Indian sport entered a new era on Saturday, uncertain if it would ever match the one it left behind as a boy-faced 40-year-old, all of 5ft 5in, left the Test cricket field for the last time, wiping a tear-drop or two.
It was a moment that carried an unparalleled emotional resonance for millions, one when TRP ratings soared and those managing power grids all over the country might have suffered an attack of nerves.
If it had been impossible to imagine Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar as a former Indian cricketer, then the moment finally gave us the chance to stop trying to do so. For the impossible suddenly became real.
It was also a moment when what Tendulkar couldn’t do in the last two seasons — live up to his status as an all-conquering hero — became much less relevant than what he astonishingly pulled off at 16, and sustained for what seemed an eternity.
Even in our age of presentism, this is a past chapter that will never be forgotten.
In an emotional speech, Tendulkar thanked a lot of people. But at that very moment, tens of millions of cricket fans in a nation of 1.2 billion had only one man to thank — simply for making them believe, over 24 years, that India and Indians can match the very best in the world.
Bonding with teammates
It will sadden him if we say the game will not be the same anymore. Tendulkar would like us to believe that the game will miss him but transcend new frontiers as young stars emerge. The joy on his face as Rohit Sharma reached his century on Friday only reaffirmed the bonding that he has forged with his teammates.
No doubt, we will pine for this man walking in at No. 4. The slow, measured gait, bat tucked under his arm, a quick glance at the sky, and a picture of confidence and poise at the crease.
The leg stump guard, followed by a quick and minute scrutiny of the field, and he would settle into his stance — but not before a half squat and a quick adjustment of the box. The front-foot movement, aggressive or defensive, was a signal that the master craftsman had begun his work.
A symbol of correct batsmanship, Tendulkar set new benchmarks at various stages of his career. He could score a double century without playing a cover drive. He could plan an innings by just deciding to middle every ball and achieve the distinction.
It felt good when things fell in place when he was concentrating this way. And he was a champion at reading the mind of the bowler and anticipating the rival captain’s moves.
Nothing pleased him more than running his partner’s single or two, if need be shielding him from a particular individual, accepting the burden of taking on the best bowler of the day.
A private person, he was also expressive, demonstrative, competitive and indefatigable on the field. The opposition may have needed five to win with five wickets in hand, but Tendulkar would motivate the bowler with some tactical input or other from mid-on or mid-off; or sometimes run from slip or point, holding up the game, but inspiring everyone with his optimism and positive energy. The bowlers loved it too.
The ‘Sachiiin, Sachiiin’ chants may be a thing of the past but it will hurt the maestro if fans shed tears at his departure. This is a moment to celebrate one of the greatest chapters in the history of Indian sport.