It was a spectacle where everything else, other than Sachin Tendulkar and singing his paeans, was incidental to the main event. Forget that there were two nations competing in a Test match. Forget that there were 22 players involved in action. No one in the stadium had come to watch a cricket match. They had come to watch, one last time, Sachin play a cricket match. Period.
People in the queues outside the stadium were being asked to paint their faces with Tendulkar’s name and not the Tricolor, as is routinely done outside grounds in India. Inside the stadium, no one was chanting ‘India, India’. They were all screaming their lungs out with the chant ‘Sachiiin, Sachiiin’. It was like being inside the coliseum of medieval times, where Tendulkar was the predator and the rest, including even his own team members, the prey.
If the collective wish of the thousands inside the stadium is to prevail, they will barter even an India defeat for a Tendulkar century in his farewell match.
In this theatre of extreme adulation, bordering almost on insanity, there was one group of people sitting quietly, more tense than excited, more nervous than joyful, watching the crowd go berserk and hoping Tendulkar wouldn’t let them down.
Sachin’s brother, the dignified, sober Ajit Tendulkar, was making family members, which included Sachin’s daughter, Sarah, comfortable. Sachin’s friends and former teammates, Sameer Dighe, Paras Mhambrey, were all there, watching the action and even wondering aloud, that this kind of pressure would swallow even men of steel.
Sanjay Mathur, an IT professional and Sachin’s friend and neighbour in London, has come all the way to be a part of the farewell moment, thanking Sachin’s wife Anjali for arranging a ticket, which in Mumbai is more in demand than a Maharashtrian’s staple diet, vada pau. Yet, strangely enough, the stadium at no point in time was full.
Vikram Sathe, whose skills at mimicking Sachin and Tony Greig launched his career as a professional mimic and also led to his coming close to Sachin, is upset at the kind of pressure the crowd builds around Sachin and laments the fact that the Mumbaikar no longer watches cricket as a sport. He and everyone around, the small group including the petite model Saiyami Kher, who has acted in a South Indian film, and is hoping to make a mark in the Hindi film world, are too tense to enjoy the game.
Sachin, who unexpectedly arrives at the crease to bat much before anyone had envisaged in the morning, mercifully soothes the frayed nerves of his entourage with a few trademark shots. Sarah, who for the first few overs watches her father bat while standing, too relaxes in the end. Sachin has tided over the nervous start with consummate ease to see the end of the first day’s play without losing his wicket.
The crowd, at the end of the day, roars in satisfaction. The drama has just begun for them and tomorrow will be a day to look forward to. How easy it is to be a Sachin fan. They don’t have to bear the pressure of playing international cricket, unlike Sachin, who in addition has to bear all the pressure the millions put on him.