So this is how it is going to end, with a bang or a whimper — in his own backyard, against a team that has long since lost its sheen as Test cricket’s greatest. Not in Johannesburg against the mighty South Africans, with Dale Steyn steaming in and the spectators on their feet, ignoring the cold-to-warming beer. No MCG or Lord’s for his last Test and the most famous farewell in sport this side of Don Bradman.
Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar will pad up for the last time in a few weeks’ time, in mid-November, for a Test match against the West Indies and, from that moment, sport in India — not just cricket — will be divided into two distinct eras: Before Tendulkar, After Tendulkar.
For, what came in between — the Sachin era — is at once unique and a passage of time that, for a variety of reasons, may never be matched in Indian sport.
Every genius has his own style of leave taking. Some do it in their peak with a self-satisfied I-told-you-so grin, hardly concealed; others simply fade away almost unnoticed.
But Sachin is not every genius. There has never been anybody like him in Indian cricket. There is unlikely to be anybody like him after his departure. In the event, he has to do it his way.
No other Indian sportsman ever managed to bat, bowl, serve, spike, box, kick, volley his way into the hearts of so many of us — seven billion plus, right? — but as a cricketer par excellence Sachin has done precisely that and you cannot even be sure that this is just another sporting farewell.
If sport is culturally mediated, then one man — five-foot-something, with a squeaky voice, without a single blot on his character in three decades despite the intense scrutiny — managed to bring about the sort of cultural revolution that only the great Don had matched in the past, during the Depression Era in the 1920s and well beyond.
He redefined the possible, and the impossible
This is precisely why the Sachin persona spreads its wings way beyond the cricketing arena. As a sportsman, he has redefined the possible, and the impossible. And, as awed men, women and children, whose only claim to a brush with greatness is a passport with the same validating stamp, we are forever obliged to him for helping raise our stock in lands many of us have never travelled to.
“Sachin, Sachin, Sachin,” said the teenager who was trailing two sports journalists in a cold wind-swept street in Seogwipo, the capital city of a tiny island, a volcanic outcrop, not too far from the feet of South Korea, in 1999. We were there to cover a Davis Cup tennis match. But the youngster knew us as men from Sachin’s country.
Rewind a few years to Sydney. It is always a risk to walk into a pub near closing time in Australia’s commercial capital. But a friend and I were rather bemused with this greeting one memorable summer night in the mid-1990s at the beachfront.
“You from India?” There was only the voice. The person it belonged to seemed almost comatose. Then we smiled. And the old man was urgently awake. “Give me your hand,” he said, having grabbed it even before that sentence was complete. “Gandhi, Tendulkar, chicken tikka masala, great country. I want to go there,” he blurted.
Sometimes, somewhere, some people get the ranking order wrong. But Sachin is always right up there. And he will be, even in his absence.
The only problem is, we have lost a popular yardstick. We, as Indians, were as good, or bad, as Sachin was. Now we have to try and find a whole new measure by which to evaluate ourselves.
Also, perhaps a new acronym will soon find its way into the Diagnostic Psychiatric Manual (DSM): Post Sachin Stress Disorder.