Sunday, December 23, 2012

End of an Era: Cricket will never be the same again

The day finally arrives. In recent times people were expecting it, asking for it, yet when it has arrived, it is hard to take in. Yes, Sachin, Tendulkar, Tendlya, Little Master, Master Blaster, God retires from One Day Cricket.


I remember dreading this day few years ago. He started playing international cricket since I was 5 and I started watching Cricket on television. He is the first player I remember and my favourite since that first time. Growing up in those times, Cricket was our life and it was synonymous with Sachin. No other player, no other person evoked such feelings as him. He was everything that one could ask for. India's saviour, India's hero, the symbol of up and coming India, the new and young India.He was the one you watched Cricket for, he was the one you prayed for. It was more disappointing when he did not score a century, even the result of the match did not matter as much. He was the man we all wanted to be.

There are so many legends and stories about him, almost myths. It won't be surprising when a few hundred years later, people will not actually believe that he was real. He will just become a mythical figure. He was always the naughty child and there are so many stories of his pranks but on the Cricket field, he was always a giant, a man even as a kid among the greats of the game.

A monster in the making when he, at the age of 14 compiled a 664 run partnership with Vinod Kambli making 326 not out. Interestingly he made a century on debut in Ranji trophy, Duleep trophy and Irani trophy, becoming the youngest Indian to make a century on first class debut but scored ducks in his first 2 ODIS.

Made his first tour to Pakistan as a 16 year old during the time of intense rivalry between the teams, facing an opposition consisting of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. The small built, 16 year old who looked 14, facing such an opposition on the green Karachi wickets almost seemed unfair ;such that Imran Khan almost felt sorry for him and was tempted to go easy. Sachin was not even old enough to get a driving license but he was doing just that on the Cricket field. The Pakistan crowd jeered and mocked, holding out placards saying "doodh peeta bachcha...ghar jaake doodh pi" (Hey kid, go home and drink milk). In a particular game, Sachin hit the young leg spinner Mushtaq Ahmed out of the attack with 2 sixes. His frustrated mentor, the legendary Abdul Qadir challenged him saying- "Don't hit the kid, try and hit me." which Sachin obliged scoring 6,0,4,6,6,6 in his over. He got hit on the nose in his first Test series by Waqar Younis, fell down, got up, wiped the blood, declined medical assistance and scored 57. The boy with the curly hair, rosy cheeks, steely glint in the eyes and a hunger to demolish had all the seasoned pros nodding their heads acknowledging that this was a legend in the making.

Some people said that he played for records, which I cannot really understand. You really cannot sustain for 23 years or even much less than that  if you are playing just for the records. It has to be the love and the passion for the game, almost to a level that it becomes obsession. There is one tale that denotes this. In his first tour to Pakistan, he had been very anxious about some new bats which he had ordered, which were to be delivered the next day. A little after midnight, Sachin sleepwalked, eyes closed into Maninder Singh's room to ask, "Mere bats aaye kya? Maine mangaye the (Have my bats come? I had asked for them)." The young genius was then put back to sleep. The story goes that he used to wake up at odd hours like 2 in the night and start shadow practicing. 

His first 5 series were all away series in and against- Pakistan, New Zealand, England, Australia and South Africa. Quite a test for any Indian or sub continent player, but Sachin a 16 year old kid who had just got into international cricket, tamed all and established himself already as one of the greatest talents ever and succeeded where most other experienced ones failed. He scored centuries in England, Australia and South Africa- a 119* against England at the age of 17, becoming the youngest centurion in Test history enabling India to just about hang on for a draw, sculpted a counter attacking gem of 114 when India were 135-6, then 159-8 at WACA, the bounciest cricket pitch in the world and scored 111 out of India's 227 in Johannesburg thus becoming the youngest player to reach 1000 Test runs at the age of 19. He also became the first ever overseas signing for Yorkshire. 

With South Africa needing 6 runs to win of the last over in the Hero Cup semifinal, and India having consultations and hesitations on the ground, he just grabbed the ball and bowled a sensational over giving away just 3 and winning the match for India. In 1994 he volunteered to open the innings when India were without an opener and blasted 82 from 49 balls at a strike rate of 167 when all others had a strike rate of around 70, thus paving the way for him to become an opener.

At the age of 22, he signed a five year contract with WorldTel for 31.5 crores making him the richest cricketer in the world and also got married. He became the highest scorer in the World Cup scoring 523 at 87.16 and also became the first cricketer to score over 500 runs in a World Cup. India lost in the semifinal when Sachin scored 65 runs as the pitch looked like a featherbed but after he was stumped it seemed like a minefield as India slumped to 120-8 after he went at 98-2.

He became a captain at the age of 23 and led India to a 4-1 victory against Pakistan in an ODI series in Toronto. 1998 was by far the best year for him as he scored 2 Test hundreds and 4 ODI hundreds, 3 in a row, the highlight being his twin centuries in Sharjah, singlehandedly taking India to the finals amidst a sand storm and winning the finals on his 25th birthday, besides giving Shane Warne nightmares later on. In that year he scored 1894 runs at 65 with 9 centuries, a record for a calendar year. 

.....to be continued

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