Lions v Mumbai Indians, Group B, CLT20, Jo'burg October 14, 2012

Throngs for Tendulkar

Sachin Tendulkar drew the biggest cheers from the Wanderers crowd, as though they realised it may be the last time they were watching him play

The match between Chennai Super Kings and Sydney Sixers had ended, when a throng of people clogged the walkway between the change-room and the nets. Occasionally after play, some stragglers will wander along that area, hoping for a glimpse of player or an autograph. Seldom has it been so difficult to move through there.

It took a while for realisation to hit and an explanation to be found for the traffic. Sachin Tendulkar was in town. Of course.

Tendulkar has been to South Africa several times before. Only two summers ago, he scored his 50th Test century down the road at SuperSport Park. He has played in all sorts of formats, colours and competitions here. In fact, South African fans may be part of a group that get to see him more often than people in other countries do, and over the years it seemed as though they had become accustomed to his presence.

This evening, thousands waited to see if Tendulkar would emerge from the practice area, if he would pop his head out of the dressing room or could be spotted through a window. He was nowhere to be seen.

Minutes later, the air at the Wanderers seemed to have electricity running through it. Tendulkar stepped onto the field to open the batting with Dwayne Smith and it was as though nothing else in the world mattered.

The same sentiment was evident in the Lions bowlers' approach. They seemed too focused on Tendulkar and almost forgot there was a batsman at the other end. With repeated short balls directed Tendulkar's way, careless length deliveries were sent to Smith.

Apart from the two internationals, Dirk Nannes and Sohail Tanvir, Lions had an inexperienced pace attack. Chris Morris' youth showed when he surprised Tendulkar with a bouncer that was clocked at 144 kph. He tried to do it again but couldn't, and was hit for back-to-back fours by Smith in that over, and two fours in the next. Even Tanvir got carried away and slipped in the short ball to Tendulkar.

Only when the spinner came on was some calm brought back to Lions' attack. Aaron Phangiso was not scared by Tendulkar and gave the ball generous flight. He should have had Tendulkar stumped but then bowled him two balls later. The celebrations were not wild, certainly not as wild as they were in 2010 when Shane Burger, who was probably even less well known than Phangiso, dismissed Tendulkar.

The rest of the match seemed to happen with a haze over it. The crowd became substantially smaller and less vocal, although that could have had something to do with the temperature dropping and a nasty wind picking up. Only when Lions got closer did something change.

Memories of 2010 came back as the people who had stayed behind began to cheer on their home side. "Ole, Ole," was chanted. Neil McKenzie, a legend in his own right at this ground, played what looked like the most carefree innings of the day. McKenzie did not struggle to time the ball so he did not have to rely on power hitting. By the time he had finished, Tendulkar seemed far from the remaining people's thoughts.

The reality is that this could be the last time Tendulkar plays in South Africa. Nobody knows when the end will be, though. If this is indeed Tendulkar's last visit to these shores, at least he would have done a fairly proper round trip. Mumbai play two matches at the Wanderers, one in Cape Town and one in Durban. If they make it to the semi-finals, they could play at Centurion as well. No doubt the crowds will swell to see him.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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