The smell of the leather and the sight of shining bats on entering a sports shop bring back memories of our heyday in cricket. A spin of the ball between the hands is sure to woo us to bowl at a nearby nets session. The nostalgia fails to diminish in the days that follow and the person lives relishing on the past. If such is the mindset of an ordinary citizen who had enjoyed playing cricket in his youth, imagine the emotion of the man who ate, slept and drank cricket for three decades. Yes. The tears that rolled from his eyes explained the emotion of God of Cricket Sachin Tendulkar as he stepped out of his home ground on the last day of his illustrious career.
Much has been told about his brilliance and behaviour on and off the field. Mouths which chewed even when empty started chewing more when he was conferred the Bharat Ratna. It was surprising that some Indians felt this great man doesn’t deserve the highest civilian honour.
As Sachin would bat in a high-voltage contest, the Marina in Chennai would be near-empty, multiplexes fall short of crowd and satellite images would perhaps show empty streets across India. Shoaib Akhtar hurls a bouncer at Sachin and he guides it towards third man and the whole country is stunned in silence till the ball goes past the fielder and over the ropes. The crowd roars in thunderous applause. The world would come back to life only once he got out. People thronged Shiva temples on Mahashivratri only past 8.30pm after the Lord of Cricket was out.
I don’t find any other fitting comparison. In the Tamil movie Thiruvilaiyadal, Lord Shiva in human form sings a song and pauses. The whole world stops—birds halt midair, waves get struck and everything comes to a standstill. The world comes back to life as He moves his eyeballs.
It was 2003 and the quarter-final of the cricket world cup. This man was able to bring life to a standstill just by waving his bat. I was among those who wanted him to stop playing ODIs when his miscued hoick off McGrath in the final set the tone for an Aussie victory.
The anger was instant but died out fast. Sachin bounced back even in the evening of his career. At 38, he scored a flawless double ton in an ODI which even Sir Viv or Jayasuriya would have found difficult at that age. A noted personality remarked “a billion cheers and a billion tears” on the eve of his last match. As I saw on TV from the comfort of the drawing room, this cricketer coming out of the ground after bidding adieu, I didn’t realise I was standing and involuntarily clapping my hands. A humdinger of an India – Pakistan hockey or cricket match or Brazil losing a match in the football world cup would have led to many heart attacks. But an emotional speech that followed Sachin’s swansong didn’t lead to any heartbreak because he was in their hearts.
Doesn’t he deserve to be the Jewel of India?