Saturday, November 16, 2013

A tribute to Sachin Tendulkar - Thank You, Sachin!

Lab - Syracuse, NY

The day that Sachin Tendulkar had announced his retirement, I had just woken up and seen my friend's text message asking me if I saw the news and that he felt old. I immediately opened my news reader, and read all about it. It was slowly sinking in over the next few days, there was a disbelief, and the thought - Hey, there's two more matches...ten more days of cricket with Sachin.

My mind was racing through the role that cricket had played in my life through my childhood, teen years and my twenties too. Cricket began being a part of my life as a kindergarten kid and in primary school, before I even knew that there were six balls in an over, and it intensified into a craze afterward.

The first cricket matches I remember consciously watching were in the 1992 world cup. I remember watching New Zealand win almost all games in the group games and then losing their way in the knockout stages, eventually leading to a Pakistan win. Since then, every open space looked like a cricket ground, anything remotely spherical was a ball, a clipboard, wooden plank, anything made a bat. I didn't know about the magic of Sachin then, but remember that he was a member in the Indian team around then, when Mohammad Azharuddin was the captain.

Four years later, I consider myself to be very privileged to have watched the India-Pakistan world cup quarterfinal match live at the Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore. I remember very clearly Ajay Jadeja going berserk in the final overs and hitting Waqar Younis all over the park. I also remember the Prasad-Sohail incident in that match. Sachin was playing too, but I remember that he hadn't scored much, just 2-3 boundaries, and about 30 runs. But he was there, and India had won.

As a teenager, I'd also developed an interest in other sports. Tennis, Formula One, Chess, Football (Soccer). And through my twenties, many dreams were fulfilled of watching my biggest heroes in these sports live. Watching M.S.Dhoni's huge sixes at one of the earliest Twenty20 matches, World XI vs. Chemplast (Chinnaswamy stadium, Bangalore, 2005), Roger Federer winning the title by defeating Novak Djokovic (Arthur Ashe Stadium, New York, 2007), and Michael Schumacher at 300+km/h (Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal, 2010) remain very special to me. Though I'm still interested in many of these sports, none of them has been as longstanding an interest as cricket (and chess, but I've definitely watched many more cricket matches live than chess!). And playing a big role in keeping this interest, was the feel-good presence of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar at No. 3 and No. 4. While they were still unbeaten in a match, there was this hope, this sometimes crazily optimistic hope that India would pull off the win.

I've been upset many times over some result in some sporting event. But hardly ever felt actual tears well up in my eyes during the sad moments in sport – well, it is just sport after all, eh? The first was when South Africa and Australia tied in the 1999 World Cup after Lance Klusener's almost perfect late blitz ended in an unfortunate manner with Allan Donald getting run out and Australia advancing to the finals. Being a big fan of Klusener and South African cricket, I could feel my eyes moist. Another instance was when Michael Schumacher announced his retirement from Formula One in 2006, and I'd felt upset that I hadn't got a chance to watch him race live on a track. I was incredibly lucky that he came out of retirement, and I managed to watch him live in Montreal in 2010, albeit not in his prime form, nor in his Ferrari...whatever, I watched him race live. And today, when Sachin gave his moving speech. Partly because he was retiring. Another part was because he was always there, perhaps taken for granted...India at 10/2 chasing 330? Doesn't matter, Sachin is still not out. But mostly because, through all the years of growing up watching cricket, a bunch of other sports, people debuting or retiring, many world cups in cricket and football, many seasons of tennis and the Olympics, Sachin Tendulkar was there during of the entire process - the process of me growing up through all these sports. And for that, I'm very grateful to him. He's been an integral part of me, and probably a billion or so others.

Here's wishing him all the best for the future. A simple thank you for what he has meant to me. A wish that he will still be active in cricket by commentating, coaching, writing. A dream that someday I'll get to see him play that classy straight drive again, maybe in some exhibition match. A hope that the younger generation will be lucky enough to have somebody like him to make their childhood that much richer.

My childhood is now over, long after it was actually over, I was clearly in denial until now. An entire 80s (and perhaps early 90s) generation just got older today. If my life was scaled down to a single day, I feel like I've just had brunch.

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