Goodbye, dream; hello reality! This must have struck Sachin when he decided he had had enough and that he would quit international cricket after playing his 200th Test match next month. If anything, the decision, though unsurprising as it was very much in the wind in the recent weeks, only underlined the fact that Sachin is no God, but only a mortal like you and me, but with special skills.
After all, like any of us, Sachin too has to retire from his chosen profession at some point in time when the body refuses to obey the mind. It is a point in life when the labour of love becomes a chore, if not a grind, and you realize that nothing is infinite in life.
It would be a gross disrespect to Sachin to speculate now about the timing of his announcement or whether he left it a tad late. As Farokh Engineer said so beautifully, it is time to celebrate all the good things Sachin, relive his greatest moments and wish his glorious career a fairytale ending.
It will require a Cardusian effort to do justice to Sachin the cricketer, and I doubt if there is anything new or original that can be said by way of platitude, for we have exhausted every adjective to describe the greatness of the little big man to the point that any more of it would be a repetition the obvious.
Watching Sachin in his last T20 game the other night, I thought there was a frightening finality about the manner in which he was clean bowled, a painful reminder of some of his recent dismissals when the bat seemed to come down a fraction late and him playing either inside or outside the line of the ball. For me, it was a death rattle when the ball crashed into the stumps and I suspect, that dismissal only hastened the Big Decision.
Whatever, the fact is that Sachin is to Indian cricket what Beatles were to music. Like the foursome from Liverpool, Sachin’s career spawned a generation and more, that lived his dream, cheered his exploits, shared his frustrations and willed him to perform every single time he stepped on to the field.
Children who were sucking on lollipops when a 16-year old Sachin made his international debut, are now adults with kids of their own and who in turn are listening with awe the tales of this splendid knight from Shivaji Park; adults then have become middle-aged, reveling in nostalgia, and it goes on.
Sachin provided some sort of stability and solidity to millions of his fans as he represented an India that was breaking the shackles of the past, a closed and highly regulated society stepping into a new world of open market that brought with it riches until then only unknown. His peak coincided with an India that was opening the wrappers of a slew of gifts and the emergence of a generation that was dressing up smart, thinking big and aiming high.
Through his cricketing achievements, Sachin showed the way for the Indian middle-class that a humble background was no obstacle so long as one had the courage to pursue one’s dreams. Thus, we Indians saw in Sachin a man most of us dreamt to become and it was as if you and I were actually out there scoring all those runs.
Such has been our involvement with Sachin’s life as a cricketer and now a family man, complete with two lovely kids in tow along with a fashionable wife, that we have unwittingly put him on a pedestal while assuming that he is invincible. So much so that his failures were ours and the poor man was subjected to uncharitable criticism. His own Mumbai crowd even booed him after another failure with the bat.
Through it all, Sachin maintained an unflappable countenance and carried on with what he knew and did best. Fame, fortune and brickbats were like water off duck’s back. Not many have the ability to deal with the kind of pressure that Sachin had to throughout his career and even when he was not on the field. In my book, this special ability to retain his focus through the highs and lows, besides carrying the heavy load of expectation, sets Sachin apart from rest of the cricketers.
As Dravid said, Sachin had every right to behave like a superstar on and off the field, but he never did. Call him role model or whatever, the fact is that here is a man who launched a thousand and more young cricketers, including Dravid, who grew up dreaming to become like him. Therein lies Sachin’s contribution to Indian cricket.
I wouldn’t play the game of comparison, for it is an exercise in futility and totally inconclusive. For sure, Sachin is assured of a place in the cricketing pantheon. He has often confessed that he grew up on Gavaskar and Richards, tried to imbibe the best cricketing qualities of both – a sense of solidity of a Gavaskar without forsaking the adventurous streak of a Richards. Much of his batting style reflected his heroes, and ultimately surpassed both in terms of sheer achievements.
Now that he has decided to walk into the sunset, cricket without Sachin is difficult to imagine. The ODIs, for instance, do not carry the same attraction to me after he retired from that format, and a few weeks from now, I doubt I can sit through a Test match, knowing there is no Sachin walking in at No.4.
And so, the inevitable is upon us and perhaps, we should accept it with the kind of grace and equanimity of a Sachin Tendulkar, difficult as it may be. That would be a fitting tribute to the little genius.