Sachin Tendulkar may never prepare for a match at the Wankhede nets again. While that may not be as big a blow as his final Test, at least for viewers at home, it's a reality check for the ground staff, curators and net bowlers who've practically waited a year to get the batsman ready for a Test.
Tendulkar's final Test will be his 11th at home.
Tendulkar was the last to leave training on Wednesday, not before posing with reporters, photographers and net bowlers, giving them their personalised pre-match souvenirs. There was a feeling that Tendulkar wasn't ready to walk to the change room, wanting to soak in as much of the last waltz as possible.
With football out of the way, bowling coach Joe Dawes walked to pick from a bunch of net bowlers, all of them with hands raised, knowing well the possibility of a last crack at Tendulkar loomed. With five lucky ones on their way to bowling at India batsmen, Tendulkar had a visitor: BCCI president N Srinivasan.
Sweating it out
After a quick chat, Tendulkar picked up two bats after a lot of deliberation. He faced a net bowler and Mohammad Shami to start off with, Bhuvneshwar Kumar was next up, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma followed.
Tendulkar blocked mostly off the backfoot. When dealt a driveable length, he usually tucked it to the on-side. His shot-selection spoke of his mental state as a batsman — someone more in survival mode, not attack mode.
There are journalists who'd swear that Tendulkar made net bowlers cry in the 90s when he'd use his feet and plunder them. But that was a long time ago.
Tendulkar then got struck on the thighs, attempting to flick a shortish ball from Bhuvneshwar. A few balls later, he got into an awkward position, getting struck on the abdomen while offering a similar shot to Umesh.
Tendulkar immediately ran over to the other nets to face the spinners. It was clear that he was in no mood to get anywhere close to optimum match condition — the Test is just a big bash. And one can't hold too much against him for that, he'd complete 24 years playing for India on Friday.
Amit Mishra beat him with a top googly but Pragyan Ojha was easily negotiated. After 30 minutes of batting, he returned to sit down with a few BCCI officials including, Ratnakar Shetty.
Tendulkar's second batting hit was confined to throwdowns. He then received solo catching practice from Dawes before spending some time speaking to net bowlers. "He was giving us some tips about wrist position and how to mix up pace, ways to succeed in flat pitches.
His tips were really useful. One of our friends (another ball boy) started to cry. It was both joy and sadness combined," said one of the net bowlers.
Vinayak, another net bowler, said he enjoyed listening to Tendulkar's words of wisdom for Cheteshwar Pujara. "Usko chintu bulaya (He called Pujara Chintu) and gave him some batting tips."