An open letter to Sachin Tendulkar from an ardent fan
I have always thought that I should write to you some day. But every time I attempted to do so, I got overcome with emotions and the words just stopped flowing.
But today, I have embarked on this arduous task of pouring out my thoughts to you.
The first time I got a glimpse of you playing for India was during the 2003 World Cup. India were taking on Pakistan in an all important Super Six clash, and they needed to score a tricky 274 to win the match.
Pakistan boasted of fiery pacers including Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar, and I remember you looking up skywards and entering the ground, the bat tucked under your arm, along with Virender Sehwag.
That first boundary you hit off Akram showed your intent. The ball was nearly perfect - pitching on off stump and coming in a fraction. But you beautifully rose on your toes, and just punched the ball past cover.
And of course, that murderous assault against Akhtar….
I know that I should not use the word murderous while describing your stroke play, because it was always as smooth as the flow of a stream. But then again, you just brutalized Akhtar on that day.
All of us have, time and again, raved about that slashed six you hit off Akhtar over backward point. But for me, the shot of the match was the straight drive you hit off him in the same over. Your timing was divine, Sachin.
And when you were dismissed for 98 after allowing India to register a famous win, I remember telling my grandfather - “What a knock by Sachin, Grandpa!”.
In response, my grandfather looked at me with a smile on his face and said, “Little boy, you have started watching Sachin only now.” And as my grandfather continued, I could see the twinkle in his eyes when he spoke about you. “That 114 that Tendulkar scored at Perth when he was just 18 years old, that 143 he smashed against Australia in 1998, that heroically tragic 136 he scored against Pakistan in the Chennai Test were absolute classics,” he said.
Yes, I had missed out on those moments. But the 1st of March 2003 will always be etched in my mind as the day I fell in love with your stroke play.
And then came the Sydney Test in 2004. You had endured a poor run of scores before going into that final Test in Sydney, and you had repeatedly got out playing the cover drive.
When you refused to play the cover drive during that entire innings of 241* and made the ball obey your command, it showed us how much cricket meant to you, and to what lengths you were willing to take batsmanship to.
And then, the dark days of your career - that haunting tennis elbow injury that threatened to end your playing days was an absolute nightmare. I remember praying to God that your career should not end like this. I had just found a childhood hero in you, who could mesmerize me and make me forget all my troubles, and I didn’t want him to walk into the sunset this way.
But then, you came back. And astonishingly, carried on for another 9 years. The joy on your face when you went past your hero Sunil Gavaskar by scoring your 35th Test hundred showed us that nothing could keep you more happy than a good game of cricket.
Then came the 2007 World Cup. It was a disastrous campaign for the Indian team, and on a personal note, you had not scored many runs either. It must have been extremely disappointing and frustrating for you, but you never spoke out in anger.
And then, the 2008 CB series.That straight drive you played off Brett Lee is still vivid in my mind as though it happened just yesterday. Lee steamed in, and bowled a full length delivery at over 150km/hr. You just hit him through the line with ridiculous ease and stood there, still immersed in the shot. Lee looked dazed.
And then, that magnificent hundred in the first final against Australia that allowed India to register a famous win on Australian soil.
Then came that 103* in Chennai against England which gave India its highest successful run chase in Tests. The country had just been hit by the 26/11 terror attacks, and once again, it was you who offered solace during melancholic times.
Then came that 175 against Australia in 2009. You were 36 by then, and had withstood the harsh tribulations of international cricket for over two decades. But the way you batted on that day - those astounding sixes off Hauritz and Voges, that ethereal cover drive off Hilfenhaus - defied belief.
You scored 175 out of the total target of 351, but India still lost. It was a national tragedy that such a special knock could not result in a win for the team.
And then, the 2011 World Cup win at home. As MS Dhoni sent the ball sailing into the crowd, I could see you running onto the ground like a child, with tears in your eyes. Virat Kohli carried you on his shoulders and spoke of your burden. He was speaking on behalf of a billion Indians.
And then Sachin, came the most difficult period for me as your fan. That wait for that devilish hundredth hundred. It was a period that was frustrating for both you and your fans. And I feel ashamed that we did not allow you to be in peace during that phase, constantly reminding you of that milestone.
Finally, when you scored that hundredth hundred against Bangladesh in the Asia Cup, there was more relief than joy. Our hero could now once again enjoy his batting.
It was around this time that us fans started discussing your potential retirement. You were 39 by then, and there was no peak left for you to scale. You had achieved every possible accolade in the sport, and also, mortality was slowly catching up with you.
And then, in October 2013, when I was returning from my tuition classes, I got a call from my aunt. “Sachin has announced his retirement,” she said. At first, I couldn’t take it. “No, don’t joke around,” I told her.
"Really, I am serious,” she insisted.
My mind went bank. A sense of emptiness descended upon me. And when I went home, every news channel was flashing your retirement news. I went numb. It was over.
And then finally, that 200th Test in Mumbai. I have never seen a crowd go berserk like that, or a chant as loud as we experienced that day. Even watching it on television gave me goosebumps.
You came out, with the tricolour on your bat, patted the pitch a few times, and took guard for India for the last time.
When you got out for 74 in that innings, I remember tears filling my eyes. It was very hard to digest that you would not walk out to take guard for India again.
Batsmen today keep scoring runs, keep notching up those big hundreds, but none of them has been able to captivate me the way you did. With your retirement, my personal connection with the sport had been irreparably damaged.
I don’t know if this letter will ever reach you, but if it does, I would consider myself extremely lucky.
You know Sachin, I have never met you in person even once. But some day, if I get the chance to do so, I would just want to say three words to you - THANK YOU SACHIN!
Thank you, for making my childhood awesome.
From an ardent fan of yours.