It was during 2006-07 series of West Indies, myself and my friend went to watch 3rd ODI at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai. Our cheeks painted with tricolour, we were very early just to watch the practice sessions. One man walked out of the pavilion slowly with his kit (we were sitting in the opposite section just near the nets) and the fans started shouting “Sachin”. The most profilic batsmen the cricket pitch has ever seen was the first one to nets. He waved to us and the whole stand erupted with joy. He was batting at number 4 at that time – it was during Dravid – Chappell time. And it was said that he had to bat at 4 for the team’s good. Match started. Jam packed stadium. Robin Uthappa was the second wicket and when he walked out, the crowd didn’t care a set batsmen was out. They started chanting “Sachin Sachin” like an orchestrated symphony. He walked with his customary look to skies and the chanting continued.
I told my friend “I think this is why he opens the innings” – I felt pity for Robin Uthappa but I wanted to watch the little master. I was happy that the wicket fell. Every run was cheered, every boundary was welcomed with delirious roar. He got out at 60 and there was total silence as if someone had died. India lost that match. We left when Sachin bowled his first over. I wanted to watch him bowl and bat.
I started watching him when he murdered Abdul Qadir’s bowling at an exhibition match. I was shouting “Tendul” “Tendul” when my mom asked who is he – I told her “A new player. I like him”. I was 7 years old. My faith in Sachin started then. I started following every match he would play then on. In fact, the first time cable TV came in to my house was because of him, it was during the 1998 series.
I still remember that desert storm match. He stood behind the boundary line like a Tiger waiting for the storm to end so that he can prowl on the mighty Australians. The first ball he faced after the storm went to a six behind bowler’s head. He played like a man possessed. Only a bad decision stopped him. And bad decisions became a feature in his career. That series was brutal decimation. My faith was sealed.
I almost lost my job once because of this faith. I think every Sachin fan would have gone through this. Sachin Vs Sourav debate. When Ganguly was dropped, my boss (he was Bengali) made a passing comment that it was all because of Sachin. That irked me and I replied “What the heck? How can you say that?” An argument ensued. The whole office was looking at us when I was fighting with him. Being a stats person and strong debater, I was winning hands down while my colleagues were betting over text messages on who would win. Finally, we stopped when our boss interfered. Although it seems very funny now, I don’t know what made me to defend him. But I realised he was not just an idol to me.
My faith continued. I was in Zoho and I still remember that day when he hit that 200. He was at 110 and I tweeted “Go Sachin Go. Just 90 more”. When he was at around 140, call it premonition or prediction, I walked to our cafeteria to watch the match. There were already 50 people. The crowd grew and when he was around 180s, there were around 300 people. I could see fear, happiness and excitement in everyone’s eyes. I could hear people cursing MS Dhoni in every damn language. That moment when he hit that single, the crowd raptured with sounds of happiness. I still remember, my eyes were wet and I was bowing to the TV in front of me. I said “I bow to you,thee.”
Call me a fanatic, call me crazy, I don’t watch Sachin in cricket, I watch cricket because of Sachin. I don’t know any other person who has united India the way Sachin did in the past 23 years. I don’t know any other sports person who had to carry the burden that he had to carry. If some sports person had to live a life that he had lived, that person would have ended up at the mental asylum. Even a century would not satisfy India. And when the team loses the match, he would be called unlucky. If he got out early, he was out of form. And still, for 460 days, he came out to play for his country. And every time he got out, he walked out with his head down lamenting why he couldn’t stay longer at the crease. We never cared. We found the first reason to blame him. The media searched for controversies that would pin him down. Still he came out and played like nothing happend the previous day. I don’t know how many of us realised the greatness of this champion. He is to ODI cricket like Bradman was to test cricket. He would have got much more respect if he had born in any other country. But we still debate whether to give him an award. Even when he retired, we say “It was late”.
In few days we will start craving for his classic cover drives, vicious uppercuts, innovative paddle sweeps and the perfect straight drives. We will miss that picture perfect stance with willow facing the bowler. I don’t know about others Sachin, but my cricket started with you and will end with you. Now ODI, next would be Test matches.
You retired. My faith remains.