I miss being a sports writer today. I started watching cricket during the 1996 World Cup, meeting the men in a different shade of blue for the first time on televisions that still had backsides. White-helmeted Azhar, crazy-eyed Venkatpathy Raju, and my favourite, always-a-gentleman, Javagal Srinath, became familiar faces, the kinds you knew you would smile at unabashedly if you ever saw in person, knowing full well they had no idea who you were. Sachin Tendulkar was already a household name by then, but we were yet to be properly acquainted. India co-hosted the cup but didn’t win the title that year, yet Sachin went on to score the most runs in the tournament, and set up home in a small corner somewhere amongst my auricles and ventricles with his elegant stroke play and mild manner alike.
They’ve all retired, those heroes of my cricket knowing infancy. I’ve bid tearful goodbyes to Srinath and Kumble, disappointed adieus to Jadeja and Azhar, sad-smile bye-byes to Ganguly and Dravid, and today, on that day that always seemed far, far away, I raise my hand in farewell to Tendulkar.
My years as a journalist introduced me to a breed of people I had thus far never known: critics of Tendulkar; the pot-bellied old guards of how-it-was reporting, disappointed by the relegation of other sports to side-line treatment, in lieu of the behemoth that has become cricket in the subcontinent, and its leviathan love-child, the little master who has tamed a billion and more to the movement of his willow. And even in those bitter bygone-hankerers, I found swathed under layers and layers of indignation, recognition that Sachin is/was special and his genius unmistakable. He embodies everything that sport celebrates: talent, tenacity and temperament. From those zero-on-the-board falls to the likes of McGrath, to those mammoth double tons in monochrome and colour, Tendulkar made cricket, cricket.
My cheeks are still a bit salty from watching an unassuming marvel wishing his adoring republic a final farewell. Having watched the video, pixellated in parts, echoing in others, I suppose it’s time to do the same: goodbye Sachin, it’s been special.
© Ayesha Sindhu 2013