“I look forward to playing my 200th Test Match on home soil, as I call it a day.”
These words uttered by him left millions of cricket followers, who venerated Him for the past 24 years, in disarray. All of them, in collective unison, shared the same thought that Cricket would never be the same again. The intensity of the cricket fervor in India can be attributed to the his field antics. Budding cricketers grew up emulating him. Life literally stops in India when he is on ground wielding his MRF emblazoned willow bat. Even his harshest critics swear by his achievements. So, when Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar hangs his boots after playing his 200th Test at Wankhadhe, he will leave a void in the cricketing arena that will be hard to be fulfilled.
I still have memories of those timeless innings played by the batting maestro. The very first time I witnessed the legend (on television, of course) in 1996 world cup where India played its first league match against Kenya, Sachin played a match winning knock of 127 runs decimating the entire bowling attack and ultimately clinching the Man of the Match award. I was barely six years old as I sat through his entire innings with eyes glued to the TV. I asked my father about this short statured guy who was perfectly at ease with the bat, sending most of the balls beyond the boundary line. “He is India’s best batsman” replied my father. Over the years, the tag “India’s best batsman” underwent several transitions ranging from “World’s best batsman” to “Best Cricketer in the world” and ultimately “God of Cricket.”
Now, fast forwarding three years, it was the World Cup of 1999. The opposition was the same — Kenya. It was also a league match but the stakes were higher this time for the Indian Cricket team. Having lost the previous two league matches, India had to win this match to keep the hope of a berth in the Super Six stage alive. Tragedy had struck Sachin Tendulkar. His father’s untimely demise made him miss the previous match (which India lost by a whisker). But barely hours after cremating his father, he returned to his call of duty. Prayers of a billion cricket fans were Â with him and he didn’t let them go unanswered. Tendulkar played a trailblazing knock of 153 runs to help India reach a formidable score which the opposition found hard to achieve.
In a span of 24 years with 100 centuries (in all forms of the game), cherry picking the best of them would amount to sacrilege. Each and every time he strode back to the pavilion, he always got a standing ovation no matter how many runs he scored in the innings. Truly, he personifies the Gentleman’s game in an exemplary manner which nobody else could do (Dravid comes a distant second). His spotless reputation and grounded nature sets him apart. As the whole nation gears up to witness his swan song performed at Wankhedhe, everybody, deep down their hearts, will be mulling over the fate of Indian cricket after his era is over.Â Cricket would never be the same again without him.