India v West Indies, 2nd Test, Mumbai, 1st day November 14, 2013

The crowd at Tendulkar's feet

After the fall of the second wicket, time stood still. The state of the game, or the performance of the other batsman got little attention. The crowd of 25,000 came to see just one man

At 3.31pm, M Vijay gets out to a bat-pad catch off Shane Shillingford. There are about 20 overs to go to stumps. Two wickets are down. You don't expect a nightwatchman, with so much time to go, but sometimes people expect the worst. They all look towards the Indian dressing room. A support staff person moves about. There is no sight of either the regular No.4 or a nightwatchman. People keep looking. No signs. Anticipation builds. Tension builds. Suddenly someone realises the umpires have asked Vijay to wait because they are checking the legitimacy of the delivery. A minute has passed, and now someone has realised that. Time has stopped in India once again. Perhaps one last time, who knows?

There are old folk in the crowd, old enough to be his father, who might have seen him as the curly-haired kid in the maidans. Middle-aged people who have given up work today, who have grown with him, who have lived their lives with him as a part of them. Eighteen to 20-year olds who weren't even born when he debuted. Not a single person is sitting. Then they see Vijay has been given the marching orders, 25,000 heads - the loudest 25,000 you can ever imagine - turn to the dressing room. Two wickets have fallen in this over, but nobody is bothered.

Vijay has become Shillingford's victim twice, twice he has come back flexing his elbow, but nobody has read into the reaction because they are too busy waiting to give the next man in the best possible welcome. So Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar puts on his arm guard, helmet, then gloves, and gets up. Now he comes into public view, and people lose control. They are so busy counting his steps down the pavilion stairs they haven't even noticed the West Indies team have already formed a guard of honour for him. Cheteshwar Pujara, the unbeaten batsman, has joined in. The umpires join in too.

There walks Tendulkar. Possibly for the last time, because the West Indies batsmen haven't turned up in this series. He looks up to adjust to the outside light. Shakes the hand of the West Indies captain, Darren Sammy. Raises his bat to the opposition who earlier in the day gifted him a jersey signed by all of them. Nods once again in acknowledgement.

Tendulkar now bends, picks a piece of the soil, touches it on the peak of his forehead, and sort of crosses his heart. One of the umpires now gives Tendulkar the proper guard. By the time everything has settled down and Tendulkar faces his first ball, it's 3.35pm. Slow over-rate? Nobody cares.

Shillingford bowls, Tendulkar defends with the turn, it reaches on the bounce to short leg. People worry, people go quiet. "A mini heart-attack," one man shouts. Tendulkar defends the next ball, and the over is done.

It's 3.37pm when the next over starts. Six minutes, two balls, countless emotions. Now Pujara takes strike. Now Pujara cuts. Half-cut, half-punch. Past point for four. The crowd goes "Sachiiiiiin, Sachin". Now Pujara drives exquisitely through cover for four. The crowd goes "Sachiiiiin, Sachin". Pujara plays the whole over, but a man invokes the underworld classic, Satya, and shouts "Mumbai ka king kaun? [Who is the king of Mumbai]?" The whole stand replies, "Sachiiiiin, Sachin". "Cricket ka king kaun?" "Sachiiiiin, Sachin."

It's been 10 minutes since they stood up in the stands. Not one person has sat down. Shillingford starts a fresh over. Long-on back, a slip and two short legs in. Tendulkar stands tall, bat in air, squats, then the bat touches down once before the ball is delivered. He sweeps, and a cheer as loud as when India won the World Cup here more than two years ago goes up. We won't have another Bradman. Or maybe we will in the next innings.

You have got to keep in mind that this is a batsman who last scored a Test century in the first week of 2011. Averages 32 since then. Many Indians have argued over the last year that he has overstayed his welcome. The farewell series has been made garish by tasteless administrators trying to milk it. Then you watch this, and wonder what a loss it would have been had he gone without giving people this opportunity.

Forget the garishness. Forget that the opposition has left its Test-match temperament at the customs. Let's escape ephemerally once again. Let's lose ourselves again. Let's forget the last local train before peak-hour traffic. Let's applaud a forward-defensive like a goal.

So Tendulkar defends and we applaud. Then he takes a single to move to 3 off 9. In the next over, Shillingford provides a short ball, which he cuts away for four. About the 100-odd people who had sat down are back up again. They are watching from the terrace of the nearby Income Tax building. The big screen now shows Ramakant Achrekar, Tendulkar's coach, and Rajni Tendulkar, his mother, who are also here. They are both in wheelchairs now. How proud they must be.

The farewell series has been made garish by tasteless administrators trying to milk it. Then you watch this, and wonder what a loss it would have been had he gone without giving people this opportunity

Slowly, Tendulkar finds the rhythm. He is looking as assured as he has done in this year. He is also getting into the last-dance spirit. The 14th ball he faces, he reaches its pitch and drives it against the turn, because the gaps are on the off side. Past mid-off it goes. Tendulkar 12 off 14. India? It doesn't matter.

By now, every possible rhythmical chant "Sachin" can be made into has been chanted. "Sachiiiiin, Sachin." "Saaaaaachin." "Sachin, Sachin-Sachin-Sachin, Saaaachin." How come no one is out of tune when they chant his name?

This is the same ground where Tendulkar made his first-class debut. Lalchand Rajput, who was run out for 99 batting with Tendulkar, is here. Shishir Hattangadi, the opener in that match, is here. Many players who made their first-class debuts after that are here. Ashok Patel, the bowler who got him out for the first time in first-class cricket, and now lives in the US, has also come here. The Wankhede has changed completely. From the intimate concrete bowl it has now become a classy monster. Tendulkar is still there. Possibly one last time, but he is still batting. A banner in Wankhede says, "Now only humans will play cricket."

Cheteshwar Pujara's sole purpose in life by now is to take the single, and hand over the strike to Tendulkar. Once he drives to long-on, and Mexican wave dies abruptly because Tendulkar is now on strike. Tendulkar is looking solid. Moving right forward in defence against the quicks. Staying back to Shillingford because he hasn't been the best at reading the doosra, so he wants to give himself time to adjust to them off the pitch. He clips Marlon Samuels off the toes in the 27th over, and with that reaches 29 off 45. In his next over, Samuels pitches short, and he punches it to reach 33 off 52.

Tino Best, in the meantime, lobs a throw direct into the stumps at Tendulkar's end. The whole crowd goes "aye aye", which in Mumbai doesn't mean yes. It is their way of pulling someone up. Someone who is threatening their boy. Tendulkar, 40, is still their boy. They will protect him. When Best bowls a bouncer. When Best goes too far in the follow-through. "Tino sucks," shouts one stand. "Shush," goes the rest of the stadium. Best does a namaste [folded hands] as he walks back to his fielding position at fine leg, and all is well between him and the crowd.

The crowd actually couldn't be bothered less. They have come here to watch Tendulkar bat. They want to return tomorrow to watch him bat. They also want him to take most of the bowling left. Story of Tendulkar's life. Realistic expectations and him don't go together.

At 4.54pm, Tendulkar has played out the last ball of the day. He is 38 off 73. Pujara is 34 off 49, and has played some pretty decent shots, but no one has noticed. He could have streaked, and no one would have noticed. It's all forgiven this last time. You can focus on that man's batting alone, especially given he has batted well.

For about 10 seconds, Tendulkar looks at the pitch, waits for Pujara to join him, and then walks back. He raises the bat as he does. That's his promise. Time will stop tomorrow again.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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