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HindustanTimes Tue,23 Sep 2014

Oh Sachin! Kolkata is in Eden as the master bows out

Soumya Bhattacharya, Hindustan Times   November 07, 2013
First Published: 18:44 IST(7/11/2013) | Last Updated: 01:55 IST(8/11/2013)

The fourth ball of the ninth over of the morning found the crowd at the Eden Gardens in full throttle. Shane Shillingford tossed it up to Murali Vijay; the Indian opener walked past it, and was stumped. All heads turned to the pavilion towards which Vijay began his walk.

No one was looking at Vijay.

At 9.40 am, the moment this Test had been building up to arrived. We saw the familiar figure walk out, slipping on his gloves, loosening his body, breaking into a jog, the sun sliding off his bat.

The applause that began rippling out from either side of the pavilion turned into a wave, then a huge wave. It cascaded across the stadium, and finally drowned it. By the time Sachin Tendulkar took guard, not a pair of hands in the stadium was left unsore.

In the opening overs, the crowd had offered Shikhar Dhawan and Vijay the sincere but slightly impatient cheers accorded to supporting bands preceding the headline act in a rock concert.

When Shillingford bowled Dhawan, the small boy two rows in front of me pumped his fist. "At least till the fall of the second wicket, there will be more West Indies supporters here today than India ones," remarked one of a band of five young college students who - in the manner that only college students can afford - plan to be at the ground for every day of the Test.

Tendulkar's defensive shot off his first ball was met with the sort of applause that greets a century. A leave off a Tino Best delivery elicited the same sort of response. A punch to point got him off the mark and the crowd to their feet.

The chanting of Tendulkar's name - a solid wall of noise, even with the ground not full - began at different points on different occasions. It was then picked up in other parts of the stadium.

In the eleventh over of the day, Tendulkar drove Shillingford, with the spin, gloriously past midwicket. It was his first boundary. It was the first four of the day. Complete strangers were hugging each other. Two balls later, he followed up with an almost identical stroke, only slightly straighter. The crowd seated beyond the billboards into which the ball rocketed received the shot like a benediction.

This is what they had waited for. This is what they had come to see.

All over the city, expressions of homage have been abundant. A tableau celebrating the great moments of his career; a photo exhibition hosted not far from the Eden Gardens; a wax replica alongside the dressing room door; a souvenir to commemorate him and his final Test at the Eden Gardens; billboards with quotes from famous cricketers about him.

The crowd would rather have Tendulkar bat at both ends. How unsettling it must have felt for Cheteshwar Pujara. As drinks were called at the end of the first hour, Tendulkar was on nine; India on 71 for 2; and Shillingford had settled into a rhythm that was testing both batsmen.

Three overs and three balls later, Tendulkar was gone. Shillingford bowled the doosra, Tendulkar failed to spot it, and it straightened and hit the back thigh pad.

Subsequently, replays from a side-on angle showed that it might have gone over the top of the stumps, but no one in the stands knew that. His innings had lasted 40 minutes. He had faced 24 balls.

A hush, as in a church, smothered the stadium. Three, four moments of it, and the spectators got to their feet, offering a standing ovation as Tendulkar continued on his long walk back.

Everything went flat for a few overs. It was as though the crowd had had the energy sucked out of it. Not even MS Dhoni's agricultural but effective bludgeoning could perk people up.

With India 119 for 5 at lunch, the daze still seemed to not have lifted from the Eden.

"Out so soon," said an elderly man, clapping one of his hands to his forehead as he clung on to a packet of biryani with the other in the cavernous bowels of the stadium at lunchtime. "India will bat again. We'll see him again," said one of the college students alongside me. 

As the afternoon wore on, and India's position grew stronger, Rohit Sharma's flashing blade - pulling, sweeping, cutting, driving - brought the crowd back in voice.

Tendulkar may or may not bat again at the Eden Gardens. But Eden had begun its search for new heroes.


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