Finally, You had to call it off. An illustrious career spanning 23 years. Long journey, and you’re tired. Aren’t you? Yeah, I can understand. It had taken a toll on only your body but not on your mind. You still crave to come to the center when India opens to play, have a glance at the field set, drive the ball by a front-foot punch, glimpse of MRF logo on your bat, ball through the rope and we’d be blessed with an insane joy.
No Sachin, Every boundary for us isn’t the same for us. Neither is every century.
463 matches. 452 innings. 18,426 runs. 44.83 average. 86.14 Strike rate. 49 centuries. 96 half-centuries. 62 Man of the match awards. 16 Man of the series awards. 154 Wickets. One life-time. You just got close to infinity with those number. You knew the ‘Infinity’.
When you had made your choice to quit, I had to just give a thought on how this fascination for your game had started. Instead I was stumped to discover the coincidence of events. It wasn’t just fascination for ‘your’ game but it was ‘the’ game. Yes Sachin , it was about the ‘connect’ you had created. How I, for that fact, majority of people around me, connect to a sport called ‘Cricket’ in this country.
Late 90’s. I was learning this ‘Art of reading the scores and analyzing how they affect the events in a cricket match’ when a match is telecasted live on Doordarshan for I had to attend to my Dad’s occasional calls from his workplace and update him with the score. And then he asked me if you were at the crease or not. But why were you so important? I was clueless.
Had to make my course of learning about the game much insightful to assess that ‘Importance’ of yours. What does a ‘Century’ exactly mean? What does a ‘Maiden over’ mean? What’s the difference in a Pace bowling and Spin bowling? What’s a straight drive? What’s a sweep shot? And who the hell is this ‘Night watchman’ in a test match? Does he guard the venue of the match over-night? Silly. But you see, it all started off with you. For you.
Sharjah. 1998. 143 against the Aussies. I didn’t see the match for I wasn’t much acquainted with the schedule of matches back then. I could see a big picture of you on the front page of a newspaper. Never seen a sportsperson on a front page before. I understood you were something momentous in the game.
World Cup 1999. 140 against the Kenyans. I was told that your father had passed away 1 or 2 days prior to that match by the commentator when you lifted your bat for longer than usual to celebrate the hundred. But you still made it. Some sense prevailed in me. Later knew it was called ‘Respect’.
World Cup 2003. 98 against Pakistan. Missed a century? Huh, That innings was more than 10 centuries from you. That upper cut off Akthar’s ball in the second over of the match. I might forget my first crush at school. But not that shot! And not that moment I switched off the television after you got out in the finals. They are etched deep in my memory.
Gwalior. 2009. Double century against the Proteas. A fine weekday afternoon. I remember, I was about to board the train for my journey back to home from college. You just crossed your century, like as many times before, and I had left to the station with my friends. SMS’s were exchanged with your score updates. They were getting more and more frequent by your innings. Heck! No SMS’s. It was a live commentary on the call by few friends when you were in 190’s. And you made it. Such a delightful moment! And I had not caught a glimpse of that live.
I remember I didn’t sleep much that night in that journey. Couldn’t resist to go back home and see that moment you had reached the glorious mark. And I do remember buying every newspaper available in the station the train had halted in the very next morning. That was a minor redemption for the longing I had to see how it happened.
Yes Sachin, You gave me memories. Memories to cherish.
I don’t have much knowledge about the technicalities involved in the course of play, the joy of watching you at the center and the audience erupt to celebrate each big shot of yours was immense. But what was more enchanting is your endurance in the game. 23 years it had been. Marodona to Messi. Sampras to Federer. You still take a go into the field.
You were, and still, an undemonstrative champion. You could do nothing to sully the innocence or dampen the impish bliss. Fame couldn’t take even the slightest toll on your game. To occupy the space where fame and achievement intersect, is to take a concentrated spot under a magnifying glass trained under the sun, and remain unburnt. You had maintained the equilibrium. Spick and span.
Like I said earlier, A typical set of question I had heard growing up was like (to put it in my own mother-tongue) “Score entha?” (What’s the score?) , “Sachin unnada?” (Sachin at the crease?).
Didn’t understand why the second question was of such spontaneity and how did it matter. Until I was old enough to understand the faith you had instilled in us by being there at the crease. Did I say ‘Faith’? Oh yeah! When there’s faith, we believe. When there’s belief, it can give way to a religion. And one who had blessed us with the faith. Huh! Sachin, you know we don’t call you ‘God’ for no reason.
And of course, there are people who write you down. Lara or Ponting might be the better contemporaries for them. They just measure you by the mere numbers. But they never knew what it takes to play in the middle when there is one-sixth of this world’s population with their hopes pinned on you. Each behaves as if you owe them a century. The demands are insoluble. No, not even Bradman is experienced in that.
Your centuries were a not auspicious for some time. They weren’t that lucky, it seems. You had got out on 175, leaving the team 12 runs and 10 balls short off the massive target of 351. No, the team couldn’t win it. And they blamed you for not staying till the very end. Never mind, they’d say the same even when you score a triple century in that match. Little did they know that there are ten other guys in the team. On a brighter side, if I were to rephrase their intentions, for them, you are a one-man team.
The problem is everyone got the suggestions pouring in for you. And for the game. Start a match, you have people as audience. End a match on losing note, you have the same passing suggestions as if they were BCCI’s aspiring selection committee chairmen.
And Yes, there are people who pick up numbers from last 10 or 20 innings of the career of some greats and show that they are above par with your last few innings. And hence, deciding that you can walk off the ground. They don’t have sufficient vision to see the breadth of your career.
You didn’t fare well as a captain of the team, a decade ago. You were barricading the inflow of new talent into the team with your position, it seems. Whose place are you obstructing? The same people who had grown up watching you in the game. The same people who had brought the bat into their hands and scored runs, aspiring to fit in your shoes. You failed to inspire a team as a captain? You had inspired a billion. A generation. Inspiration never dies.
There was one article on one popular Indian magazine about a week ago, which had decided that it was your time to leave and further analyzed your prospective replacements with few players. And I was ROFL. Whose replacement are they talking about?!
For all that you had done and set, you had more than earned the right to take a call on when you want to quit. No one ever has the least of prerogative to decide that. What if you are not contributing much for the game now? You aren’t just able to match the very own standards set by you. Time had taken the toll ultimately, not before you had made it stand frozen in front of you for a long while.
Hockey didn’t define Dhyan Chand. It was the other way round. Same with you. For me, you’ve been bigger than the game itself. Period.
And there you leave us with a little note that you wouldn’t be donning that blue number ’10’ jersey again. That’ll hurt us. And we know it does more to you. You didn’t let us know that the ODI way back in March against Pakistan was your last. Sachin, this hurt us even more. I’m glad that you didn’t call off from all formats. There is the classic test cricket left. We do understand that wouldn’t last long with you *Secretly hopes you’ll prove us wrong*. Please don’t let us down again by not telling what’d be your last. Please.
I wouldn’t say I’d quit watching one-days from now. You had retreated in gradual fashion off this game, which I must be very much thankful. Gave some time, not enough though, to sync with it. But the game isn’t gonna be the same without you. I’ll miss the chants in the stadium. I’ll miss your exquisite shots. I’ll miss the roars of audience when you score a century. I’ll miss you.
It’s been a privilege growing up watching you play. Thank you, Sachin.
P.S. ‘The man who knew infinity’ is actually the title of biography of the renowned Indian mathematician, Sreenivasa Ramanujan.