It’s been almost a week now that the greatest cricketer of our times, and arguably of all times, announced that he has decided to hang his boots. This was one of those rare occasions when every single Indian and every single person in the world, who knows this great man, had a strong reaction to the news. Media went berserk showing clippings of the master’s 24 years of illustrious career, right from the time he held his bat in the test match against Pakistan. Times of India dedicated a separate four and a half pages section on the legend, besides the front page. Everyone, from movie stars to politicians, had reactions around how un-crickety, cricket would become without the GOD. Quotes from cricket giants like Brian Lara, Matthew Hayden, Waquar Younis and, the greatest, Sir Donald Bradman to politicians like Barack Obama, kept flashing wherever you go – TV, facebook, twitter, newspapers.
While there is a generation of Indians who have seen Sachin rise from a 16-year old boy who played good cricket to the GOD of the game, there is a generation of Indians that grew up along with this 16 year old boy (who, by the way, is still of the same age at heart). My existence on earth was just 3 years, 4 months and 21 days before the little master made his debut against the killer Pakistani bowling attack of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Imran Khan and Abdul Qadir. My interest in cricket started from the 1996 World Cup, after watching Tendulkar’s innings against Sri Lanka in one of the league matches. Since then, I have identified the game with the legend. It is actually hard to imagine the Indian team without him when you have seen him in that blue dress ever since you started following the game.
Since then, I have lived my childhood around the great man, like millions of other kids in India during that time. Remembering each of his innings, distinctively brings in many other memories as well.
Desert Storm Innings at Sharjah:
Those were the times when cable TV was a nascent stage in India. We had only Doordarshan at our place and no cable TV as my father wanted me to concentrate on my studies. So, for matches outside India, I had to make other arrangements. There was a stationary shop near my place where there was a TV. In those days, many shops, especially Paan Shops had cable TV. It served them two purposes: 1) they could see the match while on their business, 2) TV helped them generate customers (and in turn, more revenue) as people who would want to watch the match – they would stay back and buy something while watching the match. Paan shops also became a meeting ground for the “sports experts” who had solutions for every single problem that Indian cricket was facing – right from who should become the captain to which batsman should go next in the order or which bowler should bowl the next over.
I had made friends with the stationary shop owner as I frequently used to purchase stationary from him. Also, knowing the fact that the guy had cable TV, it made more sense 😉 . It was 1998 and Sachin had just shed the burden of captaincy. Azharuddin was brought back as the captain and things started turning good for India after winning the first Independence Cup in Bangladesh, defeating Pakistan. Next stop was Sharjah tri-series with Australia and New Zealand. Even before the series started, everyone knew that the competition was essentially about who will face Australia in the finals. With India and New Zealand even out in the two league stage face-offs, everything boiled down to net run rate in the final league between India and Australia. Sachin sailed India through to the finals. But the bigger day was yet to come on April 24th, 1998. Everybody expected Sachin to make his 25th birthday special by handing over the Coca-Cola Cup to Indian fans.
I had some concession at home for watching the match at the shop. Luckily, we were only 1.5 hours ahead of Sharjah, so the match would go till about 12 mid night, which was an acceptable limit for the owner to keep the shop open. The shop gathered more crowd as Sachin progressed with his innings. We cheered as Tony Grieg screamed “O this is high….whad a six….whad a six….way down the ground…its on the roof…its bouncing around on the roof” and danced as Sachin danced down the track to hit Shane Warne for the biggie. We hailed him when he promptly started walking after getting caught behind, without waiting for umpire’s decision in the qualifier and cursed the umpire when he was wrongly given LBW in the finals.
By the time I reached home, my family would have slept. Mom was not so much into cricket at that time. Dad would occasionally just ask me the match result, who played well and what’s next. My mood for going to school, the next day, was often dependent on how Sachin played last night.
Bullet: It is said that half of Sachin’s greatness, at that time, was because of Tony Grieg’s commentary 😉
Dismantling Pakistan at Centurion in 2003 World Cup
2003 World Cup had the worst timing for me. The World Cup started just before the 12th board exams. More than the Indian cricket team, it was an acid test for the students – maintaining balance between cricket and studies. It did not take huge motivation to skip a big part of match against Netherlands while the match against Australia went dead from the word GO. However, the most awaited match of the WC was the “mother of all games” (as Ravi Shastri puts it) – India vs. Pakistan.
I am sure millions of kids like me would have struck deals with their parents for this match. For me, in addition to my parents being already there, my paternal aunts (my father’s two younger sisters) visited our place on the day of the match and both of them are teachers (I don’t think I need to tell anything more here 😉 ). So, the deal was that I had to skip Pakistan’s batting and can only watch India’s batting. The whole idea was to minimize the match-watching time. Those days, the only thing mattered in India’s batting was Sachin’s presence. So, if Sachin gets dismissed early, I go back to studies, unless some miracle happens (that too, I have to wait till last 10 overs – if it is really a match winning position). Everyone knows what Sachin did in that match.
In the hindsight, I realize, that the only point of time, when parents in India would never say No to kids watching TV is when Sachin is batting. Even the most important life events can wait if Sachin is on the crease.
Fighting 175 against Aussies in Hyderabad
I had completed my MBA now and was working in a corporate for about six months now. My life underwent a tremendous change. I was no longer a student but a working professional. I was financially independent. My closest friends were now spread across the globe – although mostly in US. I had been away from home for more than 2.5 years. The world around me changed too. US had its first black President. India retained the mute Prime Minister. Government scams became more sophisticated as they evolved from fodder to 2G. Hutch became Vodafone. Mittal Steel was Arcelor Mittal now and Tata became Tata-Corus. Lehman Brothers ceased to exist. Ramalinga Raju was out of Satyam. Smartphones relieved us from the liability of being smart. Having internet became necessity. IT boom was now settling in. Google.com became answer to everything.
But for Sachin, time had stopped. 10 years back, he used to open the innings, hit bowlers for boundaries and sixes, be a nightmare for fielding captains, remove his helmet and raise his arms after scoring a century. 10 years later, he was still doing the same.
Hyderabad had been notorious for being a losing ground for home teams – be it India in international cricket or Deccan Chargers in IPL. Australia was looking forward to take the lead in the seven ODI series after being 2-2. As they amassed 350, memories of 2003 World Cup final rushed back. I reached home from office by the time India started the chase. The only person between Australia and the victory was – Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. While the partners kept coming in and going out – the so-called match winners like Sehwag, Yuvraj and Dhoni – Sachin played his heart out to see India through. The prayers went on till he succumbed to team mates’ incompetency. 19 runs in 17 balls was the target GOD left for his disciples.
At the end, they said “India loses whenever Sachin scores a century”
Destroying Dale Steyn & Co at Gwalior
This was one of those insignificant matches that were made super special by the almighty. It was neither a tournament final nor a decider match nor was there a Mount Everest score to chase. It was like any other match to begin with.
Millions of working Indians, like me, were having a regular day at office. Occasionally, pressing alt+tab to check Cricinfo for the score. Cricinfo had gained popularity over the last few years with the most appealing commentary written. It brought back the days of radio when we would imagine the ball bowled, shot played, fielder’s reaction and many other things based on what commentator described.
It was building up to be a regular match where Sachin scored a century and was toying with South African bowling attack – something not so new in his 21 years of career. It wasn’t until 37th over, people started realizing that something special is on its way from GOD. Sachin had reached 150 and 75 balls were yet to be bowled in the match. Cricinfo started gaining heavy traffic. The website slowed down as the overs progressed. By over 49, it crashed. I switched to cricbuzz.com and any other site which can tell me the score.
As the match progressed to last over, I was meticulously trying to get an update on score. Professionalism goes to gutter when Sachin is batting – to hell with office work. As my struggle went on, I heard somebody clapping. A second later, the entire bay was clapping. Two seconds later, the floor erupted with claps.
One year and nine months later, Virender Sehwag became the first human to score a double century in ODIs.
Face-off at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport
It’s a semi-winter morning of November 1st in 2010. After a long holiday back home, I was returning to Hyderabad from Ahmedabad with connection at Mumbai. With two hours at my disposal, I wandered around clueless. CCD helped me kill about 30 minutes. After wandering around near security check, I made my way to the check-in area.
As I moved further, among hundreds of people lined up for check-in, I see two men coming in my direction with minimal luggage. One tall, about six feet, and the other one of average height. Their faces seemed familiar. The eyes refused to believe for few seconds. At the end, the reaction of people around, confirmed – Zaheer Khan and Virender Sehwag.
But little less did I knew, what was coming further – after about 10 seconds. Perhaps the greatest moment of my life.
If someone asks me, “Have you seen GOD?”; I would say, “YES!”