I remember the day distinctly, so much so that I can recall what I was wearing – a Rs. 100 sky-blue t-shirt with a tinge of black that ran down the sides. Surprisingly, I got my hands on it without stomping my feet or creating quite the hullabaloo.
The tee was something my folks had got me just for the occasion, and emblazoned on the back was ‘Tendulkar 10’ in yellow; my first and only Indian cricket team jersey. The day in question was the 2003 World Cup final. Defending champions Australia against the challengers, India.
20 years since Kapil Dev’s men triumphed at Lord’s, I watched in trepidation (for a 12-year-old who had absolutely nothing to worry about) as India – and their millions of fans – tried to put years of anguish behind them.
Trepidation, simply because the mighty Aussies had steamrolled their opposition – including a crushing nine-wicket win over the Indians, who were bowled out for a paltry 125 in the group stages – on their way to the final.
With an apparent shot at redemption, my worst fears came true. Zaheer Khan infamously dished out 15 runs off the first over and that set the tone for a hiding, as Ricky Ponting and the Australian top-order ripped the Indian bowling attack apart, setting up a massive target of 360.
In complete contrast, India got off to the worst possible start. Sachin Tendulkar, who had scored 669 runs in the run-up to the final, added a meagre four runs to that total after he managed to sky a pull straight back to Glenn McGrath in the opening over.
If I had the power to turn off the telly, I very well would have (but I happened to be at a public screening). Instead off I went; confined within the walls of my room, I confided in my pillow.
The writing was on the wall as the Indian set-up collapsed – save for Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid – and fell to another grave defeat, this time by 125 runs. It was on that fateful day I fell out of love with cricket (albeit for a brief period).
In retrospect, the bat and ball wasn’t even my first love. That honour belongs to the sport of basketball after Michael Jordan had inspired me to fly high. The simple yet juvenile reason for that: before I could even get down on one knee to play that gorgeous cover drive, I had either played it on to the stumps or straight into the hands of mid-off.
And when I did, I’d storm off, just like I did on the day of that mortifying final. My brother had carefully explained to me when he handed me the basketball for the first time: you don’t get out here; you can take how many ever shots you like.
I never had the tolerance to sit by watching as a teammate took to the crease and neither did I have the eagerness to take to the ground and field. But what I did have the patience for was to watch Tendulkar spank bowler after bowler across (and out) of the park time and again.
I wasn’t even born when Tendulkar made his debut at 16 against Pakistan, but the two words he murmured – “main khelega” (Hindi for: I will play) – after a vicious Waqar Younis bouncer left him with a bloodied nose in his debut series in 1989 – sum up his character.
And mind you, that’s a 16-year-old with rugged determination. Tendulkar gave you a sense of belief and truly inspired you to do great things. Moreover, that is why my most favourite memory of him is not one where he achieved something with the bat.