Not a Sachin article
I think we can all agree the problem of recent times is a lack of Sachin Tendulkar articles. But this is not a Sachin Tendulkar article.
Not because I couldn't retell my story about the day I almost saw him bat at the MCG in front of 300 people, any anecdote involving him and Jesse Ryder sharing the same field, or even how a woman once told me that Sachin doesn't much care for cheese. It's just that if there is an angle on Sachin Tendulkar, I am sure by now it has been covered. Here's an interesting fact: the story of Tendulkar driving his sports car late at night to avoid Mumbai traffic has now been told ten million times more than he ever actually drove late at night.
But this is not a Sachin Tendulkar article.
This is an article about Sachin Tendulkar fans. Those who believe he gave Indians something to be proud of. Those who love the visual aesthetic of short men who can on-drive. Those who love legends. Statisticians who like to purr over the creation of previously unthought-of landmarks. And fans of athletes who represent not just a sponsor or team but a people coming of age. They are everywhere, these people. They have thanked Sachin with a consistency and proficiency that even Sachin would have been proud to produce. Eden Gardens did roses, songs and wax. David Cameron signed a picture of Sachin. Companies used ads to thank him.
Now you may think it's over the top, or way off the mark, or not enough, but who are you, or I, to tell people how to idolise their heroes? The interesting thing is what happens next.
These people won't cease to exist now that Sachin has gone. They will continue to eat breakfast cereals and watch TV. Never watching cricket again or committing mass ritual suicide would be far too extreme. But where do they put their energy, their love, and their very reason for being?
It's quite clear I wouldn't have asked that unless I was going to give my own answer. One that will be ignored almost instantly by a billion Little Master fans. But one that seemed valid as my plane flew over India while Sachin played out his career.
They should now love cricket the way they loved Sachin.
Without cricket, Sachin wouldn't be Sachin. The same way Johnny Cash could never have been Belgian, Sachin would never have come from any other sport. Not football, basketball, tiddlywinks, handball, hockey or synchronised diving. Without cricket, Sachin could never have been the man he was for India. He was the right man in the right sport in the right country at the right time.
Sachin needed cricket as much as cricket needs India and India needed Sachin.
Therefore, fans with nothing to do as Sachin leaves the game should do everything in their power to protect and support cricket the way they once did with Sachin. It won't be cheating on him, as cricket is Sachin. It will actually be honouring him in the best way possible.
Because if something doesn't happen to cricket soon, Sachin's records won't mean much. If Test cricket continues to be eaten away at, Sachin's legacy will diminish. If nation v nation cricket becomes little more than the odd friendly before a global tournament, why will it matter if Sachin scored a hundred international hundreds? If the T20 leagues of the world finally take over, will new fans look at Sachin's T20 career and wonder what the fuss is about? If World Cups aren't played anymore, who cares if he won one?
Now, this is all looking at the darkest possible days, days that may never exist. But not days that couldn't exist. These are days that, given the current trends and mismanagement, self-interest and general shortsightedness of cricket administrators, could definitely happen. If Australia, England and India continue to play each other more often than Gilligan's Island repeats, how can the other countries finance their cricket? If only Australia, England and India host international tournaments, how will other countries grow their markets? If the ten Test-playing nations continue to prioritise domestic T20 leagues, where will international cricket fit in? And if they continue to not just ignore the outside world but actively try to block it from getting any pieces of their pie, only the Commonwealth will ever truly understand the brilliance of Sachin.
If my whole life was about Sachin, his legacy would matter to me. And any attempt at eating away at the sport he played would hurt me. I'd do everything in my power (angry comments, letters to editors, snarky tweets, endless petitions) to make sure it did not happen.
If someone writes a piece about Sachin that in any way shows him in negative light, the comment threads light up. But when his sport, the sport that made him what he is, gets damaged by yet another self-interested, political, short-sighted financial decision, it's tumbleweeds from most cricket fans.
Any attack on cricket's future is an attack on Sachin. Any time the game is treated poorly, it's Sachin's game that is treated poorly. Now that Sachin has said his final goodbyes, touched the pitch and started his own chant, all the attention and zealotry from these amazing cricket fans can finally start having an impact on the leaders of cricket.
Sachin was lucky to have cricket. Cricket was lucky to have Sachin. We were lucky to have both. Until there is an apocalypse or massive change in the way we live life, cricket will continue to be played. But how important it is, and the health of it, no one knows.
Whether you're a Sachinista, Trumpeter or a Bob Blairite, these are your legends and this is your game. And the game needs all its fans holding the administrators to account.