Eminent cricket writer Peter Roebuck once famously remarked, “When Sachin Tendulkar bats, time stands still in India.” There are statements you never argue against, and that is one such, proven beyond doubt recently during his epic knock of 175 against Australia at Hyderabad. One witnessed people call up friends and family urging them to switch on their television sets to watch him bat, all over again.
Not that every time he goes out to bat, telephone lines in India get engaged. But yes people are at tenterhooks without fail - waiting, wondering and anticipating - yet another breathtaking innings. For most, it either makes or destroys their day. And if the day is made, at some point during the masterpiece that the maestro is painting, those calls begin to be made and they get frantic with each passing delivery.
It happened, when immediately after the Mumbai attacks he scored a soothing ton helping an ailing India win at Chennai against England. Before that, the CB series earlier in the year, with nearly two hundred runs in two matches. Many even tuned in to watch him struggle a couple of years prior to the 2007 World Cup, when his body was torn up with one injury after another, struggling through patches of runs.
Prelude to this blip, we were witness to a masterly display on the leg-side in Sydney which stunned Australia and pretty much assured Steve Waugh of a fight in his last Test. Or, that cut-over-point that soared at Centurion in the 2003 World Cup, sagging the spirits of the fastest bowler in the world!
Phones rang out across the seven seas when he went past Sir Don’s tally of Test runs, and also when he notched 186 not out against New Zealand on a fine Hyderabadi morning. Not one eye was dry when, suffering back pain, he almost won the match for India at Chennai in 1999, nor any TV screen was switched off when a ‘Desert Storm’ hit the Aussies. Why, no seat was empty in any stadium across the country in 1996, when he raised the visions of a home world cup triumph.
Then there were times when he suffered in silence, for he was the captain of the team. They said one man couldn’t possibly carry the burden of an entire team, yet he did; be it against Australia, South Africa or the West Indies. And we watched in horror as hopes that the batting messiah would call-on in a new era were dashed.
There was a time before that when we cheered his first ODI century – after 80 odd innings – against a foe that would hear more such resonance of his blade. There was a time when he first came out to open the innings and stamped his authority at a strike rate which reminds us of the prevalent T20 age. There was a time when he got his first handful hundreds in Test cricket, when he was still just a kid. That was the time when he battled the most domineering Australian bowlers on the fastest of pitches. And before anything else, there was that time when he first set out to bat for India at Karachi. We sat watching then as we sit watching today, much has changed and so much more remains the same. More importantly, did any one notice that two decades have passed since?
Not really, for time holds no relevance when such degree of love is involved. It is the love of the man himself that drives a billion strong to skip a heartbeat when the ball takes the inside edge of his bat and whizzes past the stumps. It is the same love that bursts crackers when he celebrates his birthday every year. And it is the same love that cries out in anguish when sometimes his precious 175 runs are frittered away.
Here you wonder, what is the source of this love then? The answer is simple, really. More than the talent in his footwork, the genius in his strokes, the poetry when he is in motion, the master class when he is ninety-nine not out, or the destiny that is 30000-plus international runs, it is his love for the game that sets him apart. An undying love for the game all these years that garners respect from the most ardent supporters and the staunchest of critics, and pushes them all to the edge every time he pads up.
Everything was a given from the moment he first held a bat, or when he went for the master tutelage under Ramakant Achrekar. It was a given when his fame drew Sunil Gavaskar to the maidans of Mumbai to watch him bat. Yes, the talent, genius, poetry, destiny and records were all a given. What wasn’t assured was the timeline, for there have been mere mortals who have fallen by the wayside!
And so, that he loves cricket and we love him for that is as true on 15th November 2009 as it was on 15th November 1989. Yes, it has been twenty years. But he’s not done loving the game yet. Nor are we!
© Cricket World 2009