Three flights of stairs he walked down from the dressing room, every eye in the stadium riveted on the little giant, everyone slowing rising up to salute the man coming to the middle.
On the day the king of make-believe came to the Oval, a little man with no histrionics in him moved the full house in a display of sentiment, aided by the fact that drink had flowed freely through the day.
<b1>The crowd, conscious that Sachin Tendulkar would never play a Test in England again, rose to their feet and applauded the master right to the middle, making for an eerie moment of poignancy.
Even the stoics in the stands and the press box could not help harking 17 years back, to Tendulkar's first tour of England, when the 17-year-old became a man with an unbeaten 119 at Old Trafford.
Grinding it out
Minutes after Tendulkar got the emotional welcome, another old master got a similar welcome — Sourav Ganguly, another man who made them sit up on his first tour of England, another man playing his last Test in England. The two, with a total of 16,785 Test runs, had an aggregate of two among them at that point --- and then began a period of hard grind.
Tendulkar had prepared for the day with a surprising stint at the nets in the morning — with no pads on, he got balls chucked at him, which he proceeded to hit, baseball-style, high and wide and long.
Ganguly had a more conventional preparation, looking intense and carefree in turn.
In the stands, packed to the rafters, they watched the fascinating drama as if in a thrall, beer in most hands. The crowd was overwhelmingly English, but one Asian visitor stole the thunder when he came up to the TV studio.
SRK comes calling
Shahrukh Khan, in London for the premiere for his Chak De! India, visited the Oval and remained in the hospitality area for some time. He had a chat with Sunil Gavaskar, watched the Indians batter England, threw a quotable quote or two and departed.
The security men, Afro-British and untouched by Bollywood, sensed that man was not a regular customer and upped vigilance.
Khan, in a brief chat, was asked to comment on the game, but he did not come up with anything too subtle in the genre of cricket skill. He said that being an Indian, he would naturally support India. Asked to say more, he wished the teams well and said that they must ‘play for the best!’