Twenty-four years to the day he first walked on to the field for India, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar has played his last innings, a flawless 74.
Chants of ‘Sachin, Sachin’ resonated through an every-seat-taken Wankhede stadium from 9am. At the stroke of 9.30am, the man himself walked down the steps of the pavilion with Chesteshwar Pujara and the noise got deafening.
The second over of the day saw two crisp boundaries – first a cut backward of square and the second a sweep to fine leg – off Shane Shillingford. Tendulkar was on song. In the very next over, he poked outside the off stump.
Umpire Richard Kettleborough turned down Tino Best’s appeal for caught behind. A sigh of relief went around the ground.
Two overs later, Tendulkar drove Best straight down the ground for a four to reach his 68th half-century. The crowd erupted.
Actor Aamir Khan was in the crowd wearing the same T-shirt as on Day 1 - for luck. Tendulkar’s wife Anjali was visibly tense.
The big screen at the stadium showed Mumbai Indians owner Nita Ambani and actors Rahul Bose and Hrithik Roshan, cheering every Sachin run.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and chief minister Prithviraj Chavan were among the scores of politicians and former cricketers present.
The 14th over — bowled by off-spinner Narsingh Deonarine — broke a billion hearts. Tendulkar tried to cut the fifth ball and edged it to the Windies captain Darren Sammy at first slip. A wicket had fallen against the run of play.
The crowd froze, the silence was deafening. At 10.45am, Tendulkar began the long walk back to the pavilion, his last with bat in hand. Near
the boundary, he turned and looked at the fans, all on their feet now and cheering, raised his helmet and bat in salute one last time.
In came Virat Kohli and smashed a boundary off the first ball, but the cheers were muted. The chanting had died down, and some even got up to leave.
There were repeated chants of ‘Dhoni, declare’, so that Tendulkar could bat again.
Dhoni didn’t oblige. But, the cheers and the chants returned, and were as loud as in the morning, when Tendulkar led the team out on to the field at the start of the West Indies second innings. Another standing ovation followed when the team walked off the field at the end of the day’s play.
India is poised for a clean sweep of the two-match Test series, but this time it’s not about winning or losing. It’s about one man.
Fans will line up again on Saturday to get one final glimpse of their idol. He may not wield the willow again, but the crowds will not want to miss watching the 40-year-old Tendulkar sprint across the field like a 16-year-old to save runs. That’s why they will always love him.