My grandfather was one of those old Indian cricket fans – steadfastly sitting in front of the TV, remote in hand, hushing anyone who would call out to him or ask him a question in between overs. He would devote his full concentration to the match as if it made a difference to the result and would berate anyone who criticized his beloved Indian team (ergo my grandmother). It was from him that I learnt about loving a game more than your own life and it was from that I learnt about Sachin Tendulkar.
While my father wasn’t a big sports buff, my mother revealed years later that she would follow cricket avidly and knew the greats of the 70s and 80s like Kapil Dev, Gavaskar, Kirmani along with the greater teams of the West Indies and England. But it was sitting with my grandfather and learning why the man with the bat was walking back to the pavilion after the ball hit his front pad that made me love the crazy game of cricket. And it was watching the Natwest Series final in 2001 when I truly appreciated the legacy that is Sachin Tendulkar.
India were chasing a target of 329 against Nasser Hussain’s England and while they possessed the batting prowess, the talk of the day was the game of the two debutants who no one had heard of before. Sourav Ganguly, proud and fiery captain, along with the Little Master walked out to the middle in a summery day in Headingley while it was nearing 10 pm or so in Bangalore where my sister and I were glued to the TV. Building a good platform was cut short and Ganguly got out. We eagerly waited for Sachin to start rebuilding the innings with Dravid and then the unthinkable happened. Sachin got out and our world fell apart. Billions of Indian fans switched off their TVs and I declared outrightly to my sister that we would definitely lose and thus I was off to bed. My sister nodded her head in dejection and continued to watch. The next morning, my sister came rushing to me and hugged me. “We didn’t lose, in fact we won!” “What??” I said, “But Sachin got out!” “Yeah but these two guys called Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif won it for us!” That was the moment I started to think of a day when we wouldn’t switch off our TVs when Sachin got out because he wouldn’t be playing.
Cut to the 2003 World Cup final where Tendulkar was the top scorer. I continued my whole hearted dependence that he could carry the Indian innings to a second World Cup trophy and screamed out in frustration when he got out again (Yes the TV was switched off). But as the years went on, captains changed, coaches changed, even the BCCI went through a change, the one steady fixture was the man at first drop. The solid no.3, the tiny man with the tiny voice who looked like a lost kid in the park, managed to instill fear and awe at the same time in opposition bowlers and fielders alike. Before the ago of power hitting and quick shots, the graceful hop down the pitch to hit the ball straight down the ground and the classic cover drive were part of the Master Blaster’s arsenal. It didn’t matter that it took him nearly 20 years to win the World Cup. It didn’t matter that it took him nearly 2 years to get to his 100th international century. All it mattered is that one man managed to give the game something that will be forever remembered by those who watch it. All it mattered is that he managed to instill the love of the game in a billion hearts. All it mattered is that he is the best as they can come.