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Growing up with Sachin Tendulkar

Sometimes, timing is everything.

I was nine years old when Tendulkar made his debut, and though I’d like to pretend otherwise, my memories of the teenage Tendulkar are hazy at best, embellished by replays seen in later years. I do remember a couple of cameos in the ’92 world cup though and then of course, came that innings against New Zealand when he opened for the first time.

Sachin Tendulkar with Kapil Dev and Mohammad Azharuddin

Sachin Tendulkar with Kapil Dev and Mohammad Azharuddin

Test matches were an acquired taste and as the ‘90s rolled forward, when India won practically everything at home and lost everything away, the importance of the man slowly asserted itself. Obviously, when you are a teenager, you want to rebel against popular tastes. So I decided that it was only appropriate that Tendulkar not be my most favourite player. That’d be too easy. As any sports fan will tell you, your most favourite player is very important in the scheme of things. I picked Azhar first (patriotism, talent), then for some strange reason, Aravinda D’silva (circa the ’96 world cup) and finally Steve Waugh (cussed, successful).

All this time, Tendulkar dazzled – the legendary Sharjah twin innings, countless test and one day hundreds, the heart-breaking failure in Chennai – and I enjoyed being bedazzled. Despite professing eternal fandom to my so-called favourites, there was only Tendulkar.

In the new decade, he finally found a team worthy of him. I had grown old enough to not have to rebel for the sake of rebellion. Tendulkar was rightfully restored to where he belonged – the top echelon. Injuries hit him, a new breed of super-batsmen with averages resembling driving speeds on highways emerged and the Tendulkar aura diminished. I stuck by him, as did many others. Just as critics broke open boxes of taunts and sanctimoniously paraded reasons as to why he was over-rated.

Not all the reasons were silly. I would sneak a look at his averages, India’s winning percentages, contributions in big matches and hide the information away from myself – a denial that was most necessary. Debates had to be tip-toed around with great care, lest you trip on some obscure statistic that tarnished the legacy of Tendulkar, now increasingly fragile as his body. Selfish record-gatherer, choker, poor chaser, unworthy captain – the epithets flew thick and fast, and for once his broad bat missed more than hit.

But then, this is sport, this is life. There has come a second wind, a final hurrah that is updating history. The style is different, but the results will endure. It’s not that he has proved everyone wrong, or that he needs to; it’s just that this success now is everything he deserves, we deserve. I wish I could turn back to the dark years of this decade and mock them with a clichéd I-told-you-so. But the fact is that most of what has been said is meaningless anyway in the grand scheme of things – both good and bad.

This is what remains. A man who has decorated a great game with sparkling talent, unflinching tenacity and above all, a peaceful grace. The numbers say a lot and say nothing. There have been a thousand articles written about him and thousand more will be written. But what remains is greatness. Some of it is bruised and chipped, some of it shines with unremitting brightness, but beneath it all is solid greatness.

I have a theory that all Tendulkar critics – especially the most virulent ones – are closet Tendulkar fans; perhaps bigger fans than the ones like me who openly revel in his success. How can they not be? Some things cannot be explained rationally. A hundred thousand straight drives have been played but – one particular gorgeous arc described with a perfect bat, one specific delivery met just in front of the body, one red ball sent racing down a brown pitch and green grass, one precise pose held in follow-through – sometimes means more than all the other ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine straight drives. It just does.

Sometimes, timing is everything. Tendulkar arrived when I was at my most impressionable age and he will retire when I enter a more cynical phase of life.

I am grateful.

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