered to him. It was for everyone who did not matter to him. It was an innings. That’s all it was.
He was off the mark. People started going back to work. I did not really have work to do but then the righteous self that was still a small part of me wanted me to go for I could, maybe, still claim some moral high ground later on. I decided to watch for a few balls. I still stood. I stood more in fear of sitting for, sitting would mean not getting up; not until Sachin got out. So I stood.
And so I watched. Nine sedate balls. And then the tenth. Shillingford bowls. Off the pads. No chance. Tendulkar takes guard again. Short. Back foot. Point. Four. This was excruciating. Last ball of the over. Pitched up. Driven past mid off. Four. I sat down.
Then Gabriel bowled. Sachin leant into it. Cover drive. Four. South Africa popped into the head. India were 36 for 5. Or so I think. It was Azhar and it was Tendulkar. It was Donald and then it was Pollock. Or so I think. I usually am above average at remembering these things but maybe I’m just growing old. I do remember a Tendulkar century. I remember a cover drive that was an echo of this shot. I don’t remember how much Azhar got that day; I don’t remember how much Sachin got. I don’t remember how much he struggled. I don’t remember when he played that cover drive. I don’t even remember if it was the same one. However, the cover drive brought back memories. It just did.
Sedateness. Singles. Dots. More singles. Samuels fires it in. Down the leg side. It is helped on by that oh so deft turn of the writs, the bat and the whole being. Fine leg. Four. A lap sweep. That’s what came into the head. Not one. The many. I could not remember the bowler or the opposition. All I remembered were all those sweeps.
Another punch through point. Another four. More memories. Bowlers of much more calibre – not offence meant to Samuels – being dispatched. Simply. With the minimum of fuss. Rocking back onto the back foot and the ball sailing past point. Sydney. The lack of the cover drive. Contrapuntal.
And then it came. It had to. Sammy bowled. A poor delivery. An immaculate on drive. Sharjah. Desert storm. Only, not. Captain’s trophy. That’s what. Captain’s trophy was Jaga’s invention. A two wicket tournament that pitted the captains of countries against each other in a world cup format. Each captain was, of course, given two chances. India’s captain at the time was Ganguly. Only, in Jaga’s book, and in mine, it was Sachin. It always was. Captain’s trophy was the T20 of book cricket, so to speak.
Jaga was the most amazing cricket fan that I knew at the time. Age has mellowed him but I do not have a greater cricketing friend than him. He had this cricket book. In fact, he had many. Every game of every tournament was neatly detailed. Whole hosts of cricket world cups were played. Every game had a page of its own. The page was neatly divided down the middle. We used small notebooks, for the sole reason that carrying a 15cm ruler was much less cumbersome than a 30cm one. Each side had the opposing squads. All the names, including the initials (for the space crunch meant that the whole name could not be fit) and then empty space next to them to write down the score. Only once all this was done did the game really start.
Captain’s trophy had only the captains competing but it was properly and meticulously detailed. Sachin was the only one who could captain India. Of course all sense of fairness and propriety went out of the window. It had to be Sachin. It just had to be. And so, I shamelessly copied Jaga and played captain’s trophy after captain’s trophy. And I shamelessly cheated when Sachin got out. Those of you familiar with book cricket will know that if a page open was such that a page came loose in your hand, it did not count (we even counted them as no-balls and awarded runs, well it is a batsman’s game, what?) and, more importantly, a batsman would not be out if that happened on a ‘0’ page. I do not know how but Sachin had the uncanny knack of getting out off no-balls. More than any other batsman. I wonder if I had anything to do with that. On second thought, perhaps not. Of course I believe that. Ha!
That one on-drive reminded me of that one on-drive took me back to class 5 and class 6. Of all those atrocities committed in his name. When it came to Sachin, fair play did not exist. In my book. Literally. I even remember how, when playing India games, if a wicket fell and Sachin came in (he was always at 2 down for me for the fear of him getting out too soon and the team losing morale as a result) and the resulting page open resulted in a ‘0’, Sachin would be neatly side stepped and the next batsman would have a 0 nicely written against his name. Sachin, it was said, came in at three down in that game. I really wish Jaga has one of his many many cricket books with him. It really would make for interesting reading. Unfortunately, I do not have a single one of mine. Sigh.
Stumps. 38 not out. I waited until he was safely back in the dressing room lest someone run him out or do something of the sort. Of course that is not possible for the rules of the game don’t allow it but this was the last innings. One could not afford not to be too careful.
The next day’s play started. I was in office early. This time, I took my seat. I was, however, full of dread. We have the daily call with the person on-site at 10 AM. Sachin survived a couple of overs. When I say survived, I mean negotiated with relative ease. This was not going well. I was going to miss the action. And then whatsapp – god bless that! Tanay, the chap who is at the client’s end and with who we have the call everyday pinged me. ‘Let’s have the call at lunch. Or after Sachin is out.’ God bless Tanay.
And so it continued. 39 not out. Four. Four. Just like that, 47 not out. Single. Dot. Dot. Something. Didn’t matter. And then, four. Straight drive. Apt. Nothing else. Just apt. everyone around me clapped. I could not. No. I could not allow myself to. My heart, however, did skip a few beats.
And then it continued. Another couple of fours. It was becoming routine. Tino did his Best to try and ruffle Sachin with short ones. He glared at him. Sachin playfully brushed him away. The mind went back. Caddick. That six. Shoaib. That four. McGrath. All those hits. Olonga. Ha! What happened on the field with Tino was nothing. What happened in the mind with history was something else.
And then there was another on-drive. Again, one from the past. Perhaps one for the past. At that time, I did not know it; no one did. It was to be the last.
And then it came. Big stroke. Slip. Gone. Silence. Sammy could scarcely believe what he had done. And just like that, it was over. I wish I could describe the feeling but saying anything at all will be disgracing it. That, ladies and gentlemen, was that.
Everyone on the ground applauded. I could not bring myself to. Upon reflection, I now see myself. Sitting, slumped on that chair, grasping both ends tightly for support. I saw that entire walk all the way into the dressing room. Someone walked into bat. I think it was Virat Kohli. The mind did not really register. It cut to the picture of Sachin condemning himself and practicing that stroke over again.
I looked around me. Some people had left. There were still about 5 people around the TV. They had that look of anticipation on their faces. They were genuinely excited to see Virat bat. They wanted to see Pujara reach a century and then go beyond. They were genuinely looking forward to an Indian cricketing future – a future sans Tendulkar. The times, they are a changing. I got up and walked to my seat. I couldn’t help but think that if I were watching at home, I would’ve switched the TV off. Somethings, I believe, never change.
And so I went back to my desk and sat there. I did not know what to make of it all. I took out my phone and sent a text to Jaga, ‘What happens now, da?’ ‘Don’t know machi. Still dazed… not able to think about what next,’ was the reply.
I’m in a terrible rut. I have not been able to write – even by my very mediocre standards – anything at all for a few months now. A few bits of a 140 characters but even those, few and far between. Jaga has been too. He hasn’t written much over the past couple of years himself. We made a pact. I would write one on Tendulkar. He would write one on Tendulkar. This rather rambling, long-winded and pointless account is my end of the deal. I do hope he fulfils his end of the deal for that will make for some fantastic reading. I promise you that.
I did not watch a single ball of the match after that. India would win, I knew. Tendulkar would not bat again. I knew. I saw the score sporadically on Saturday morning. 5 down. 8 down. All out. India had won. Post match presentation.
Ravi Shastri’s booming voice, ‘… India have won but, more importantly, a great career has come to an end.’ That one line encapsulated all that I found wrong with the series. I was angry once again. I did not care who the god damn man of the match was. I did not care what Dhoni said or what Sammy did. I walked away into the kitchen to look at something that I had left on the stove. And then Shastri announced that Sachin would now talk. All that anger, all that pissed-off-ness was gone. The crowd went beserk and then Sachin started talking. I sat down on the floor. And then I listened; listened as he thanked his father; his mother; his sister; his brothers; his wife; his children. And then the power went off.
Anger. Frustration. Pure and raw emotion. A couple of swear words. The power did not come on. I went back into the kitchen. I was numb. And then the power came back, 15 minutes later. And then Sachin came on the TV. He was still talking. I could not listen. I did not want to. I decided to catch the entire thing online at some point in the future. I still have not watched it.
In retrospect, I think that that speech represented my Sachin; my personal Tendulkar. At first, I watched, riveted to the screen just as I had done as a lad. And then as I grew older, football replaced cricket and I began ignoring cricket (though I always did see Tendulkar bat whenever I could but not with the fervour of yore) and then as the years rolled on and bowlers who had no right to get him out began to do just that, it became too excruciating to watch.
The speech ended. I missed a good deal of it. Sachin was standing there and talking to a motley crew. And then they carried him on that lap of honour. And then he again stood there, all the time guarded by a security detail. And then he shed that detail. He walked. He walked towards that Wankhede pitch. He reached it. I thought that they were showing a replay of him inspecting the pitch before the start of play. He reached that pitch and then he bent down. I still thought it was a shot of how committed he was until his last day. And then he touched the crease and then got back up again, doing a ritual reserved for a temple. A lump formed in the throat. That, was it. That, right there, that little gesture, was, is, and will always be Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. Cricketer.
In about 70 years time, in a post apocalyptical world, long after the Earth and all Earthlings are long gone, an alien race will, by some chance, happen to land on Earth. They will scan the planet for signs of life. They will find none. They will, by chance, stumble upon a computer terminal. Miraculously, that terminal will be connected to what we know today as the internet. In that terminal, the Google homepage will be open. The cursor will be on ‘I’m feeling Lucky.’ The alien clicks on that cursor. A page of google results (all 4 billion pages) of Sachin will be thrown up. The aliens carefully read every one of those pages.
They read about his batsmanship – not that they understand what that is – , his humility, his grace, his elegance and how he gave hope to an entire country, an entire race, and how he became more than just a human being, how he became a demi-god and then a God.
They read all this and then they come to the inescapable conclusion – Sachin Tendulkar is an urban myth. It was a myth that was concocted by the oppressed world to give it hope. No one, they – the aliens – believe could be this good. No one man could mean this much to these many. It simply is impossible. It was a myth. It had to be. The aliens leave. In denial. Many of us live today. In denial.
Elvis might have left the building. Sachin has not. I don’t think he ever will.