The day after
At 6.50am on Sunday morning Sachin Tendulkar woke up in the Indian team hotel and made a cup of tea for himself. On Saturday morning, too, Tendulkar had woken up at the same time and made a cup of tea. The difference was, on Saturday Tendulkar was getting ready to play his final day in international cricket. "When I woke up, I suddenly realised that I don't need to have a quick shower and get ready for the match," a relaxed Tendulkar spoke of his first morning as former India player. "I made myself a cup of tea, and enjoyed a nice breakfast with my wife. It was a relaxed morning."
Even as he spent a lot of time responding to people's wishes on his phone, cricket continued to be on Tendulkar's mind. "I don't know why it has not sunk in that I am not going to play more cricket," he said. "Somewhere or the other I will go and play." A bond of 30 years is hard to shake off in 30 hours.
Tendulkar had once said it was difficult for him to imagine life without cricket. A day after he was given a ceremonious and emotional farewell after India's Test series win against West Indies in Mumbai on Saturday, Tendulkar was relaxed in his appearance, in his body language, in his words.
According to Tendulkar, the decision to retire came as soon as he realised that going for training was becoming "an effort". Immediately the "question marks" started appearing, an indication from his body it was time to draw the curtains.
"You have to appreciate that there were many injuries during the 24 years," Tendulkar said. "It wasn't easy to overcome it. At some point in your life, your body gives you the message, 'Enough. Enough of this physical load.' The body requires rest. I thought the body is refusing to take that load consistently. If I have to train, it was becoming an effort. Earlier training sessions used to happen by themselves. Nowadays, sometimes I even felt that I should just sit and watch TV. That's when question marks arise. So when I tried to look for answers to those questions, I found out this was the perfect time to leave the game."
However, the world, at least some of the media, it appeared, already wanted him to start a new life, one that they felt would be appropriate for him. A reporter wondered if Tendulkar could actually keep himself together without cricket. Another enquired if he had plans to open a cricket academy. Yet another asked him if he would push for cricket to be an Olympic sport now that he had been bestowed with the Bharat Ratna, India's biggest civilian honour. A middle-aged photographer stood up impromptu, and congratulated Tendulkar on the award and wished he be knighted next so people could address him as Sir Sachin Tendulkar.
Tendulkar took in all the questions and wishes and desires of the people with equanimity, without ever once dismissing anything. He even cracked some witty remarks, to elicit laughter and applause in equal measure. "I have played cricket for 24 years, it has been only 24 hours since retirement, and I think I should get at least 24 days to relax before deciding these things," Tendulkar said with a big smile.
On Saturday, a few hours after he left the cricket field, the Indian government had announced the Bharat Ratna. Tendulkar dedicated it to his mother Rajni. According to him, for the numerous sacrifices she had made to make sure her son's career would prosper, he couldn't repay her enough. Tendulkar went on to extend that same compliment to the "millions of mothers" who had been equally selfless to see their children have a successful future. An instant applause filled up the room in appreciation of that remark.
For Tendulkar the most heartfelt moment arrived when his childhood coach Ramakant Achrekar, himself a Dronacharya Award winner, called him up and wished his student for the first time in his life, "Well done." Tendulkar today explained why his coach had waited for 24 years to give him the compliment.
"I have reached this level because of Sir, and he and my brother Ajit have been a team - on and off the field," Tendulkar said in Marathi, his mother tongue. "Off the field, at home. Sir has been the reason I got this far, Sir and other coaches. When I got the Bharat Ratna, Sir called me, and finally said, "Well done." That gave me immense joy."
There have been many Tendulkar photographic memories over the last two-and-a-half decades. On Saturday, amid all the outpouring of emotions, the most memorable image was that of Tendulkar, all alone, in his whites, walking towards the Wankhede pitch. As the crowd cried "Sachiiiin, Saachin", Tendulkar observed the 22 yards from close, bowed down, rubbed the red soil with his palm and applied it to his heart and head as a mark of worship and gratitude. Today he revealed those 22 yards were the "temple" where "his life started", and the stature he had reached in life and cricket was possible only due the cricket pitch.
"I knew that never ever in my life I would get to do that in an international match," Tendulkar said, choking a little. "That is where it all started. Those 22 yards have given me everything in my life. Whatever I have today is because I spent time within those 22 yards. It's like a temple for me. I just wanted to say a big thank you to cricket. Every time I go to bat, I touch the wicket and take blessings. That's what I did yesterday. I didn't say publicly. I just thanked cricket for everything I got in my life. It was as simple as that. Nothing complicated."
What made the moment emotional for Tendulkar was the realisation that it was all over. He didn't want the world to notice that emotion. "When I went to the wicket, and I stood there, I realised this is the last time I am standing in front of a packed stadium actually as a part of the Indian team," Tendulkar said. "This would never happen. That was very emotional. I couldn't control my tears. Knowing that I would never have a cricket bat in my hand playing for India was very, very emotional. There have been wonderful moments, and I could think of all those things. It happened very fast.
"You would have noticed, I didn't want to be rude, but I could not look up when I was shaking hands, including with West Indies players, because I was in tears, and I didn't want anyone to see my face that way. It's hard to express what I felt, but in spite of all these things I knew the decision was correct. I know the decision is right."
During his long career Tendulkar remained on top of his game barring the last phase of his career where his form had become streaky. Tendulkar, though, said that the biggest challenge of his career was not form but dealing with career-threatening and uncommon injuries such as the tennis elbow in the mid-2000s. "After the tennis elbow, it took me four-and-a-half months after the surgery," Tendulkar recalled. "The doctor had told me it would take that much time, but I tried to start earlier, and couldn't do it. The challenges were immense. At times it felt it was all over, and I won't be able to lift a bat again.
"After the tennis-elbow surgery, I couldn't even lift Arjun's plastic bat. When I went to practise for the first time after that surgery, the kids were fielding my powerful hits at 10-15 yards. I felt then that I won't be able to play anymore. That pressure is entirely different. It was a difficult phase. I want to thank the people who helped me during that time."
On Saturday paying a vote of thanks to the fans during his evocative speech, Tendulkar had said that their chants of "'Sachiiiiin, Sachin' would reverberate in my ears till I stop breathing". Today, as his management brought to an end the media briefing, everyone in the room screamed "Sachiiiiin, Sachin", suggesting it would reverberate in the people's hearts too.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo