The Legend of Sachin Tendulkar

Photo credit - indiatoday.inIndians have a God. He walks on this earth.

He is the supreme being of the religion known as cricket. The uniting force in a country, famous for its diversity.

So just how important is cricket to Indians?

Consider this – In terms of GDP per capita, India ranks close to the lowest quartile of countries in the world. However the BCCI, the body governing cricket in India is the richest cricket board in the world, and amongst the richest sporting bodies globally. In India, cricketers can sell everything from cars to credit cards, from shampoos to shoes, from watches to water purifiers, from TVs to toothpaste, from biscuits to banking services.

When the country won its second World Cup title in 2011, after a gap of 28 years, ecstatic fans went up to members of the Indian squad, and said “thank you”, not “congratulations”.

The game may have been won by a team of 11, the triumph belonged to 1.2 billion people.

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God goes by the name of Sachin Tendulkar.

And what does Sachin mean to India?

SRT debuted for India in a Test series against Pakistan, on 15th November 1989, at the age of 16. He has represented India in international cricket for 24 years. That means that HALF the Indian population has known Sachin to be synonymous with cricket ALL their lives.

When he started playing, Indian residents had access to two TV channels, India’s GDP was $300 billion, a 45 year-old Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister. Today, Rajiv’s 43 year-old son may be the prime ministerial candidate of the Congress party in the next general elections; the country’s GDP is $1.8 trillion. Indians can choose from over 800 TV channels, it has the third largest Internet user base and the second largest telecom market in the world.

The one constant? When Sachin goes out to bat, people still expect to see magic.

And why exactly is he revered by millions?

Sachin Tendulkar is considered the greatest cricket icon of all time, with a fan-base spanning across nations. All-time cricket greats, peers, and rivals, have all acknowledged his genius.

He holds numerous records in his field – The highest run scorer in Tests. The highest run-scorer in ODIs. The most centuries in Tests. The highest number of centuries as well as most 50s in ODIs. The only cricketer to have scored a 100 international hundreds. The cricketer with the most number of man-of-the-match awards in ODIs. The only cricketer to have made 15,000 runs and taken 150 wickets in ODIs. The only person to score 15,000 Test runs. The highest run scorer in World Cup tournaments. The first player to score a double century in ODIs. The list of achievements goes on.

But more importantly, through his brilliance he has (in the words of a famous commentator) “brought hope and happiness to many, who didn’t always have a lot of it.”

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On 16th November, 2013, SRT played cricket for India, one last time.

So what happens when God retires from cricket?

Having thankfully received due notice of his retirement from Test cricket (as compared to the rude shock of the unexpected announcements of retirement from One Day Internationals in 2012 and T20 in 2013), millions of people (yours truly included) wanted to witness his last waltz, against West Indies at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai.

Within minutes of the tickets going on sale, the website selling them crashed. There were nineteen million applications for thirty three thousand seats.  From VVIPs to the common man, cricket enthusiasts wanted to pay their homage.

Consequently, every source was tapped, favours were requested, IOU’s were encashed – all to secure that one precious ticket.

When he came out to bat on Thursday, as always, everyone watching hoped for a century. Some dared hope that he’d cross the 16,000 Test runs milestone.

But he was out after scoring 74, a vintage Tendulkar knock studded with beautiful strokes all around the ground.

There were a few moments of stunned silence, but the spectators pulled themselves together and, as he walked off the field, the familiar chant of “Sachinnnn… Sachin” reverberated throughout the stadium stands. The beloved hero got a standing ovation, and loud cheers and claps accompanied his every step back to the dressing room, continuing long after he had disappeared from sight.

Thereafter, the cricket-crazy crowd started clamouring for their own team to collapse. “C’mon West Indies… get em out!”.

It was not going to happen.

The demand then became for Dhoni (the Indian captain) to declare. That didn’t happen either.

As the West Indian team came to bat again, each run was cheered on, each boundary was celebrated. “Buck up West Indies!”

The match was unimportant; the rest of the Indian team was incidental. It was all about one man.

Anything for the Indian team to bat a second innings. Anything for a chance to see their God bat again.

One more time.

24 years, 200 Tests, 463 One Day Internationals, 30,000+ runs was not enough.

Sachin forever… once more!

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Much ado about nothing?

The TV channels, newspapers, blogosphere, Twitter, Facebook, etc., etc. are all abuzz with glowing tributes to the great cricketer.

Everyone has a Sachin story to share, a great knock to write about…interviews… letters…expert opinions… detailed analysis.

At the same time there are detailed statistical analyses and nitty gritty comparisons making the case that there have been other batsmen, better than him.

I am neither a cricket aficionado, nor his biggest fan. So, why do I write about this?

It’s because, as I heard his farewell speech, I choked up (along with the thousands of other in the stadium and millions of others, in front of their television sets, monitors or mobile phone screens).

A son, a nephew, a brother, a husband, a father, a friend, a pupil, a patient and a cricketer bid goodbye to 24 years spent within 22 yards.

God? No, he is only human.

But, to retain your hunger and drive, to not rest on past laurels, to constantly push yourself even when the only person left to compete with, is yourself… surely it is something extra-special.

And to survive the weight of a billion expectations and be true to who you are; and to retain your humility and be grounded, even as you are put on a pedestal and expected to perform miracles… THAT is something even more special.

And to me, therein lies the legend of Sachin Tendulkar and his everlasting legacy.