The news of Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement was expected for some time, but when it did come, there was a sense of numbness. And, that is how it would be felt across India and the rest of the cricketing world. Hailed a genius on his international debut, his achievements with the bat and fame have transcended the game.
That is because ever since he burst on to the scene as a 16-year-old in 1989, he has entertained cricket fans like few others have. In return, the cricketing world, from Sydney Cricket Ground to Sabina Park, have loved him like one of their own.
Across nations, his runs were celebrated and strokes applauded. The rousing reception the announcement of his name elicited was not restricted to hometown Mumbai – they were equally thunderous in England, Australia or South Africa.
The crowd reaction settled all debate as to who was the greatest – for no one else in this generation commanded such popularity. When it came to Tendulkar nationality never mattered.
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The 200th Test against West Indies will ring the curtain down on the career of the most prolific batsman since Don Bradman - scoring 15,837 runs in 198 Tests at an average of 53.86. Not for nothing did Wisden call him contemporary cricket's most "wholesome" batsman.
If Bradman’s average of 99.94 made him beyond comparison, Tendulkar is the only batsman to score 100 international hundreds. Neither feat is likely to be bettered.
"All my life, I have had a dream of playing cricket for India. I have been living this dream every day for the last 24 years. It's hard for me to imagine a life without playing cricket because it's all I have ever done since I was 11 years old," Tendulkar said in the release issued by the BCCI.
Tendulkar was omnipresent at the Saurashtra Cricket Association, stadium, where India played Australia in a T20 game on Thursday evening.
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A tinge of sadness engulfed the arena. At the entrance to the stadium, his biggest fan Sudhir Kumar, the bald man who is always in the stands with his bare body painted in white with Tendulkar’s name on his chest, had the message: Miss u Tendulkar.
Tendulkar, for India, was beyond numbers. The entire nation celebrated and cried with him. If he was doing well, it lifted the mood of the nation. When he failed, everyone sulked.
When he came to the crease, the nation ground to a halt. As Ramachandra Guha wrote in A Corner of a Foreign Field, when Tendulkar batted against Pakistan, India’s TV audience exceeded the population of Europe.
Any cricket fan younger than 24 cannot imagine Indian cricket without Tendulkar. The vacuum in their lives will be incredible. It won’t be any better for those who are older, those who have been watching, entranced, his career, for nearly the past quarter of a century.
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The excitement of waiting for an India game with Tendulkar to bat - the straight drives, pulls and flicks lit their lives.
His form in Tests has been poor since January 2011. There was speculation that the Indian cricket board would push him into retirement.
N Srinivasan had clarified that he had no such intention. Good for the Board chief that he did so on time, given the sentiment Tendulkar evokes all across the country.
Tendulkar had always said he will retire when he feels it’s time.
He was not known to be contemplating immediate retirement, but something while playing the Champions League Twenty20 seems to have helped him firm up the decision.
He did not wait long. His close friends were immediately informed (a couple of days ago).
We have two more Tests in which to watch him. Till his 200th – cricket’s currently most anticipated and momentous event – takes place in an as yet unknown city in India.
That will be all. The memories will last us a lifetime. But those won’t fill the void he will leave behind.
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