Sachin Tendulkar: More than just a God

I have convinced myself that I remember the 1983 World Cup, even though it’s not really possible. I have fleeting memories of the 1985 World Series but I have never been able to identify Ravi Shastri as the man who was the “champion of champions.” I only remember his later avataar of the early 90s when he kept blocking ball after ball, never keeping pace with the era of explosive opening batting that the new fielding restriction rules demanded.

Of the 1987 World Cup, I remember little as well. I have a fleeting memory of jumping out of an autorickshaw in Delhi (or was it Lucknow?) and rushing into the house, my Dad leading the way, not willing to miss another ball of the semi finals against Australia. I remember Bruce Reid taking a catch on the boundary and my Dad and my Chachas and my Babas (or was it my Mamas and my Nanas?) throwing up their arms in despair.

I don’t even know if that memory is real – perhaps it’s just a mash of many other memories whipped together. Memories from those times were quite similar. Batsmen getting out. Bowlers getting hit for sixes.  The same words being repeated again and again. “Inka kuchh nahi ho sakta”

So the first World Cup that I really followed was the one in Australia in 1992. My Dad and I were on a grocery trip to Civil Lines in Allahabad and we stopped in that never-well-lit shop book shop (next to where the Raj Karan Palace cinema now stands) and picked up a copy of the Sportstar. I remember bending over it, fascinated by the coloured uniforms. India was wearing blue and it immediately became my favourite colour.

I woke up religiously in the mornings with my cousins to watch the Indian team get thrashed by the Australians in the warm up series. But this would only prepare them for the World Cup, I told myself. The pundits gave the Indian team a fighting chance. I was ready with my fists clenched, ready to punch with them.

We lost to England by 9 runs. We lost to Australia by 1 run. I woke up every morning at 5, my rajai wrapped around me, to watch the spineless Indian team bent in a servile bow. And in the end, we finished closer to the bottom of the league table than the top. Pakistan won the World Cup. I remember grudgingly admiring our cricket rivals. They were down but had fought like a herd of lions. As far as the Indian team was concerned, “Inka kuchh nahi ho sakta.”

Those were dire times for Indian cricket and it is in that context, that I always remember Sachin Tendulkar. Someone decided to push him up the order in New Zealand and after a score of 82 in 48 balls, we suddenly found out that an Indian could hit the ball like Greatbatch too. He volunteered to bowl the last over in the Hero Cup and somehow we won a lost match.

Even though he had been around for sometime, it took me a while to trust him but the magic in his hands was impossible to ignore. If Sachin stood on the crease long enough, India won. Not just once or twice. But many, many times. The chase against Sri Lanka in the 1996 World Cup seemed a walk in the park till Sachin got out. The sands of Sharjah still remember that storm of 1998.

It was a common scene in those days to see crowds standing outside electronic shops immediately dispersing once Sachin got out, not even waiting for the replay. Who wants to live a miserable moment twice? For me, he became an elder brother of sorts who I could fully trust. I watched every match with massive expectations – one against eleven and I expected a crushing victory every time. He couldn’t possibly always fulfill them. But he tried his best.

And after some cricketers from the early 1990s who seemingly sleepwalked through entire matches, that mattered more than anything else. In the midst of a cricketing generation known by their surnames – Azharuddin, Manjrekar, Prabhakar, Sidhu – he became Sachin. Just that friend you could trust, one of those elder kids in your colony you could ask favours of and expect to give only your love in return. Just Sachin.

It’s been a long time since then, a million milestones have flown past, and the Indian cricket team is now settled with players that Sachin probably inspired. These are men younger than me – whose first memories of cricket wouldn’t be those dark days from the early 90s but Sachin’s later exploits instead. When he hangs his boots today, I’m not really worried about the team’s prowess and perhaps that is his greatest gift to us all. But there is still an overwhelming sadness.

Maybe I’m a little selfish but the prospect of just watching one more straight drive, one more upper cut, one more of those googlies, was enough for me to never question his lack of form in the past couple of years. I really wouldn’t have minded if he had stuck on for a little more, just giving me a few more flicks to watch every year. If you’ve been in a stadium chanting his name –  Sachin, Sachin! – how can you ever not want to be a part of that again?

But perhaps that ask is a little unfair – to him and to everyone else. There already are some who think he’s been around for far too long. Many have said that Sachin is like God in India – the parallels to faith are unmistakable. To paraphrase Stuart Chase a little bit: for those who believe, no reason is needed and for those who don’t, no reason is enough.

I, for one, am a believer. But all that I have from this day on are my memories. And, of course, You Tube.

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