16th November 2013. It was the day whole of India came to a standstill, millions of grown-up men and women wept like children, and whole of Mumbai congregated at the Wankhede stadium to witness perhaps the most famous farewell in the history of the Gentleman’s game.
Sachin Tendulkar bid adieu to the sport after his historic and soon-to-be scarcely believable 24-year-career in front of his adoring home fans in Mumbai. Indian cricket had never seen a cricketer like Tendulkar, and surely, will never see a cricketer like him again.
What made Tendulkar so dear to the masses? What made him the torchbearer of more than two generations of cricket fans?
He made his debut in the year 1989 -- a time when the Indian economy had not yet opened up, when the great Berlin Wall was still in place, when the rupee was still just 17 to the dollar. At a time when the nation was prodding along at a turtle’s pace, there came a 16-year-old child prodigy who could unshackle the mind. He was hit on the nose by a lethal bouncer from Waqar Younis in his debut series and collapsed to the ground, with blood gushing out of his nose.
Yet, Tendulkar displayed a maturity far beyond his teens, because he 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.
He spoke with his bat on that day, just as he would do, for the next quarter of a century.
And at a time when the nation was looking for a beacon of light to look up to, Tendulkar came like a bright luminous sun, spreading glorious sunshine under which the masses could bask on.
And, the nation couldn’t have found a better role model. Tendulkar was a genius who was extremely committed to his craft, a man who will never do anything to bring disrepute to the game, and despite his monumental achievements, he was a man who managed to stay grounded.
He appealed to different people in different ways. Mothers wanted their sons to become Sachin, children tried to copy his stance, fathers bunked office work to watch him play, businessmen quoted his dedication and told that he was their inspiration.
For many in the country, Tendulkar became synonymous with the great game itself.
He played for a staggering 24 years, in an era where burnout was common. And for a majority of his unprecedented career, Tendulkar was the country’s torch bearer. And that is why, when an Indian speaks of Tendulkar, he will do so with a sense of pride and possessiveness that he belonged to the same country. Tendulkar was our passport to greatness.
And that is precisely why, letting go of Tendulkar was the toughest thing for all of us to do. Yes, we all knew that someday he had to get old, someday wrinkles will start appearing on our hero’s face as well and that mortality will surely catch up with him. But then as the great Nirmal Shekar very beautifully put it, “An ageing Sachin seems almost impossible to imagine. Because an ageing Sachin would render futile our own longing for immortality.”
That is why, when Tendulkar poured his heart out to the Indian public in his farewell speech, you could see tears streaming down the cheeks of millions of Indians. It was an outpouring of emotion for cricket’s most celebrated icon, and a goodbye that every cricket fan gave Tendulkar from his heart.
The Gentleman’s game has seen several legends walk into the sunset, but no farewell in the history of the sport can come close to what India gave Tendulkar on the 16th of November 2013.