Sachin Tendulkar struggled to hold back tears as he bid goodbye to a glittering 24-year career in Mumbai on Saturday, sending his fans — several thousands of them also teary-eyed — into a wild frenzy of ‘Sa-chin, Sa-chin’.
Hours later, India chose to bestow its highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, on the Little Master — making him the first sportsperson, and the youngest person, to receive the honour. The 40-year-old later dedicated the award to his mother Rajni . Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led the country in congratulating the batting legend, calling him on the phone to wish him success.
Moments after the last ball was bowled at the Wankhede, Tendulkar collected a stump and made his way through a guard of honour, head bowed under his white floppy hat. Off the field, he climbed the stairs to the dressing room and was gone. The crowd stayed put.
SLIDESHOW: Sachin Tendulkar timeline
He was back soon after, for a moving farewell speech and a lap of honour on the shoulders of his team mates. “All my friends settle down, let me talk. I will get more and more emotional. It’s getting a little difficult to talk but I’ll manage,” he began.
“My life’s been 22 yards for 24 years. It’s hard to believe that wonderful journey is coming to an end,” he said, going on to thank his family, friends and all the people associated with his career in the 20-minute speech.
His first tribute was to his late father: “Without his guidance, I don’t think I would be standing here… He told me, ‘Chase your dreams but make sure you don’t take shortcuts’. Above all he told me to be a nice human being.”
There were tributes to his family, the best perhaps for his wife Anjali: “You are the best partnership I’ve had in my life.”
To his children, daughter Sara, 16, and son Arjun, 14, he said: “The next 16 years and beyond, everything is for you.”
To his coach Ramakant Achrekar, who came in a wheelchair to watch him play one last time, Tendulkar said, “In 29 years, sir has never said ‘well played’ to me because he thought I would get complacent. Maybe now you can, sir, because there are no more matches.”
Later, after the speeches, tributes and chants, the Little Master broke away from the throng and walked alone to the middle, where he bent down and touched the pitch reverently. By then, there wasn’t a dry eye to be seen.
The Test and the 2-0 series victory against the West Indies will be largely forgotten as a contest but remembered as a fitting farewell for a man who may be small in stature but cast a giant shadow of greatness over cricket in India and beyond.