On November 15, 2013, Sachin Tendulkar, arguably one of the greatest batsmen of all time, walked away from the middle of the ground for the last time in international cricket.
A slightly mistimed, cheeky flick aimed to go past the slips, but didn’t — that’s all it took.
It all happened in a matter of seconds, but as he trudged back to the pavilion for probably the last time ever, those seconds were excruciating for anyone who could distinguish the cricket bat from ball.
The Wankhede was stunned for a few seconds, almost until he had reached the edge of the boundary, before it rose to salute and applaud their beloved son for one last time.
Others, who couldn’t avail of their sick-leaves in offices and schools, flocked to the nearest television screen, radio or smartphone.
Was it really true? Was he really gone? Unfortunately, he was. But not before he gave us around 150 minutes of sheer pleasure to remember him by.
His 74 from 118 balls, spanning the better part of two sessions, was neither his longest, nor best, innings out of the 781 he has played in international cricket. But then again, no one expected him score a century in his final Test, did they?
No, but we all hoped. And he teased us. He teased us with some glorious punches through the cover off the backfoot, some orgasmic straight drives placed perfectly wide of the fielder at mid-on and mid-off, some delightful late cuts to third-man and some lovely flicks down fine-leg — most of which resulted in boundaries.
He even teased the West Indians, especially fast bowler Tino Best, who he tried to upper-cut a la Centurion many a times, but just about managed to avoid the edge. Best wasn’t amused, and made his frustration evident. But the maestro just smiled and patted him on the shoulder. Better luck next time!
He reached his half-century with a crisp straight drive just wide enough to beat the outstretched hands of Best, before raising his bat to salute his faithful, most of whom had stood by him unwaveringly for 24 years through the longest of dry patches.
Perhaps the longest was the one that started after the hysterics of THAT early April evening in 2011, when he had reached the ultimate pinnacle of winning the World Cup. It was at this very ground that he had been paraded on the shoulders of his teammates.
He was never quite the same after that, apart from the day he finally reached the momentous landmark of 100 international tons in 2010. Perhaps it came a full circle today at the Wankhede, in what was a hastily organised farewell by his country’s board. He had been told: It’s your final chance; make the most of it.
They say that a flame flickers brightest just before it extinguishes. He had once said in a television interview that cricket “was like oxygen” to him; without it, he would be dead. For him, retirement would be like death.
On November 15, 2013, Sachin Tendulkar’s career was on life support. His body and mind knew that the end was here. But he was not going to go away without a last few gasps at that heavenly oxygen.
And just like the human body tries to fight its hardest before death, Tendulkar took to the crease like a possessed being. He was determined to prolong the end, and brought out glimpses of his best.
Sourav Ganguly, who had batted with him so many times during the good ol’ days, couldn’t help but remarking in the commentary box: “I’ve seen him bat so well after a long, long time.”
And then, just when we had started to hope that the flicker would transform into a raging fire, it was gone — 26 runs short of setting the Wankhede alight.
There was no question of reigniting it. There would never be an encore. There would never be any more schadenfreude at the fall of the second wicket. There would never be any more mini-squats before taking guard. There would never be any more magical flicks off the hip, paddle-sweeps and cover drives.
No longer would schools and offices be empty on match-day. No longer would the television be switched off at his dismissal. We always knew it was coming, but nevertheless that didn’t prevent it from being the rudest of shocks. He was gone…for good.
Sachin was gone.
Featured image courtesy: Pulkit Sinha (Creative Commons)