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Lahli perfect setting connecting two disparate worlds

columns Updated: Nov 02, 2013 01:28 IST
Pradeep Magazine

For the urban elite, fed a cricket diet beamed live on television from gigantic concrete structures, Lahli is a throwback to an earlier time. It is a shabby village whose poverty is reflected through its Spartan brick-layered tenements in the middle of paddy and sugarcane fields.

Life in these fields acquired an energetic pulse, and people for a few days found an escape from their tedious routines, shedding boredom and lethargy to welcome a guest that a poster outside the cricket stadium described as "cricket ka bhagwan (god of cricket)".

It was a moment of glory that connected Lahli to the outside world, through a man who was playing his last domestic match of a career that began 25 years ago and whose end is being celebrated as the biggest sporting event in India in the 21st century.

Many villagers found, to their surprise and perhaps amusement, that the man who has enthralled millions with his run-making feats, was not a tall, broad, strikingly handsome person. He didn’t look like a film-star but someone who, like most city-bred folk, was a "chota, chikna chora (small, smooth young man)".

Though it was a match between two state teams - Mumbai and Haryana - the Indian tri-colour was being sold outside the stadium and being waved inside it. Tendulkar was obviously a symbol of something larger and bigger.

He was an Indian who had made the country proud. For the few thousand lucky enough to "manage" passes, there were many more people outside the ground, figuring out ways and means to sneak in and see for themselves what Tendulkar looked like in flesh and blood.

In this backdrop of the real and the imagined, Tendulkar was waging his own personal battle, seeking batting practice one last time in preparation of his final bow on the bigger stage. The conditions were testing.

The wicket was green, the ball was seaming, the contest was as riveting as one could imagine. And in 42-year-old Ajay Jadeja, Mumbai were up against a wily Haryana skipper, who, through his inspirational leadership, made Tendulkar sweat and work hard for runs and victory.

The razor-sharp contest and Tendulkar’s display of all the virtues which have made him the master that he is was a befitting and memorable domestic finale. It was also a refreshing reminder, to all those who still care, that an individual’s performance has value and meaning only in the larger framework of a genuine contest between bat and the ball.

The venue of the match was not the handiwork of a smart-thinking Board, which may have wanted a village flavour to Tendulkar’s last match for his state. It was due to the Ranji Trophy scheduling, which is done on a home-and-away basis, that Mumbai were pitted to play Haryana on their turf.

By sheer chance, the setting of the match became as much a talking point as the farewell itself.

This village background for the swansong of a modern-day legend may have seemed incongruous to begin with. But it turned out to be a perfect setting that connected two disparate worlds.

And therein lay the significance of Tendulkar’s last first-class match. What it symbolised may be greater, and more important, than his final bow at Mumbai’s Wankhede stadium on November 18.