It seems like it was only yesterday: a bubby 20-year-old, in the thick of action, yearning for a role in every act on the field, even as a packed Eden Gardens held its breath, with South Africa needing six to win off the final over.
Mohammad Azharuddin was in the horns of a dilemma. He had the option of using Kapil Dev or the wily Manoj Prabhakar. Wicketkeeper Vijay Yadav whispered into his ears, and Azharuddin looked towards Sachin Tendulkar, who jumped to grab the chance, having eagerly lurked around the group that held the discussion on the pitch.
So, Tendulkar it was to be. And, winner he emerged, the Eden a joyful theatre of wild celebrations as India squeezed home by two runs in the Hero Cup semifinal.
In the course of that over, he bowled leg-spin, off-spin, medium-pace, varied his line and innovated with length, tying up Fanie de Villiers, Brian McMillan and Allan Donald in knots.
It was an over that earned Tendulkar cult status in Kolkata. He made an entry into the collective consciousness of a nation with a reputation that grew with time and made him one of the most revered sportsmen in the country, especially in these parts.
Of course, Sourav Ganguly, the uncrowned prince of this City of Joy, remained a step ahead in terms of mass appeal, but every opportunity that brought him to Kolkata was special for Tendulkar.
On the eve of his 199th Test here, Tendulkar occupies every nook and corner of the city, looms large over at every maat (playfield) and para (neighbourhood), is the centre of most discussions, and was the most awaited member of the Indian team, which assembled here on Monday.
Tableaus depicting his career in various poses pan the city; his posters adorn drawing rooms and streets, and the Eden Gardens is a huge display hall of his portraits.
This is the best time to be in Kolkata. The festive season has cast a pleasant aura, supplementing the buzz around Tendulkar’s farewell. There is optimism in the air, a sense of belief that he is a distinguished son of soil returning home. Tendulkar feels it. Kolkata feels it too!
That lovely night, when Tendulkar bowled India to victory, was a blissful moment to be at the Eden. As the floodlit dimmed, the stadium glowed in flaming torches, almost every spectator holding aloft the token of his appreciation. That was 1993.The bubbly young man has since grown into a senior statesman of world cricket, now on the verge of departing from the game that he has come to dominate and signify.
Two Test centuries from 12 matches, and one in 13 ODIs at the Eden is not quite Tendulkar-like. Middle stump pegged back, first ball from Shoaib Akhtar in a 1999 Test is certainly not Tendulkar-like either.
There have been aesthetically pleasing moments, and some dreadful ones too.
As much as they love their Sourav, Sachin Tendulkar is also ‘apon jon’ (one of ours).