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If yours was a childhood that included playing cricket on the road or in an apartment complex, you will be familiar with this: Just after the sun sets, play gets more tense and rushed. You try to squeeze every moment that remains before the darkness finally consumes you. I relive these moments with my nephew these days. Every time darkness looms, he implores me to play just one last match. A solitary streetlight serves as a floodlight and even though sighting the ball is akin to finding a needle in a haystack, play goes on until everyone is wholly and thoroughly defeated by the all-consuming darkness.
On 15th November 2013, we witnessed the Tendulkar of old for one last time. It was as if he had bucket list of shots that he wanted to mesmerise us with one last time. Straight drives, cuts, sweeps and the signature march to the crease followed by his signature rituals before taking strike. A last day in the office is supposed to easy - mill around, say your goodbyes, cut cake, shake hands and walk into an uneasy sunset wondering what you were going to do with all the free time that seemed to evade you when you were working. Not for Sachin Tendulkar. He was expected to score a century even in his final appearance.
The sun gods shone and how. If you saw the field and the pitch, they seemed to be drenched in a golden light. It was a miracle - Sachin Tendulkar was playing his final Test innings on a field of gold.
Just as day one came to an end, the result was a foregone conclusion. Which meant the only question on everyone's minds was if he would strike a ton in his final appearance. On day two, he struck two fours to go from 43 to 51. Then he slowly inched toward an improbable century. Then he struck out to a brilliant catch by Darren Sammy. Most headlines after he had played his final innings spoke of the missed century and not the masterful 74. In his final flourish with the bat, he became 16 again and played with the freeness of a debutant.
The Wankhede, which has been at odds with silence ever since the start of all the frenzy, stopped breathing. Just as reality sunk in and he made his final walk back to the pavilion, the crowd rediscovered their vocal cords. The ground had already begun to move beneath us.
Just as the crowd had settled down after his dismissal, this is just how quickly the baton was passed on to the next generation. Virat Kohli walked in and smacked the first ball for 4. The crowd found its voice again. And just like that, the baton was passed on.
When Sachin Tendulkar walked back after his final innings, it was approximately 10.45 am. The sun was shining in all its splendour, but the sun had also set on one of the finest careers ever in the history of cricket. Many have laughed at the hype, the 199 kgs of rose petals (which thankfully never got a chance to be dropped), the hastily arranged series to give him his farewell. But to think of Sachin Tendulkar is to suspend rationality. We asked miracles of him ever since he set foot on a cricket field, and more often than not, he obliged. Many have criticised it for being the Sachin show - but honestly, did anyone think that we would let our favourite son go with a just a handshake and a few customary words of thanks?
I have often wondered what goes on through sports-persons' minds when they retire. I wonder if their entire career flashes before their eyes. I wonder if Sachin, while making his retirement speech, remembered that when he began, Mumbai didn't exist, only Bombay did. I wonder if he was recounting those images of his childhood, those years, however few they may have been, when he was Sachin Tendulkar the boy and not Sachin Tendulkar the god. I wonder if he was replaying some of his innings, still wishing he had done something different. His speech was that of a middle-class boy - the son of a teacher and a home maker, not that of a superstar rich beyond anyone's imagination and the touchstone for an entire generation. After all these years, we realised that his life and times were much like our own - lost time with children, a wife who gave up a promising career so that her husband could go conquer the world, siblings who had his back and teachers who kept their star pupil in check.
When the end finally came on Saturday somewhere around noon, the sun was at its peak as he walked off a cricket field one last time to a mobile guard of honour, the tributes and tears pouring down in equal measure. The most poignant moment came after the victory lap. He quietly walked toward the pitch and a wave of silence again enveloped the crowd only for the second time in the match. He bent down and paid obeisance to his home and temple for most of his life - the 22 yard pitch. He had come full circle. He made his debut on November 15, 1989 and ended his career on November 16th, 2013. Twenty-four years and one day in the life of a legend.
And in his final moments as a cricketer, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, I'm sure, experienced what we all experienced as kids when darkness descended and we realised that we finally had to go home. We would all look at each other and wonder:
Can we play just one more game? Just one more over? Just a few more balls? Is it time already?
Like any child, we never wanted the game to end.
And on a bright November day, when a country could run on emotion alone if it were a source of power, I realised what just happened.
In some strange manner, the sun had set on my childhood too.
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