- Tony Greig, commentating for Star Sports, India v Australia, 22 April 1998, Sharjah
It was May, Bahrain. I had just finished Math tuition, when Appa picked me up and said we were going to see a cricket match. I tried to act a little interested. You see, for almost 15 years, I shunned cricket like most people would shun bread with fungus. However, a chance viewing of Navjot Sidhu's double century and one of a whirlwind Saurav Ganguly innings, an article I read about an audacious young teenager, all seemed to stoke the interest somewhere. The Golden Age of the WWF (now WWE) was waning off, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels were losing relevance and I finally swallowed the fact that it was 'acting'.
So along I went. What I proceeded to see changed my life. I saw this little 20-something cricketer getting into the 90s and the room, filled with Mallu expats of varied dispositions, professions, shapes and sizes, were oohing and aahing with every missed shot, with every run. And when this young man got to his hundred a while later, the room exploded. I'd never seen anything like it before. Me and my WWF buddies never cheered for Razor Ramon with this passion. This was real stuff. I pumped my fist, not knowing why. I never followed this man's career. I am assuming my existence as an 8th standard student of the Asian School Bahrain had no bearing on this little feller who seemed to grab his crotch a little too often. 17 runs later, when this man got out, at the doorstep of victory, I joined these uncles I never saw before in giving the batsman a standing ovation. Of course, later in that series, Saeed Anwar would score 194, and Sri Lanka would take the cup.
That was my first Sachin Tendulkar.
In April 1998, I was on the verge of denouncing theism when something made me stop in my tracks. I still didn't have cable at home, I had an important Maths exam (sets theory - a subject which spawned off juvenile jokes like Middlesets, setsual activity, etc) and India were slated to play Australia in a crucial ODI in Sharjah. Appa came running, excitedly saying the teeny electronics store under our home had somehow got a feed of the match. Under the admonishing glare of my mother, I ran, promised I'd study when I got back. Every Indian living in the vicinity must have crammed into li'l Pioneer Electronics that day, you could just smell something was happening. This was not going to be an ordinary cricket match. There was no channel logo, no ads. It was almost like a secret feed which noone had seen before. It was apparent in the way a young man, whose battle with another cricketer was hyped no end, was tanking the bowling around. Then along came this tall Aussie bowler, couldn't catch his name - Kasp something, his jersey said - went up and seemed to abuse this young cricketer, who said nothing. Along came a sandstorm, and then came one without the sand. Brutal hitting, which was only amplified by Tony Greig's belligerent commentary. It was sheer magic. India lost (although it still feels like we won it, after all we got into the finals), and the channel vanished from that screen. Never to return in 11 years since. I comfortably flunked my Maths test, got reasonably admonished and my world was hell. Till I discovered we were getting Fox Sports ourselves thanks to the experiments of an eccentric antenna repairman. All friends, young, old, Mallu, Marathi, were invited. The young man hit another belligerent century and went away with an Opel. These scenes were replayed again and again. If this young man were a prodigy, a talented li'l squirt, before this, he was now a certified legend, on the day he turned 25.
That was my second Sachin Tendulkar.
It was a school holiday later that year, but Appa was busy. My interest in cricket had grown substantially, thanks to our serendipitous cable connection, to the point where I kept a written diary of records, and I was obsessed with the statistical brilliance of George Lohmann. India were playing Zimbabwe, and one of Appa's colleagues had offered to take me to the game. You must realise, in those days, cable was a luxury in Bahrain and we use to watch games at Indian clubs. And 'club' would be a good choice of words here, as that's what a certain little player did to the bowling. I'd never seen anything like it. Six sixes! I was in awe. Meanwhile, Ajit Agarkar would start a one-day career which increasingly resembled the long-tail curve.
That was my third Sachin Tendulkar.
It was 2008. Too long a time since the last one, you might say. But then . So much had changed since THAT day. Ganguly-Wright had formed a formidable combination. India won a sensational series, with Laxman and Harbhajan emerging new heroes. Ricky Ponting had emerged the next batting legend. Superstars of a generation - Akram, Waugh, de Silva, Lara, Donald, and more - had hung up their boots and abdomen guards. India was coming off a bitter Test series, one that had ecstasy following cricket's ugliest match this decade (I always say seeing that scorecard is like S&M for an Indian cricket fan). But one thing remained constant - this man was ticking along, making runs. He faced criticism, despite scoring 13523 (ODI and Test) international runs in the decade, upto the finals! In the face of a newer, faster game, were the Sehwags and the Dhonis threatening to render our aged heroes redundant, irrelevant, even?
Following a bitter Test series, followed an ODI series in which every Indian fan was screaming 'Caaamoooooon!'. It was not a tournament, it was a matter of pride. After feeling we were treated unfairly by the whole world. To us, it was not a cup, we didn't just need to win. We needed to face Australia in the finals and beat the crap out of them. If Sri Lanka, them kabab-mein-haddis, had made the finals instead of Australia, the series would have been irrelevant to us, just another cup. Oh no. We needed to face THEM - those cocky Australians, and shove their arrogant faces into the ground, force Ponting to eat his we-may-not-need-a-third-final words, and needed to be the victors of the last of an iconic, very Australian series.
And once again. The man under so much stress to leave it again. And he was ably assisted by a new talent, Gautam Gambhir from Delhi and a man whose wicket-taking ability was in inverse proportion to questioning batsmen's lineage, Praveen Kumar. And when Bill Lawry let out that characteristic 'Gaaawwwwwn!' when Irfan Pathan took the last wicket, when me and fifty other MICAns were screaming and high-fiving in the hostel courtyard with a small TV, we were seeing the symbol of a new India celebrating. New faces, new captain, new confidence. But it would never had been possible if it weren't for a man who was supposed to be from another generation.
That was my fourth (this and this) Sachin Tendulkar.
I was now working. But I was in a rush to leave work from Bandra to Hard Rock Cafe in Worli. Not for anything else, but to watch my favourite Indian Rock band, Motherjane, in action. But there was also a cricket match happening. This was another one of those days when I could sense something was up. Like that magic day in April 1998. Sachin had this niche breed of critics - the he-can't-chase critics, which is kind of stupid given these statistics. Of course, all they remember is the failed World Cup final innings. Sachin still had something to prove to idiots who kept harping on Lara's 153 and Gibbs' 175 (fantastic innings, by the way, two of my very favourites. The latter is probably the best ever played in an ODI). He still needed to prove something. I've always been a fan of people putting up a big score so India can chase it down. And when Australia put up 350 that day, and this man, no longer young unless by geriatric standards, was going great guns, things looked interesting. When I left office, Sachin was on 97. When I got into a train from Bandra, he was on 104. When I reached HRC in good time, he was on 115. And, in a manner that can be described as only Sachin - he moved onto 130, 150 and masterclassed his way to 175 before a Misbaesque moment overcame him. Never matter. It was a lone hand, a valiant innings. India lost. And this sparked the aura again. The Tendlya of 98 was back.
Mind you, for the aura to be complete, it was almost necessary for India to lose. Had India won, the headlines would proclaim that a new India - with an old master - won (like in the VB series). But by falling three runs short, the team created an instant time warp back to 1998 and 1999, when it was only Sachin. All the heroics of Sehwag, Laxman and Dravid over the last decade were momentarily forgotten. It was Sachinmania again.
And that. Was my fifth Sachin Tendulkar.
There will be people who make more runs.
There will be people who play better innings (don't get me started on Dravid).
There will be people who unexpectedly take 5-fors.
There will definitely be better captains.
Someone will score an 88th century one day.
Someone will be more gentlemanly, more nurturing of talent and more supportive.
But there will never another Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. Today the world salutes India's icon. It's no wonder Sachin keeps his feet firmly on the ground, when there are a billion people standing on his shoulders.
And thank you Appa, for opening up my eyes to this genius.
Everyone has their Sachin Tendulkars. These were five of mine.