I am 24, born in October 1989; Sachin Tendulkar played his first Test match in November the same year, and has been playing continuously for these 24 years. This might indicate the enormity of the occasion. Majority of India's population is less than 25 years, and for us, cricket without Sachin is unfathomable. We have never seen an Indian test cricket team without Sachin, except for the few test matches he has missed because of injuries. It will undeniably be very hard to accept that cricket can be played without him.
Most of us Indians have an opinion on anything remotely connected to cricket: from the school-going children to a bed-ridden old man, from a politician to a roadside 'paanwallah', from a CEO of a big company sitting in an air-conditioned cabin to a salesman knocking at every household. The topics of discussion vary from D/L Method, or the Hotspot Technology or the razzmatazz IPL or if Bangladesh should have been given Test status. But the foremost question on everyone's minds since the last few years has been about the impending retirement of this great.
We all knew Sachin would retire sooner or later. Quite a lot of people felt he was past his prime and he should gracefully make way for someone younger. Many people thought bidding the game goodbye after the World Cup 2011 win would have been befitting for a champion like him. But now, when the time has finally come to close the curtains on what has been an illustrious career, we can't help but feel sad that this legend will not take the cricket field anymore.
The debate about whether Tendulkar is the greatest batsman of all time is always going to stay. Sir Don Bradman once said, "I saw him playing on television and was struck by his technique, so I asked my wife to come look at him. Now I never saw myself play, but I felt that this player is playing with a style similar to mine, and she looked at him on Television and said yes, there is a similarity between the two...his compactness, technique, stroke production... it all seemed to gel!" Brian Lara, the stylish left-hander, another great of this generation, can also lay claim to this throne. Sir Gary Sobers, Sir Viv Richards, Allan Border, Sunil Gavaskar, and a host of other names have all left a glorious legacy for the cricket world to cherish. Comparisons are inevitable, but we can leave the debate on who is the best of them all, for some other time.
But when you look at his statistics, you will be dumb-struck. Almost 35,000 international runs, century of centuries, 200 Test matches, first double-century in ODIs, a World Cup victory, and other several records to his name, you are bound to think where does this man get the inspiration from, to continue playing cricket for so long. Mind you, 24 years, doing the same thing can become monotonous. Yet he has given everything that he had, to this sport. He sums it up perfectly in his retirement letter, "It's hard for me to imagine a life without playing cricket because it's all I have ever done since I was 11 years old.".
To be successful consistently at the highest level of cricket, you need to have passion, grit and determination. Sachin had that, and a lot of other things. His zeal to play was no less than any newcomer who broke into the Indian cricket team. Watching him celebrate after taking a catch would make me ponder how a guy, in his late thirties, can rejoice so much on getting a wicket, as if it was his first catch. Surreal!
But for me, what sets him apart is the way he has carried the burden of an entire nation's expectations on his shoulders. His petite frame can be misleading, but the nerve-wrecking pressure of a billion people wanting him to score a century every time he occupies the crease would have broken a lesser mortal. But not once has he complained about it. When a wicket fell, we used to say, "Koi nahi, Sachin abhi baaki hai.". When he got out, people stopped watching the remaining part of the match. All this is not exaggeration, it is reality, indeed!
He has been a role-model to an entire generation. The dedication and concentration with which he played the sport, the honesty with which he conducted himself on the ground, the passion and excitement with which he approached the game, is a lesson for all those young people who are starting with their life journeys now.
In India, the one thing that undoubtedly unites everyone is cricket,and thus it is no short of a religion here. And the God of this religion is 'Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar'. The way he has brought people of every caste, creed and class, come together is nothing short of a miracle. And instead of all this, he has never made the mistake of placing himself above the game. Humility is a very essential trait of a champion.
I remember watching the first-ever double century in ODIs at a street corner with plenty of others, who like me, were caught unawares with what was going on at Gwalior. What a leveling sight it was! College students, shop owners, labourers, hawkers, white-collared office-goers, all standing on a footpath, waiting with bated breath, for the Little Master to get to a milestone, which no one had ever breached. And as soon as he reached there, hugs followed, people started to dance. It all seemed like a festival.
Two other innings of his that have been etched in my memory forever are the twin centuries against Australia at Sharjah, in 1998. Emotions were high, a lot was at stake. But Sachin continued playing sublime cricket, enchanting millions worldwide, and making the Aussies look at him in awe. He first managed to get us into the finals, and then single-handedly demolished the Kangaroos to achieve a victory that would everlastingly remain in the hearts of all Indians.
I don't know how much to write and what to omit, what details to mention, and what to overlook. Even a book on the maestro won't be enough. My eyes are swelling and voice is choking, and I am sure there would be many people out there like me, finding it difficult to accept that Sachin would not put his pads on again.
It doesn't really matter where he plays his last match. He is loved and respected everywhere, not just in India, but also abroad. And whatever is his last venue, he is definitely going to get a reception, no less than that of a king.
The last ball is not yet bowled. Two test matches remain, and I personally do not care if we win or lose. What I want is that Sachin plays the best cricket of his life, free-minded, relaxed and calm. Those beautiful cover drives, sixes over third man and mid-wicket, those flawless sweeps, shots straight over the bowler...one last time... Oh Sachin, you will be sorely missed!