Mumbai’s cricket aficionados reckon Sachin Tendulkar last played on the maidans of Mumbai in 1990, when he turned out for Shivaji Park Youngsters in a Purushottam Shield game at the Cross Maidan, soon after returning from India’s tour to New Zealand.
After 20 long and eventful years, the master was back to his roots, playing for the Mumbai Indians in a warm-up game at the Bombay Gymkhana ahead of IPL III.
Though it’s a private gymkhana, the strip where India played their maiden Test 78 years ago is just yards away from where Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli stitched together a world-record stand of 664 runs for Sharadashram Vidyamandir in 1987-88.
Even before that stand, stories of crowds thronging the maidans when Tendulkar batted in school and club cricket are part of folklore about the master. That school kid is about to turn 37 now, and his power to pull crowds is undiminished.
On Tuesday the Azad Maidan grew steadily packed with each Tendulkar stroke. Despite the fierce summer sun shining down, Mumbaikars - many of whom missed their usual local trains to match the master at work - stood patiently for the first half of the match, when Tendulkar fielded as he Sanath Jayasuriya blazed to a fifty.
When Tendulkar gave his customary skywards glance and walked to the crease, the crowd began with “Saaachin, Saaachin” chants and soon demanded sixers. Tendulkar was in no mood to disappoint the kids, who had bunked tuitions for a day to attend one of the most important classes of their lives.
From the moment Tendulkar sent a Zaheer Khan delivery onto the roof of the pavilion in the third over, his intentions were clear. The saga unfolded over the next hour, as Tendulkar scored 78 off 33 balls, hitting 10 boundaries and five sixes.
A packed international calendar means Tendulkar can’t play as much domestic cricket as he would like, but he was delighted with the opportunity. “It was a wonderful experience,” Tendulkar told the Hindustan Times “I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Even before Tendulkar reached the dressingroom after being dismissed, the club house was deserted. At the other end, bystanders began their march towards the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and Churchgate station. After all, the show was over, and it was time to return to the business of living.