On October 10, 2013, Sachin Tendulkar took the decision of quitting cricket after playing his 200th Test. The news was massive, sending shock waves all over, especially sending media in a tizzy. An approaching cyclone to the eastern and southern coast of India, Asaram scandal, General Election and every other news became meaningless.
Finally the man, on November 16, bowed out of the game by leaving the cricket world teary-eyed. For the last one-year, I have been a critic of Sachin because it was hard to see him struggle at the crease against mediocre bowlers. That was the time when I wanted him to retire, but now it has become hard to accept that Sachin won't bat again and the feeling will take some time to sink in.
My association with Sachin and cricket started during the 1992 World Cup when the elders in my family talked about his batting skills. I was fortunate to watch his maiden World Cup century against Kenya in 1996 at the Barabati Stadium, Cuttack. As a school-kid, I had accompanied my father to that match (like any other game played at Barabati) and I clearly remember one particular shot he played, which came like a thunderbolt in the direction of the gallery where I was sitting and thudded against the huge iron grill at the boundary ropes. At that moment I realised how hard this man can hit the cricket ball!
Till the years I was in Cuttack and India played at Barabati, I was there in the stands and so also Sachin in the middle. My career forced me to leave my hometown and the venue changed from Barabati to Chepauk. I would have cursed myself thousand times for missing the fifth and final day of the Test match against England at Chepauk. England reluctantly agreed to tour the country for the Tests after the horrific terror attacks in Mumbai. In this Test in December 2008, Sachin redeemed himself for the Pakistan loss in 1999 by scoring a match-winning 103.
Working on a sports desk has its benefits. Equipped with complimentary tickets, I, along with two colleagues, entered the MA Chidambaram Stadium on day one only to be disappointed to see England bat. After watching him play for so many years, the 'Sachin mania' had subsided in me, but not for those who had come to watch the match. Whenever Sachin turned back from first slip in our direction, where I was seated, people jumped from their seats shouting, 'Sachinnn...Sachin'. This exercise of the crowd kept me amused until I left the stadium at tea. However, on my way back I kept thinking, how a mere look from a man could induce such excitement? Such was the aura of Sachin.
Due to some reason, I could not make it for the rest of four days of the match and was deprived to see one of Sachin's best Test knocks. Next month, in January, Sachin was in Chepauk again and this time playing for Mumbai in a Ranji Trophy semi-final against Saurashtra. In the 2008-09 season, Saurashtra's Cheteshwar Pujara had scored heavily and was touted as India prospect. On day one of the match, I reached Chepauk early to see the new batting talent. I was pretty much surprised to see the security outside the stadium, knowing it to be a domestic match.
The security hassles while making my way into the stadium forced me ask one personnel. Why so much of fuss? Prompt came the reply, "Sachin playing." Sachin and Zaheer Khan, if I recall well, were drafted into the team late for the semi-final, but I didn't mind and for a moment I forgot Pujara. My purpose of watching Pujara didn't materialise as Mumbai batted first. Nevertheless I got to see a classy hundred by Wasim Jaffer. On day two, Sachin slammed a century and I was not there.
Four years later, I happened to see Sachin in Delhi up-close and this time not on the cricket field. It was a press conference of some event with Sachin and Virender Sehwag as guests. I had tagged along with a colleague, who expected to churn out a copy if Sachin happened to speak something on cricket, which he didn't and that left the other scribes also present disappointed. He stayed there for an hour and one feel his powerful presence. Such was the aura of Sachin.
Who has won more matches for India, Sachin or Dravid? I often get into an argument at work over this question and being a big Dravid fan had to criticise Sachin. But, I only know it was all said to prove myself as a Dravid loyalist.
In the 90s, a middle-class family aspired to have a colour television, Maruti 800 a dream car to possess, mobile phones were unheard of, kids didn't pester their parents for PlayStation or Xbox. But everyone looked forward to watch Sachin bat - his centuries gave everyone joy, his dismissal gave many heartbreaks.
I also had my moments of joy and despair with Sachin. The two back-to-back centuries against Australia in Sharjah where he ruthlessly took apart the Aussie bowling attack. In the Hero Cup semi-final in 1993, where he bowled India to win with South Africa needing six runs off the last over. His dismissal in two matches left me in anguish, one was in the semi-final of 1996 World Cup against Sri Lanka and second in the Test match against Pakistan in Chennai. In both these matches, India dramatically collapsed after Sachin's departure. I'm sure every other Indian growing up at that time would have a Sachin story to tell.
He was one last cricketer of a great generation to step away from the game. Will cricket remain the same? Can't say. But I can proudly say I have grown up with Sachin Tendulkar and seen him bat.