One Hundred. From the Nineties to the Twenties.
I am not a statistician.
I cannot quote Sachin’s records to the 3rd decimal. Those who can do make me jealous at times, but never compelled enough to learn something myself.
No copy of Wisden’s annual adorns my coffee table. I do not even have a coffee table, for that matter. Nor a TV.
I am not a cricket player.
I was never in the school or college team. My cricket experiences have been limited to times long gone in Delhi bylanes, where we would play ‘one tip one hand out’ rules and terms like ‘baby over’ made perfect sense. Where the ones who lost the balls had to buy new ones, and I still remember the neighbour whose house we used to break into with much trepidation to retrieve the balls, to save ourselves 20-odd rupees.
I like to think of myself as just one of the thousands of self-appointed Poet Laureates, who are called upon to write about the kings and queens for their coronation.
And Sachin is a king all right. Among many other things.
I had a pretty healthy upbringing, with regular doses of cricket coming from my father, who happens to be an avid fan. As a 90s kid, sports meant cricket. And cricket meant India, and India quite often would mean Sachin. I remember reading Ruskin Bond’s Rusty series, where Rusty’s uncle Ken masquerades as Bruce Hallam and hits a brilliant late-cut.
I did not understand what a late cut was. My father tried explaining it to me but to no avail. And few things unsettle a young mind quite like a question left unanswered. Guess who saved me then?
My father advised me to watch Sachin play for an hour, and in the span of that hour I would be familiar with a quiver full of shots that make fans like my father exclaim with joy. And it did happen. That was the beginning. At that time, Sachin was a prodigy, a maestro, and commentators had been calling him The Little Master. There was magic in the air, for these were the 90s, where an India-Pakistan match was adequate excuse for skipping school, and getting Sachin in a cricket trump-card game made you grin.
If the cricketing world has an Atlantis, it has to be Sharjah. And my memory of the magic Sachin weaved in two matches at the venue is very vivid. Sharjah had been a favourite venue because you could always host India-Pakistan matches there without fear of dug-up pitches. And the matches were at night, and there still is something about floodlights that makes me smile when I pass Wankhede stadium on Mumbai local trains.
The situation was grim, we had Normandy to take. India had been given a target of 285 by the Aussie all stars (Fleming, Kasprowicz, Warne,Moody and Waugh) and a net run rate minimum as well. It probably could not be done. Remember, we are in the Nineties just yet, 300 plus targets are rather unheard-of.
And as if the millions here glued to Doordarshan (Nineties, remember?) weren’t tense enough already, along came a sandstorm. Not just some rolling dust but a proper did-Tazz-just-start-spinning-again sandstorm. You had to be there to feel the tension in the air (and if Probability has been kind to you, you probably were.)
Sachin came on to bat.
When you feel that the battle is all but lost, each ball bowled seems like a 120-mm cannon. There would be sighs of relief after every ball. Even my mother, who would not usually concern herself with such relics of a hunter-gatherer past of proving physical prowess, refused to get me that extra paratha I’d have liked. Not that it mattered.
Something else was for dinner.
In a very, very surprising turn of events, the blitzkrieg came from the underdogs. And our commander was the little man. He soldiered on with has bat and demolished the bowling attack. Seldom have been such pessimistic attitudes been rewarded with such glorious displays of might, but Sachin is very, very kind. He scored an amazing 143 runs. We would lose the battle by 20 runs but not the war. India would face Australia again in the finals, having cleared the run-rate bar. Shattered it, in fact.
Among others, one of the implications of the poorly understood law of averages is that one may not witness something awesome twice in a short span of time. Perhaps the next match is the reason why the law remains poorly understood. The final happened to coincide with Sachin’s birthday.
And much to our dismay, we were facing a total of 273 runs. Surely one may not witness two consecutive miracles? People thought (and still think) that sometimes they are bad omens for the match and refuse to watch it, in a baseless penance to make the team win.
7 year old children do not believe in baseless penances. I was adamant that I wanted to watch the match, and my wish would be granted.
So would be those of the millions of fans still glued to their TV sets and radios. For Sachin is kind. He cleared the stands on multiple occasions, leading to Tony Greig saying, “This little man is the nearest thing to Bradman there’s ever been.”
I was not quite aware of the legend that Don Bradman was at that time. But I was witnessing another one in the making. Sachin hit 134 and the Coca Cola Cup was ours. I realised what it is to see yourself scream your throat hoarse, high-five your father so hard your 7-year old hands hut, and how it feels to stik around to the end of the presentation ceremony, and when the camera slowly pans out it feels like the carnival is over. That warm afterglow of seeing the blue Opel Astra. Yes, we could feel it. Each one of us.
It was his birthday.
The 1999 world cup was the first one I clearly remember. It built up with a slow crescendo, the Hindi articles and player profiles that India Today used to run (and I was really developing a liking for reading in those days.) There were player cards with Center Fresh 10-packs, and Center Fresh 10-packs were still a luxury, and in the 90s chewing gum could stay stuck in your stomach and ruin your digestion. Or so our 8-year old minds believed.
And then tragedy struck. Sachin’s father, Ramesh Tendulkar, was no more. Death is something one can never comprehend, and it is especially unsettling to a young mind who has not witnessed any. But I did witness a nation mourn.
How could one play under such pressure? How could one return two days after his father’s funeral to England? How could one stay not out at 140 under such circumstances?
And yet, when Sachin looked up to the skies after reaching his hundred, and closed his eyes in a silent moment of prayer, these questions would be answered in the image of those outstretched arms and the blue jersey with the number we have come to love, now squared.
The nineties were coming to an end, and so was the glass ceiling on scores called three hundred. At Hyderabad the following year, Sachin came to bat against New Zealand.
And simple refused to leave.
50, 100, 150. This is where the balls bowled stopped counting. And Sachin had amassed 186 with India’s total standing at 376. I could honestly not believe the scoreline. Apni India? Teen sau?
Haan. Teen sau chheyattar. We won by 176 runs.
In 200, the question of the year was, “Dus hazaar banenge kya?” Agaisnt the Aussies, Sachin stood at the threshold of being the first man to score 10,000 runs in ODIs at Indore. And he did. He scored 139 and got there, where no man had been. It was just another record for Tendya as time would prove. He is not a man to rest on his laurels, there are simply too many to choose from.
2003 was a rather landmark year, because we had done well in the World Cup (I’m amnesiac about the final) and we would later be facing arch-rivals Pakistan. This rivalry had been built on lines drawn on maps and across hearts and over playing fields. It only saddens me to see its demise in recent times.
Plus, we were playing behind enemy lines, at Rawalpindi. No news was news unless it wore green or blue.
And they made 330. Aw, snap.
We would call upon our soldier of fortune, number 10. And he would not let us down. Of course, the statisticians among us would say things like we seldom win when he scores a ton (which is why such comments remind me of The Mathematical Master from Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince.)
Sachin blazed to 141 off 135. We lost the match, but we could walk with our heads held high. Our best gave his best. A nation of billions had chosen one man to be their reason for pride, and no one could take that from us.
2004, Winter. I remember sitting down to watch Steve Waugh’s farewell innings. In the Mahabharata, Arjuna bids farewell to Bheeshma (Mukesh Khanna returns as a vivid memory) by shooting arrows by his feet. Such is the warrior’s code. And Sachin would play one of the finest innings of his life in a test match. It was his first double ton on foreign soil, and Waugh was proud.
As for his famed meeting with Sir Don Bradman, I quote Kipling here,
“But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth.”
There were the times of the nervous nineties and the captaincy pressures, but the human mind has a beautiful way of forgetting the melancholy. The nineties and twenties pass by and come 2011, and we are World Champions.
The World Cup, which had eluded Sachin for quite a while, had arrived. Dhoni would dedicate the World Cup to him.
And so would a billion others.
And now, a hundred hundreds.
Sachin is not a mere batsman. He is the phenomenon that give people a reason to forget their worries and smile, and lift their shoulders in obvious pride. He is the flag we like to host high, he is the prodigal son we like to boast about, he is the man we trust in. In a way, that is quite Indian. Who needs sorrow, when there are joys to borrow?
I would like to end with a quote I thought was mine, but Andy Flower has laid his rights on it.
“There are two kind of batsmen in the world. One Sachin Tendulkar. Two all the others.”
Just, thanks, Sachin. I hope you read this, and so much more. There are a billion hearts here who you have filled with joy. Nothing can be greater.