Tendulkar: composure amid chaos
Anjali Tendulkar stood below the Indian dressing room waiting for her husband. An emotional Sachin Tendulkar had climbed the 34 steps leading to the dressing room with his head bowed down, tears trickling down, after India had decimated West Indies in the Mumbai Test.
Anjali was standing in the shade of the sight screen, along with her children, daughter Sara and son Arjun. Tears might have been welling up in their eyes but they did well to not let their emotions spill over lest it soil their husband/father's moment. As everyone was waiting for Tendulkar to emerge from the dressing room, the Wankhede Stadium crowd bellowed, "Thank You, Sachin. Thank You, Sachin."
Eventually, having given a speech in the West Indies dressing room, listened to in rapt attention by former captain Brian Lara, Tendulkar walked out with an energy drink in his hand. Fans from the adjacent MCA Pavilion went insane, making screeching and wailing noises to express their emotions. Tendulkar just smiled and then spotted Sudhir Gautam, one of his biggest fans. Tendulkar asked the Indian logistics in charge to get Gautam onto the ground, hugged his wife and kids, and smiled as he walked towards the presentation party.
On Friday, Tendulkar had sought out Gautam and Dharamveer Pal, the polio-stricken young man who travels with the Indian team during matches. He told them both to keep supporting cricket. "It is because of you guys we play. Keep supporting India. Indian cricket needs you," he said.
Now, as Ravi Shastri started the introductions, a powerful wave of boos cascaded and drowned his words. Everyone was desperate to hear one man: Tendulkar. A note in hand, Tendulkar walked with a small bottle of water in the other. Smartly, Shastri handed the microphone to Tendulkar without saying anything. Mic and bottle in hand, and the list in the other, Tendulkar started his tribute speech.
Each and every person he spoke about, he tried to locate them so he could speak to them, whichever stand they were in, wherever they were sitting or standing. The only person absent was his father, who was the first person on the list. When he addressed his mother Rajni he looked at her in the president's box, which was above the teams' dressing rooms. Tendulkar had personally overseen the construction of the ramp which would allow her wheelchair access. On Thursday morning before the first ball was bowled, Tendulkar had told BCCI president N Srinivasan that he was playing this final match for his mum and nothing else mattered. Today, he thanked the woman who meant everything to him heartily.
As he revealed bits and pieces about his life, about how his sister gave him his first bat, how his eldest brother Nitin had encouraged him all the while because he believed in him, how he told his brother Ajit that both of them had lived the same dream, about his in-laws being open to discuss any issues and his friends willing to cater to all his needs - including the doctors whom he would call to all parts of the world to diagnose his niggles - the applause only grew in resonance around the Wankhede. Anjali finally cried - so did Sara, while Arjun appeared sombre - when Tendulkar told the world about the sacrifices she had made to make for his sake.
By the time he had thanked his team-mates both present and former, the speech was about 10 minutes long. He apologised to everyone saying, "I know my speech is getting longer." Even before he could finish his sentence the crowd, in a bossy manner, egged him on. He continued.
And when he said he would dearly missing the crowds chanting "Saachinn, Saachinn" the thunderous roar refused to die down. Amidst that, Tendulkar wrapped up his speech.
He rushed away into the protective embrace of his family and team-mates. It was now time to say one last thanks to the public. The farewell lap. Tendulkar had already been carried in 2011 by his team-mates, after India had won the World Cup. But then it was a collective dream fulfilled. Today it was all about him. Even his own team-mates, as Rohit Sharma later revealed, just wanted to take in as much as possible of their hero.
The lap of honour started form the MCA Pavilion and inched towards the Sunil Gavaskar Stand. MS Dhoni tapped on Tendulkar's shoulder telling him his team-mates would like to carry him aloft on their shoulders. Tendulkar just smiled. Enough for Dhoni and Virat Kohli to lift him up instantly. Tendulkar sat upright. Unburdened. Waving the Indian tri-colour.
Anjali walked behind the palanquin, not like a wife but just one of the crowd. Arjun kept a close eye on his old man. Like a bodyguard he craned his neck here and there to make sure no suspicious elements had managed to sneak past the security cordon. Nitin Patel (physio) and Maane kaka (Ramesh Mane, masseur) carried on clapping like they were on a Tendulkar yatra (pilgrimage).
The crowd, meanwhile, was going mad. Like slaves in olden times the thousands raised their hands from all tiers across every stand chanting "Saaachin", as if he were saviour who could release them from their misery. It was one of the many touching moments on the day.
Soon the lap came to an end. Anjali and the kids left for the family box. Tendulkar took a sip of water.
And then he walked alone towards the middle. Like he had done thousands of times. Except this time he was not the gladiator walking into the arena. He was just a normal man paying obeisance to the soil on which he had built his career. The chant was still on. It stopped when he reached the pitch. He rubbed the red soil of the Wankhede pitch for a moment with his right palm and touched it to his heart and head. Goosebumps erupted all around, as did a cacophonous roar. Tendulkar walked back, head low, face hidden under the sweat-drenched sun hat given to him by his team-mates on the occasion of the 200th Test. He did not dare show those moist eyes to the world.
Sachin then climbed the 34 steps, once again, briskly. Afraid the crowd might swallow him. In five minutes, the stadium was empty.
He then visited his family and returned one last time to the Indian dressing room, where the players from both teams were milling around, having lunch. About 20 minutes later Tendulkar walked into the team bus. Like always, the front seat was his. Anjali sat next to him. It became evident that he had not had his lunch, busy extending courtesies and thanking everyone while the ground catering staff packed lunch for him and the family. Just then Tendulkar spotted his former team-mate and captain, Sourav Ganguly. Both men hugged warmly.
At 13 minutes past two on Saturday afternoon Sachin Tendulkar left the ground. One last time. Youngsters dressed in his No. 10 ODI jersey ran behind the team bus. Outside the ground's gates the dhols (drums) were in full swing. Revellers were going crazy along Marine Drive. "Cricket now is a temple without god," read one of the banners at the ground.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo