Cricket isn’t just a sport. It’s an emotion for many of us. Deriving inspiration is purely subjective and contingent on many factors. There are only a handful of sportsmen in the history of India that have evoked strong emotions in their fans. In my mind, I can’t think of anybody except SACHIN TENDULKAR who can justify this perfectly.
My first taste of Sachin Mania was in the 1996 world cup, where India was playing against Sri Lanka, in New Delhi. At the young impressionable age of 7, that match impacted my life greatly. That match was also the first time I saw Sachin’s batting live on the TV screen. I won’t lie to you, watching him play made me spellbound in his awe. He exquisitely hammered the Sri Lankan bowlers all over the stadium. Although India lost the match, a great fan of Sachin was born that day.
I began to regard him as a demigod. But what makes this mere human so special? There can be millions of explanations for it, coupled with a thousand if`s and but`s. Below, I present my personal chronicles behind my undying reverence for the legend that is Sachin.
On 22nd of April, 1998, India was batting against Australia in Sharjah. The Australian team had already taken half the Indian wickets. Needless to say, the Indian team needed something or someone extraordinary to cement its place firmly in the finals. As predictable as I may sound, India was eyeing Sachin with hopeful eyes and chanting his name fervently. We were glued to our seats, fearing a widespread superstition linking our change in position to direct consequence on the match being played.
All of a sudden, something bizarre happened. Out of nowhere a dust storm arrived. Most of the players on the field swarmed out of the ground. Watching this live on my TV screen had my adrenaline rushing to no bounds. Amidst all this, there HE stood on the pitch. Devoted to his game. Unshakeable. Fearless. Refusing to budge. His grip on the bat becoming firmer with each passing second. I must confess, my heart froze that moment.
The storm subsided after a while. India couldn’t win the match but qualified for the finals. Simply put, even the Universe loves a stubborn heart.
Sachin managed to securely imprint a ‘never-say-die’ attitude on me after that match. He changed my whole perception about every hurdle and obstacle I was to face in my life. Apart from his performances, an understanding of his attributes as an individual has deeply impacted my cricketing career, and my outlook towards life in general.
Zimbabwe toured India in the year 2000. Among the many test matches, one was to be played in New Delhi. Little did I know that destiny had bigger plans for me. A close relative of mine happened to be the chief security officer of the hotel where the Indian cricket team was to reside. My father knew what Sachin meant to me. Oblivious of what was to follow, upon my father’s request, my relative fulfilled my wish to meet Sachin.
It was the evening of 22nd November, 2000. That day was the last match of the series, and India had emerged victorious. Once the team arrived, it was frenzied madness all around. Thousands of fans were thronging the hotel entrance and driveway. With much difficulty, the security officers managed to escort the players straight to the bar.
Upon reaching, my relative ushered my father and me to the bar. And that was THE moment. I don’t know if my heart stopped beating or it beat so hard I couldn’t decipher my surroundings. Perhaps, my breathing was affected too. There he was – sitting calmly in a composed posture. I hurriedly caught my breath in haste, went straight up to him and politely asked for his autograph. He gave me his quintessential grin and etched his name for me.
Much to my embarrassment, my relative took the liberty to inform Sachin how, once upon a time, I had marched up to his residence in Maharashtra, determined to catch a glimpse of him. Unfortunately, for most boys the first heartbreak usually involves a girl. For me, it was that fateful day when I was informed of Sachin’s absence from his house.
I didn’t want to abuse my uncle. It’s looked down upon in Indian culture. All I could do was bow my head down in utter embarrassment. To my surprise, Sachin held my shoulder, and said – “I am so sorry.”
I can’t recall how I controlled my emotions that evening. I don’t show emotions easily. That day my mind was flooded with every emotion imaginable. On my way back home, I couldn’t help but wonder about how blessed he is with money, fame, and power. Many Indians like me worship him, openly. He had every reason to be arrogant. Yet, his humbleness made me realize that deep down inside he’s just like you and me.
Not to brag, but I imbibed his humbleness in me, henceforth.
On 10th of December, 2005, Sri Lanka were to play a test match in Delhi. I was among the lucky ones to have passes for it. For the first time, I got to witness a match live in the stadium. Undoubtedly, it was enthralling. What made the match unique was, that up till that day, Sachin and Sunil Gavaskar had 34 test centuries, respectively – a record that stood still for 22 years.
The stadium was jam packed with around 50 thousand people present. The match started with India batting first. Much to my horror, India lost its precious second wicket - The Great wall of India - Rahul Dravid, and I felt disappointed and crestfallen. I couldn’t help but hide my face in my palms. I could never imagine Dravid leaving so soon. After a few seconds, I sensed an uproar in the stadium. I saw everyone standing up and cheering loudly. Out of curiosity and with a blank mind, I stood up too. That cheer is probably the loudest I have ever heard in my life. I couldn’t help but wonder, were they celebrating Dravid’s dismissal?
And then, I saw the reason behind the sudden madness among the crowd. Sachin was descending from the pavilion. Electrifying is the term that does justice to that moment. The whole stadium went berserk as he put forth his first step on the ground.
I glanced 180 degrees at the stadium. I could see almost everyone jumping on their feet! Till the time he played his first ball I could hardly hear or talk to anyone in my vicinity. For me, the most cherished memory of that match is when he scored his 35th test century.
Maybe sometime in the future, if someone asked me who Sachin was, I’d probably have to make them watch him play
That is the aura and exuberance of one of the greatest players India has ever birthed. With time, I also realised that when you have the weight of billions of expectations on your shoulders, not everyone can ‘bend it’ like Sachin, that too with such aplomb. Mere words and phrases like hard work, age-is-just-a-number, or performing with elegance and technique, would not suffice to capture the true essence of the genius that is Sachin Tendulkar.
Maybe sometime in the future, if someone asked me who Sachin was, I’d probably have to make them watch him play once and let them form their own opinion. For me, my dictionary of adjectives to describe him, have become obsolete. May long live the Legend of Sachin Tendulkar!