Unlike the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, the Wankhede stadium at Mumbai bears a dull silence. It is only broken when a train pulls out from the nearby station or the gathered bunch of fans cheer wildly. They do so with the chant of 'Sachin, Sachin', one synonymous across the nation and to be heard reverberating for the next five days. Meanwhile, the Master Blaster walked out for his last practice session in the nets.
Preparations are in full swing everywhere you look. The stadium is given a new coat of paint and big Sachin cut-outs are going up, depicting each of his 51 Test hundreds. The entire Indian team is busy practising but there is only one man who everyone is focussing their gaze on.
Sachin loiters around, meets and greets the grounds men as well as the BCCI president N. Srinivasan. He bats against the medium pacers, and then the spinners, carefully going through his preparation routine, for the umpteenth time in his career as also for the last time. He is ready.
Tomorrow, when India take on the West Indies in the second Test of this series, Sachin Tendulkar will take to the cricket field for one last time. It marks the culmination of a love affair between the superstar batsman and his billion fans. They will cry in unison, he will be teary-eyed too. But before all that, everyone is happy for him. Maybe it is because they can see a smile of relief on his face. That his job is done, almost.
Of course everyone wants him to sign off with a century. One last hurrah, everyone will cry out. Perhaps he will oblige, free of the pressure of performance for ever after this game, finally shaking off that burden of carrying a billion hopes on his shoulders.
Expectations will die down as well, though they will continue to glow for a couple more innings. Oh, what everyone is willing to give for five days of cricket, and a full two innings to watch him bat?
Yes, there is a Test match to be played and the buzz around it is unprecedented. An event of humongous proportions is approaching, belittling one that occurred here nearly two and a half years ago. The Indian public looked at the 2011 World Cup final as a mountain to scale and stand victorious at the top. This will be a sea of emotions and everyone will be willing to drown.
Even so, the context isn’t lost, unlike in Kolkata. Here cricket is very much taking centre stage. Maybe the Mumbai Cricket Association hosting him at Wankhede, his home ground, helped. They wanted to let him be, not shower him with petals or forge up wax statues that didn’t look much like him.
They let the game take precedence in his mind, albeit with retirement very much in the backdrop. For what it’s worth, they did well.
As much as the average Indian fan dreads this second Test, the toss shall happen soon enough and the teams will battle it out on the greens. Talking of which, there is a little sprinkling on the pitch, though Darren Sammy expects it to be shaven off by start-time.
"I don’t think it will be there tomorrow morning," he said, only half-jokingly. "The pitch looks very good though, even better than the one in Kolkata. It should be a good batting track for the first two or three days and then should take turn.
"We need to show better application than in the first Test and look to bat somewhere around 120 overs in our first attempt. The last time we played here, we pushed the Indians and we will be taking heart from that.
"Already everyone in our bowling attack is gearing up to bowl to Sachin Tendulkar and get him out in his final innings, thereby entering the history books," Sammy added.
Call it the race to be the next Eric Hollies if you will. It may sound clichéd, but then again Sir Donald Bradman did liken Sachin Tendulkar to himself.
Modern-day cricket has seen many true greats, but none so dominant and consistent at the same time.
This second Test will mark the beginning of his 25th year in international cricket. His longevity is the secret to those mountains of runs. If at all, only Brian Lara can challenge Sachin’s crown as the best batsman in the world. Not in Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s mind though.
"To me, Sachin is the greatest cricketer of all time," he said at the pre-match conference. "The amount of expectations that have been heaped on him through the years and the way he met that challenge, is simply exceptional.
"I have seen many cricketers, both young and old, and none of them have been able to handle such a weight. He has not only handled cricketing affairs but even off the field he has been exemplary. He is the perfect role model."
© Cricket World 2013