The scariest things are the ones which you’re completely clueless about.
After having seen Sachin Tendulkar play cricket for the past 24 years, and not just play cricket, but bring smiles on peoples’ faces by getting his bat down on the ball, and with equal nonchalance, bring tears in their eyes by raising his bat in the air, how do you witness it one last time, knowing these events won’t be repeated ever again?
How do you prepare for such an event emotionally? Even if only as a viewer.
Going into the second day’s play in Mumbai today, it was a mixed state of mind – dreams of high scores and fears of an early departure.
Thursday had been good for Sachin Tendulkar. He had played with a hint of freedom, quite unlike his many innings in the last year or so. His close acquaintances said before the match that he was very relaxed, probably due to the feeling of freedom from all that he has been getting – whatever you want to call it – since close to a quarter of a century.
Then on Friday morning, for an hour, Sachin Tendulkar turned back the clocks. The 40-year-old put up a show, giving glimpses of that 16-year-old Tendulkar we had all fallen in love with.
Tino Best was no Waqar; neither Shannon Gabriel Wasim, nor Shane Shillingford Qadir; but after playing for 24 years, and ageing for 24, some shots Sachin played would have made people remember that curly-haired boy with no fear in the world.
Having played only four balls in the day, he cut one, and then paddle swept the next for consecutive fours off Shillingford, by far the most potent threat in West Indies’ attack.
An explosion of emotions followed all of a sudden, an outburst of relief of sorts. Now there was a buzz. We were in the middle of something.
Next over, a fast one raced past the edge. Ramdin jumped in joy, Tino Best ran at full pace with his arms stretched, convinced there was some timber involved in the ball’s path to the keeper’s gloves. Richard Kettleborough, the umpire, shook his head, once, twice, thrice; looking down, shifting his balance, not quite sure how to react apart from saying no.
A smile on Tendulkar’s face, and expletives from a capacity crowd in Wankhede hurled at Best. It was told later on air that Best was a theatrics fan, and he displayed his penchant for it by staring down Tendulkar many times.
Then he tried an upper cut, the cheeky old man! He tried it twice, missing on both occasions. It was a 16-year-old’s mischievousness displayed by a 40-year-old.
Just after his first attempt he went back to the textbook – straight bat, crisply hit past the bowler to the boundary. He crossed 50 for the 119th time in Tests, and raised his bat. The crowd erupted, and Anjali Tendulkar remained taut-faced, just gesturing to her husband to stay there.
The second time he missed that outrageous hit over the slips, hands on his knees, Best laughed at his lack of luck. Tendulkar walked past him, tapping him on the shoulder lightly, still smiling despite getting beaten. He was enjoying this. It was all fun.
Three overs later, against Best again, he stood on his toes, and unfurled that back-foot drive through the covers. By God, he was giving a flashback of his career today.
An over later came the on-drive, albeit helped by the misfield of another veteran, Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
It made for breathless viewing. Not many had thought a 50 was possible; now in his 70s, a 100 didn’t look too far. This kind of batting had more often than not resulted in three figures for the man, and everyone started talking about it, but only in their hearts, lest they jinx it.
And then, Narsingh Deonarine, as had been the case for bowlers bowling to Tendulkar for many years, became the unlikely recipient of one of the most cherished wickets in cricket history.
It was probably not as dramatically as Eric Hollies, but Deonarine booked his place in the history books when Sachin tried to cut a delivery fine, which bounced more than expected, took the tricoloured bat’s edge and sped towards the face of Darren Sammy at first slip, who showed brilliant reflexes in holding onto it.
Sammy fell on his back, visibly stunned as he got on his knees. And with him was stunned the crowd at Wankhede. A moment’s silence as Sachin stood still, and then the whole stadium rose to applaud while Sachin muttered a few words of gratitude to the West Indian players who patted him on his way back.
Almost near the boundary, he finally noticed everyone, coming out of that ‘zone’. He lifted his arms, turning and acknowledging everyone around, and then walked up the steps into the dressing room.
As Sunil Gavaskar‘s ‘thank you’ boomed thrice on Tendulkar’s way up, one felt the gratitude towards this man could not be described.
“Main khelega“, he said in 1989. He played for 24 years. My word, it was magical!