An open letter to Sachin Tendulkar on his 46th birthday
Let me get the formalities out of the way first. A very happy 46th birthday to you.
I started this way because the toughest thing for us to do, is to pour out our hearts to someone whom we love very much. And needless to say, for me, just like millions in this country, cricket has revolved around you.
So this cliched start will allow me to proceed further. It is like a batsman defending a couple of deliveries to get the feel of the pitch.
You made your debut around 30 years back, which seems like a long time, but then you retired just five and a half years ago, which makes it sound very recent. That just goes to show how long you thrived at the highest level.
so Sachin, let me travel 30 years back, to that 4th Test match of your debut series at Sialkot. The pitch had a tinge of green on that day, and three of Pakistan’s most feared pacers - Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis - were breathing fire down the neck of India's batsmen.
You got hit on the nose by a lethal bouncer from Waqar. And as the blood was gushing out of your nose, many of us thought that’s it. It is over. This kid is done.
You were just 16 at that time!
But then, you displayed a maturity far beyond your years. You stopped the blood flow with a handkerchief and squeaked back, ‘Mein khelega’ (I will bat). The next ball from the same bowler was smashed to the boundary for four.
You spoke with your bat on that day, just as you would do for the next quarter of a century.
Then came that Perth Test in 1992. On the fastest and bounciest wicket in the world, you announced your arrival with a splendid knock. Your balance, your poise and your timing were absolutely splendid.
That is why, when anybody compares you to our current generation of batsmen, I try telling them to first go and see this innings.
Richie Benaud said on air after you completed your hundred, "This is an innings that deserved a crowd of a hundred thousand."
And then came those two splendid hundreds against Australia at Sharjah. Those two nights, when the best bowling attack of your generation was smashed to a pulp. Shane Warne looked completely bewildered. Michael Kasprowicz was stunned into silence. And Tony Greig went wild in the commentary box, screeching “Sachin Tendulkar, what a wonderful player!"
Then came that Chennai Test against Pakistan in 1999. Against an attack consisting of Akram, Waqar and Saqlain Mushtaq, your genius shone through like a bright luminous sun. It was a pity that such a wonderful effort from you did not result in a win.
Then came the 2003 World Cup. That match against Pakistan, where the world’s fastest bowler was smashed to a pulp; Shoaib Akhtar looked absolutely clueless as you went on a rampage.
All of us rave about your incredible slashed six over backward point off Akhtar, but that straight drive you hit off him in that same over was ethereal. Your timing was divine, Sachin.
That was followed by the dark days of your career. The tennis elbow injury in 2004 threatened to end your career. Those were the days where I remember praying to God that that your career should not end in this fashion. It was the 15th year of your career, and it still seemed way too short.
But then, you came back, and oh my God!! Astonishingly, you carried on for another nine years. That celebration of yours and that joy on your face after you went past your childhood hero Sunil Gavaskar and scored your 35th Test hundred showed us just how much you loved the game.
Then came the CB Series in 2008. I can never forget that straight drive you hit off Brett Lee. Lee ran in, and hurled a delivery at over 150 Km/hr. You just stood there and hit him through the line.
You did not even flinched. Lee looked dazed. And we were all in raptures.
And then came that heroically tragic 175 against Australia. If there was one innings that was on par with your desert storm hundred, it had to be this one.
You were into your 20th year in international cricket, but you still caressed the ball with the enthusiasm of a child. The way you came down the wicket and hoisted Nathan Hauritz over his head, or conjured that amazing cover drive off Ben Hilfenhaus, held all of us captive.
It was a pity that such a bewitching innings could not result in a win for India.
And then, came the 2011 World Cup. You played some splendid knocks right through the tournament and took India to the final. The way you ran on to the field with tears in your eyes after MS Dhoni’s six landed into the crowd, finally allowing you to realize your childhood dream, is still etched in our hearts.
There is another very special moment that will forever be enshrined in our minds. It is that of Virat Kohli carrying you on his shoulders. When Kohli spoke of your burden, he was speaking on behalf of a billion Indians.
As a fan, I thought you should have retired after the 2011 World Cup. There were no more peaks left for you to scale, and nothing left to conquer. But then, you carried on for another two years.
Then came that devilish 100th hundred. The hundred that allowed neither us, nor you to be at peace. The hundred which finally made you look mortal. And your reaction after you finally scored it, was more of relief than joy.
It was around this time that we first started talking about your potential retirement. All my friends and relatives knew how big a fan I was of yours, and would chide me by telling me that it was time for you to leave.
I can never forget that phone call I received one morning in October 2013 from my aunt. I was just returning from my tuition classes, and she called me and told me, "Sachin has announced his retirement."
At first, I couldn’t take it. "Don’t joke around," I told her.
"No. It is true," she replied.
My mind went blank. I went numb. A sense of emptiness descended on me.
It was over.
And then came that 200th Test in Mumbai. I still remember seeing you walking out to bat on television for the last time, with tears in my eyes. I have frankly never seen a crowd go so berserk like they did on that day, when you entered to bat.
When you got out for 74 in that innings, I knew that it was the final walk back. The man who had bewitched us and given meaning to our lives was departing into the sunset.
You see Sachin, batsmen today keep notching up those big hundreds. And there will surely come a day when most of your records are broken. But no cricketer can make us forget all our troubles and unite the nation and provide hope to so many people the way you did.
With your retirement, my personal connection with the sport has been irreparably broken.
I have never met you in person. But if I get a chance to do so, then I want to tell you just three words - Thank you Sachin.
Thank you for making my childhood awesome.
An ardent cricket fan