FYI: This is not a post on the 200* by the great man. For that, you should read Munna Mobile and Greatbong. They have put it better than I ever could. This is merely an answer to a question that was put to me yesterday. So here goes:
Having woken up early to watch the match (NY time zone is not exactly conducive to d/n games in India), I was ecstatic (albeit blighted by a headache) in college where I happened upon a classmate. A discussion on the match ensued. She remarked (or rather questioned), “I wish I could have watched Sachin cross that milestone. Why is my luck so bad?” (or something to that effect)
Here is my answer to all those who have missed watching the record even though they were free. That innings is a gift to me and those like me. The fools. The ones who sat watching every match the little man played in the golden 90’s (an era of cricket that seems to have died these days). We watched Sachin decimate every opposition back then. Funny how the word decimate is often used to describe his exploits. He always wore a ’10’ t-shirt. Tendulkar!
We fools (and there are millions like me) had systolic blood pressures in the extreme highs when he beat a murderous McGrath to submission in Wankhede in the ’96 World Cup. We bawled like babies when Mark Waugh tricked him into charging a wide ball only to… (fellow-fools need not be reminded). We remember mourning him being adjudged out caught behind against the Windies (back when they were kinda formidable) even though the ball had scraped his shoulder. (That umpire must have been hiccuping blood for days)
We nuts had our underwear in a bunch when Shoaib Akhtar proclaimed he would take Sachin’s wicket, and then did so. At that moment Akhtar got our unwavering hatred and respect. Small setback you might think, but it was first evidence that there exists something which travels faster than Sachin’s speed of thought (ok there is always light at 299792458 metres/second, but I am sure Sachin’s brain is not far behind). Bowlers had to be careful sledging the great man (few ever had the stones to do so) for fear of retributions, and repeat offenders had their careers ruined.
We optimistic idiots held our breaths as Adam Bacher (having no other claim to fame) stuck out one hand and ended one of only two memorable things (the other was Azhar’s knock) about the Cape Town test. We, only we, can understand the almost maternal way we prayed that Sachin would not come on strike when some bowler was exceptionally ferocious, knowing full well but not wanting to accept that he is only mortal.
Reason was abandoned in exchange for faith when he charged Kasprowicz and pulled him for a six, not to mention the very next ball (again: fellow-fools need no reminder). Food was trapped right in the throat when the genius chose the over before tea to hit a round-the-wicket Warne over deep-midwicket. There was no way to explain how his mind worked. It sufficed us to see that it did and how.
Our hearts broke every time he winced during that test against Pakistan, when we knew that not only was he going to get out (resulting in us losing), also that he would be put out of commission for months at best. That injury period was the worst ever. Indian cricket has other heroes, but this man was omnipresent during a match. Rolling his arm over and producing turn that would make Warne proud, or horizontalizing his diminutive frame to prevent conceding the extra run, or walking over to the bowler and explaining something in his ahem ‘less than exceptional’ voice…it was impossible to calculate the impact of this man’s presence on India’s win-loss probability.
We crazies oohed and aahed like parents watching their first born learn to walk when he returned from his back injury to become a slower, slightly unsure version of himself, not the kind who put bowlers in peril, but accumulated runs while inventing shots all the same. The paddle sweep, the deliberate edge over keeper/slips and others would not have been created had his back injury not happened. Who knows, this might have helped him make the transition from an annihilator to accumulator. That however, has not been the case over the last two years, a period which shows him at his dangerous best because of his repertoire of booming shots coupled with the cheekiness he has later added.
We caused water crises in India by standing for hours in the shower practicing shots with the one-piece bat used for washing clothes (pointless: most of us had a washing machine) fantasizing being the non-striker when Sachin bats, or receiving a few pointers from him at change of overs. A few audacious ones even dreamed surpassing the great man. For me, it was the closest to true devotion an atheist could go. Woody Allen famously said, “We don’t know if there’s a god, but there are women. And some of them shop at Victoria’s Secret!” That can be edited to say, “We know not if god exists, but Sachin exists. And that’s enough.”
So here’s my tribute, not to the great man, (he would be getting enough right now) but to those maniacal followers, who know nothing better, who stand outside TV shops next to pure strangers saying, “Asking rate 8.5 p/o? Sachin aahe na? Bara!”