As a cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar has been an introvert. He kept his game on the forefront even as the sport and the world crumbled around him and built itself over two and a half decades. His opinion on many issues on and off the field is yet to be heard. He has rarely shown any emotion publicly except when his father passed away. And on Thursday, he stayed true to this image as he announced his farewell through a BCCI press release. Lesser heroes have bid farewell in a grander manner.
Being one of the most celebrated sportsmen in the world, one would have expected a teary-eyed Tendulkar laying bare his decision to quit the game in front of world media. However, the most debated upon announcement came in the form of of a 166-word email.
“All my life, I have had a dream of playing cricket for India. I have been living this dream every day for the last 24 years. It’s hard for me to imagine a life without playing cricket because it’s all I have ever done since I was 11 years old. It’s been a huge honour to have represented my country and played all over the world. I look forward to playing my 200th Test Match on home soil, as I call it a day,” the release quoted Tendulkar as saying.
“I thank the BCCI for everything over the years and for permitting me to move on when my heart feels it’s time! I thank my family for their patience and understanding. Most of all, I thank my fans and well-wishers who through their prayers and wishes have given me the strength to go out and perform at my best.”
There is going to be a lot of debate on whether his heart really wishes to move on. There are murmurs that Tendulkar was pressurised into retiring. However, none of that really matters. The Maestro will not be playing Tests about a month from now on. It’s a blow akin to the one the literary world suffered when an unwell Gabriel Garcia Marquez said he cannot write any more.
It would have been unimaginable some years ago, but a section of Indian cricket fans and media were actually clamouring for Tendulkar’s retirement. And this was a nation that held its breath each time Tendulkar celebrated his birthday. It was a countdown the fans would rather avoid. Yet, the moment is here.
Majority of India’s billion plus population is below the age of 24. It would be difficult to explain to them that cricket was once played without Tendulkar. It will be harder to make them accept that cricket will be played without Tendulkar.
And for the older generation, it is a deja vu. About 27 years ago, they had asked “Who after Sunil Gavaskar?” Now they will wonder the same about Tendulkar.
In Gavaskar’s case, the lacuna was filled within two to three years by Tendulkar himself. But as of now there is no hope stemming on cricketing horizon. And this vacuum will be felt till we discover another wonder cricketer or make peace with the reality of the retirement of a once-in-a lifetime legend.
Tendulkar’s retirement will bring an end to what is referred to as the golden era of Indian batting. He was the last remaining pillar of the edifice that also was supported by Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly.
Also with Tendulkar, India will lose one of the talismans that formed a golden trio alongwith Leander Paes and Viswanathan Anand. With all the three in their forties, this announcement begins the end of this elite club.
As far as Indian cricket is concerned, make no mistake it will pick itself up and go for it when the moment arises. Much like how Tendulkar helped the nation pick itself up every time it suffered a blow. Indian fans will cheer for the team much the same way they did the last 24 years.
Tendulkar will slowly cease to be a part of everyday debate on the game. A new hero will take over and the show will go on.
As for the moment, It’s not over yet. In Tendulkar’s career the last ball is yet to be bowled. There is speculation over where his 200th Test will be played. But does it really matter? Is there a Test venue in the country where he is loved less than the other? Is there a centre where he will not get a red carpet while he walks in and out in his final innings?
No matter where the match is played, after Tendulkar faces his final delivery, there will be eyes swelling up and voices choking over lumps in throat. There will be applause that would go on even after the Great has long rushed into the dressing room lest he betrays his emotions in front of the world. It is unlikely he won’t be an introvertic even in his last hurrah.
And even those who pitched for his retirement not so long ago would bow to the Master because no matter how low-key an affair he chose to make his announcement, the country will give its Hero, the farewell he deserves.