The man whom cricket loved back

Tendulkar was the biggest worshipper the game could ever find, and in that lay the foundation of his greatness
Sambit Bal November 19, 2013

The adorer at one with the object of his affection © Hindustan Times via Getty Images

A day before Sachin Tendulkar's final day in cricket, I was asked by a television channel if there had been a grander farewell for a sportsperson. I offered the standard answer: few sports could beat the combined scale of size and emotion afforded by cricket's fan base, and no other sportsperson has been adored so obsessively for so long by so many people.

But being in attendance for his final day in cricket brought home the more profound part of the truth. Perhaps no sportsman, certainly no cricketer, has loved his sport so obsessively, so absolutely, and for so long as Sachin Tendulkar has done. There were thousands of moist eyes and heavy hearts around the ground, and millions more around the world, but no loss was greater than that of Tendulkar himself.

When great sportsmen leave the stage, more so ones as well loved as Tendulkar, they take part of us with them. But for him, he was leaving his very essence behind. Fans spoke of the emptiness that followed his departure, but can it be greater than the one in Tendulkar's heart? Can we even comprehend it?

Anjali, his wife, came closest. Cricket can do without Tendulkar, she said, but can Tendulkar do without cricket?

Tendulkar's final performance in the India colours will count among his finest: the 74 runs he scored in his final innings will be as special to his fans as many of his hundreds are, but it was his farewell speech that moved millions to tears. It wasn't profound or insightful, it didn't contain a vision for cricket, or even dazzling oratory. It was merely a thanksgiving.

But it was lifted by its stirring earnestness, the poignancy of the moment, and most of all, by its intimacy. In thanking everyone, from his father to his fans, Tendulkar revealed more of himself than he has ever done in the past.

He spoke for nearly 20 minutes but he didn't need a written speech because the words came from within; and the words were moving because they carried emotions fans could relate to. For a naturally shy person, this was a virtuoso performance. But in the truest sense, this was no performance. "It is getting difficult," he said at the beginning, "but I will manage." And then he was in the zone. The speech contained his signature qualities: humility, grace, simplicity and composure.

Brian Lara, Tendulkar's great rival, left with these words, delivered with a flourish: "Did I entertain you?" he asked the fans in Bridgetown after West Indies had bowed out of their home World Cup with a loss to England. The crowd roared back its approval.

Tendulkar's final words were a heartfelt thank you. "Sachin, Sachin will reverberate in my ears till I stop breathing," he said. The crowd wept.

As photographers crowded him after the speech, standing high in the Garware Pavilion I pictured in my mind the perfect finish. Tendulkar breaking free of the throng that surrounded him and taking a lap of the ground all by himself. Just him on his beloved turf, and nothing between him and his fans. A purer finale was hard to imagine.

But of course he was never going to be left alone. Photographers, reporters, administrators, policemen, hangers-on surrounded him as he began his final lap, and then there was the obligatory hoisting-on-the-shoulders by his team-mates. Still, it was a quite a finish.

Fans spoke of the emptiness that followed Tendulkar's departure, but can it be greater than the one in Tendulkar's heart?

I have been fortunate to have experienced first-hand some big moments in cricket in the last 15 years. I watched this very ground throb all day and then explode when MS Dhoni's thundering six won India the 2011 World Cup. But that emotion was triumphalist, and somewhat feral. Journalism trains you to soak up the atmosphere on such occasions, but inures you from being affected by it.

This was different. The intimacy, the deeply personal nature of the occasion, melted your defence. Resistance would have been futile and artificial. You were glad to be there, and to surrender to the moment.

India is given to exaggeration, and the way everyone was cashing in on Tendulkar's final series had begun to grate, but there was no artifice here. Cricket, on that day, became incidental, and it didn't matter anymore that the feebleness of the West Indians had reduced the contest to a mockery. It became what it was meant to be: it was now between Tendulkar and his fans.

It was pointed out that none of the recently retired Indian greats received the send-off they deserved, but to begrudge Tendulkar his farewell on that count would be missing the plot. His story is unique. You could argue that it is an outcome of circumstances, but it is hard to imagine any cricketer having the kind of connection with his fans that he did. It wasn't the sort of craze fans find themselves possessed by for rock stars and film stars. It was love, true and deep, a sense he was theirs, and a gratefulness for the joy he brought them.

At the press conference the following day, Tendulkar spoke about not having yet reconciled to the idea of not playing cricket again. He didn't know, he said, why it hadn't sunk in. "Kahin na kahin toh main khel loonga." In cold words, it translates to "Somewhere, somehow, I will find a way to play." But the translation doesn't come close to capturing the longing and poignancy of those words. Spoken with a wistful smile, they offered a glimpse to the hole in his life.

After saying goodbye to the crowd on Saturday, he went - and mercifully he was allowed to go alone - to bid farewell to the "22 yards that had been my life". And it was while he was talking to the wicket, he said casually at the press conference the next day, that he began to feel really emotional.

Talking to the wicket? It was impossible in that bedlam that passed for a press conference - you could only get a word in if you could shout down 15 others - to venture a follow up, but you got it.

Here was a man who spoke of cricket in his sleep, who regarded his bats as his fellow travellers, who saw every cricket ground as his temple, and he was now speaking of talking to the pitch. They conferred godhood on him to glow in his glory, but the truth is that he was the biggest worshipper the game could ever find, and in that lay the foundation of Tendulkar's greatness.

The photograph of Tendulkar in this article is one I have come to love. It is from a training session during the 2012 IPL. He still retains his cherubic look, but the face looks lived-in here; the hair is flowing longer than usual, the eyes are shut, fists clenched around an imaginary bat, and he is rehearsing a shot. His team-mates are a blur behind him, and he seems oblivious to them. He looks more a Sufi saint in a trance than a cricketer: it's a picture of utter submission to his craft.

How could cricket not love him back?

Posted by Naresh28 on (November 21, 2013, 10:34 GMT)

If SACHIN had played his last test match away from India, his fans would have been ROBBED of seeing him for the last time. In all I think the farewell ended well on his terms. He DESERVED it. He earned it. He gave everything to the GAME!!!

Posted by mrgupta on (November 21, 2013, 8:03 GMT)

When i was about 8 years old and started watching and understanding international cricket i read a lot about Sunny Gavaskar. That time he was the ultimate player to have come from India closely followed by Kapil. When Sachin emerged around the same time our thought was how can a Kid only about 6-7 years older to us be thrown into face Imran and Wasim? Me and my brother instantly felt connected with him and started watching him intently. Over the years he became the national icon and our love and respect for him kept increasing. It was the time i used to watch the match only until Sachin was batting. Now on 16th when he was saying goodbye i couldn't hold my tears, my Wife was not impressed though. I told her i can't explain it to you why i felt like crying or was depressed for most part of the morning. Its not a movie where you forget everything once it is over! Its my entire childhood memories! I mean, its apna Sachin, thats it!

Posted by Boopathy22 on (November 20, 2013, 11:34 GMT)

Hope he comes back as a Indian coach soon...

Posted by peegeevee on (November 20, 2013, 8:57 GMT)

a heart spoke and millions of hearts responded. it was as simple as that, and so poignantly captured by sambit in words. for once, it was not his bat that did the talking and to such effect.

Posted by sunnygav on (November 20, 2013, 5:41 GMT)

6. I'm not superstitious but admit to have done silly things like not moving from my chair for hours or not switching on TV while reading commentary on Cricinfo when him batting so well with the fear of jinxing him. I don't claim of stopping to watch cricket after his retirement but I'll always miss Sachin on field "The fieriest and fairest battler the world cricket has known" Thank you Cricinfo and everyone for giving Master the fitting farewell he deserved. MASTER ...Take a bow !!! END OF AN ERA !!!

Posted by sunnygav on (November 20, 2013, 5:38 GMT)

5. I have always been able to relate myself to Sachin in different situations. I have been able to get me out of the worst situations just reminding myself of the fighting ability of my hero who would come back from his father's funeral to score an emotional century in world cup it was the epitome of love for the game and the country. to be cont...

Posted by sunnygav on (November 20, 2013, 5:37 GMT)

4. I don't think of him just numbers be it his 100-100 or his record test score (whatever it is) or 200 tests or under rate him for not achieving 300. They are no doubt testament of what he has achieved but he has achieved far more than these numbers he has gone beyond boundaries to win millions of Indian, Pakistani, Srilankan, Bangladeshi Australian, English, NZ, Southafrican, WI and hearts of cricket lovers all around the Globe and someone in future might take over his records of most runs or most test centuries or the rest but it would be very hard to emulate what he has done all these years and impossible to take away his love from his fanfare ...to be cont...

Posted by sunnygav on (November 20, 2013, 5:36 GMT)

3. I never doubt his timing of retirement. I never thought he should have retired earlier after world cup win. Never ever I doubted his ability during his leanest phase over the last 2 years. He always hit hard to his critics in a best possible manner and that is with his bat over the last 24 years. He has never spoken against anyone over 24 year career span. Whoever doubted his abilities had to eat their words be it Sanjay Manjarekar or Chappell Brothers or so many others who have tried to attack him during his rough period only for him to answer them back with his bat. Last 2 years perhaps his leanest phase which he couldn't come out goes on to show his fallibility and more so human and all more so adorable. .. to be continued

Posted by sunnygav on (November 20, 2013, 5:35 GMT)

2. I don't think of him as a god. This doesn't lessen his stature for me by any means but if anything it makes him even better. For someone to reach where he is with all the fallibility of human being by sheer hard work, dedication and love towards what he does is simply breathtaking and inspirational

Posted by sunnygav on (November 20, 2013, 5:33 GMT)

1. For me he has never been better than Bradman or for that matter better than Lara or Kallis or Dravid and list goes On…. For me he has always been Sachin a very special person. With no disrespect to the above mentioned players who have been special in their own right but when all this different generation players get compared to just one person he has to be someone special who carries the burden of millions and always carries a smile on his face a rare combination of fierce and fair competitor on field and a total friendly persona off field (not that I know him personally but then someone of his stature under media scrutiny for last 24 years and nothing absurd coming out tells all about his personality) .... to be continued ....

Posted by sunnygav on (November 20, 2013, 5:31 GMT)

I'm a one of the die-hard fan of Sachin who has always adored him whole life but never expressed in any public forum and I think I might not be the only one to do so.

The reason I'm writing today is to express my love towards the person who has given so much to the people of India and with the unreal hope of him coming across my message to see what he means to us and with all his sacrifices what he has given to the people of India.

He has always represented India in an international forum in the best possible way

I'm his diehard fan but different in many ways. I love Sachin for all the different reasons

1.For me he has never been better than Bradman or for that matter better than Lara or Kallis or Dravid and list goes On…. to be conttinued .....

Posted by Leg-Breaker on (November 20, 2013, 3:21 GMT)

Sambit,

Let me first congratulate you on the aptness of the title. Out of all the tributes I have read, if there is one sentence I would pick for Sachin, it would be "The man who cricket loved back" How did you conjure up that phrase?

There have been lots of people I admire greater than Tendulkar and I begrudge that guys like Chanderpaul, Dravid, and Border who have helped their teams to greater glory (For all the praises on Tendulkar, Border actually managed to make a winning team from depths of despair and he was a good batsman and captain) Kallis is within striking distance of Tendulkar and let us not even talk about bowling.

But the way cricket has loved Tendulkar back is amazing - Serendipity at its best - a confluence of marketing, media given to hyperbole, a vibrant economy, a cricket board who was extra patient with him, of course commentators who reserved their exclusive eulogies only for him. There will never be a batsman better praised than Sachin.

Posted by soumik on (November 20, 2013, 2:07 GMT)

Watching Sachin play is like seeing skill and talent at the highest level one can achieve and master.This is something we call god-gifted that normal human beings can't achieve no matter how hard they try.This is part of watching a sport for shear entertainment and jubilance.But cricket to me comes before Sachin and when I think objectively about what cricket as a game got benefited from a man of Sachin's stature,I get baffled.For all his popularity and fanfare, has he taken any stance for the betterment of the game?If he truly loves cricket as a game, he should have raised voice against the nuances that are costing the game dearly, but he chose to remain silent.aone can't forget the fact that he has also been rewarded sufficiently for his love of the game as well.I hope his legacy will not be in the shear numbers he achieved,rather it should inspire the current and the generations to come to play and follow the game in its true spirit.

Posted by android_user on (November 19, 2013, 23:27 GMT)

wow, another one which does justice to Tendlya the seeker

Posted by mnemoniny on (November 19, 2013, 19:02 GMT)

Tendulkar must be what he is. People decided long ago that he was "the little master" and started this god-cult around him. It would be damaging to the collective cricketing psyche to admit it, but in terms of greatness, he stands squarely in the middle of an albeit-excellent pack. No-one can say he has not performed magnificently for his country. That qualitative point is not up for argument.

What is ripe for debate is the quantitative detail of Tendulkar's career. E.G. he averaged 32.34 from 23 tests over the last 2 and a half years without getting dropped. What a feat. That's 23 tests someone like Shikhar Dhawan or Rohit Sharma didn't get to play. Look at those guys now. The impact of that blocking of new talent depends on how much Sachin's team-mates believed he deserved to stay with them. Evidently they believed in him completely. My own cultural perspective says to me that this is favouritism, but the fact that love for Tendulkar endures despite his decline is part of his charm.

Posted by TamilIndian on (November 19, 2013, 18:10 GMT)

Mr. Bal - how could you keep doing this again and again? Brilliant piece as ALWAYS!

Posted by Nampally on (November 19, 2013, 17:28 GMT)

The words of Anjali "Can Tendulkar live without Cricket" reflect the true depth of emptiness! This happens in any profession when the person is so dedicated & loves his profession so much that quitting it almost breaks his/her heart! The emptiness in their lives is so deep that they find it difficult to find an alternative. They take years to settle to the retired life out of more compulsion & resignation. As for Tendulkar's masterpiece farewell speech it was a "Tear jerker"! He spoke of the true feelings as experienced by famous retirees from the bottom of his heart & gave credit to all others for making him as Great as was. True sign of humility & gratitude to the game which enriched him as a human despite the Rock star status. It enriched him both morally & monetarily to the point Cricket became his way of life. It will make a huge change to his life & will take lot of help to resettle him to his retired life. I wish Sachin all the best & I am sure Dr. Anjali will be there for him!

Posted by   on (November 19, 2013, 17:09 GMT)

I know there is only a slim chance that my post will appear amid some mindless sycophancy -- He should have thanked Krish srikanth, his first captain gracefully. i am not a big fan of Krish but Tendulkar should have said few things more. A definite drawback on the parting speech..

Posted by   on (November 19, 2013, 16:50 GMT)

Very good article... Again tears in my eyes..

Posted by   on (November 19, 2013, 16:11 GMT)

One of the best articles I have read over the last fortnight on Sachin .. Brilliant !!

Posted by   on (November 19, 2013, 15:20 GMT)

I like cricket, I like recalling the exuberance I had for playing cricket, I like Tendulkar. And for all his achievements and greatness of mind and soul, I can relate to Tendulkar.I can't relate to Tendulkar as a master technician of the game,can't relate to as a person who stands on top of his world,can't relate having so much goodness within.I, as a commoner among millions, can relate to that feeling which is ever present within him, that feeling of Joy which started it all. Everyone begins there at that point when you realize what a Joy the game is - so for the first couple of stumbling steps, we were on the same path - and he continues to remind me of that with pure Joy ever visible from within him. That is why Tendulkar means so much more to fans - he gives us a sense of familiarity.Tendulkar and fans are united in those moments of expressing ones self with the pleasure of anticipation that pulls at your heart strings to go & enact something which gives you joy. Forever Tendulkar.

Posted by   on (November 19, 2013, 14:05 GMT)

pls note that sachin is not the only player to retire from game. there are lot of legends who have called it off one day. so stop these all non-sense and be prepare for next part.

Posted by Leggie on (November 19, 2013, 14:01 GMT)

The best article on Sachin's farewell. It truly captures *everything* about the Little Master, and made my eyes moist even while at work. Please please close the Farewell page with this one, and let no one else dilute the farewell any further. Thank you.

Posted by   on (November 19, 2013, 13:23 GMT)

One of the best summed up article on Sachin Tendulkar. Great work! Probably one of your best!!

Posted by android_user on (November 19, 2013, 12:57 GMT)

Gotta!!Sambit,truely speaking,while classifying your article i wanted to use the word best but somehow became frugal for the sake of brevity and used one of the best.Now after going through few comments my original conscience rises as a phoenix to make me term your article the best.please allow the correction.

Posted by Amit68 on (November 19, 2013, 12:11 GMT)

Sambit, since you are the editor-in-chief at Cricinfo, my request is to make this one the last of the retirement articles on Sachin. Its a good place to stop-with the best article of the lot (by a distance).

Posted by Amit68 on (November 19, 2013, 12:05 GMT)

The best of all the recent Sachin articles. After all the writers trying to outdo each other trying (most times too hard) to find meaning in Sachin's career and popularity this was refreshing and perhaps closest to the truth.

Posted by   on (November 19, 2013, 8:16 GMT)

A great cricketer Always remember his skills and composure both on and off the field. TO say that he was under pressure over the 24 years is unfair as he enjoyed public adulation and bricbats. As the author rightly points out: Cricket is a game played by a minority of countries and is a colonial overhang. BCCI is a private body that pretends to wear the national garb. Sachin & players of his era and before have been appropriately compensated for their technical skills and finesse be it via their contracts or their advertisements and product endorsements and rightly so. Being in a win win situation to get paid to perform in a sport that one loves & single mindedly pursues is a blessings. To call him a god is to belittle GOD himself

Posted by kbalaji on (November 19, 2013, 8:10 GMT)

I think it's time for these farewell blog posts should come to an end. It's depressing. I'm already reliving all the memories from the last 25 years. It's difficult to move on when you load cricinfo and see a new eulogy post every day.

Posted by tickcric on (November 19, 2013, 8:08 GMT)

@ProdigyA You are right friend. May be we will forever miss him.

Posted by android_user on (November 19, 2013, 8:02 GMT)

one of the best articles Sambit.And what a photograph of Sachin!Expecting a few more insightful articles on the master from you.

Posted by vish2020 on (November 19, 2013, 7:08 GMT)

Say what you want and about who you want.. at the end, this guy will be the greatest of all time when you take in the whole picture. Hail little master

Posted by Somil_20 on (November 19, 2013, 6:55 GMT)

Absolutely well comprehended...all the emotions that might have been missed due to office; are up and running again...I ignored the picture before reading the article, out of shear curiosity, but after reading this, the picture looks absolute summary of the Li'l Master's connection with the game...True, rarely has a sport seen a better player and even rare is the instance of such a long and unconditional association between the game, player and the sport...LEGEND OF THE GAME...who is already being missed terribly...with a similar sort of a hole in the fans' hearts as well...

Posted by   on (November 19, 2013, 6:46 GMT)

Great article Sambit. One felt a void the minute he walked off with that guard of honor, but it grew and grew. Certainly the most loved sportsperson of all time, Sachin loved the game more than anyone else did. Days have past, but its a tad difficult to believe the Zen Master is not going to bat for India again. Who knows if this lump we still have in our throats will ever go away, maybe its good it doesn't. This, as you mentioned, is us, his audience and fans, loving him back, on an astronomical scale greater than what you see being dished out to bollywood 'stars'. We miss you so much Sachin!

Posted by screamingeagle on (November 19, 2013, 6:44 GMT)

For me, I always likes Sachin. But frankly, that last speech revealed much more about the man than the previous 24 years. I say that in a very positive way. People have said lots of things, he plays for records, he is not good enough in crunch situations etc. But what he said, that kind of indicated that he played the game for the love of the game, everything came second. Thank you Sachin for being the player and the person you are. Cricket is poorer after your retirement.

Posted by cric_options on (November 19, 2013, 5:22 GMT)

Zen like. To become One. Sambit your observation is very precise. Twice have I thought that probably Sachin should retire, once when he was struggling through injury and now when he was struggling to get his 100th 100. But soon it occurred to me, that Sachin is different. He loves the game, and just like you said, he is one with it. That is his only existential reality and his entire consciousness is bounded by it. So there is no point asking him to retire. Either he retires of his on or the selectors decide that the time has come based on performance. With Sachin, with the body of work, performance or the lack of it to become a reason would had taken a long time, atleast in India. Nothing in the world happens just for one reason. So I am sure the tenureship, the performance, the prodding from outside, might have reached Sachin's ears, and he might have decided to call it a day. Combining formats, he is the greatest to have played the game after Bradman and Muralitharan.

Posted by   on (November 19, 2013, 4:46 GMT)

Thank you Sambit for writing this. It has been a month since I have been thinking about what he means to me and yet have not reached a conclusion. All I can finally think of is "nobody loved the game more than he did and in turn the game loved him back like it did to no other". That is all.

Posted by ProdigyA on (November 19, 2013, 3:13 GMT)

So much has been said and so much has been written in the past one month about Sachin but still its not enough. Its like an insatiable love that can never be enough. Hail the master.

Comments have now been closed for this article

Features

The man whom cricket loved back

Sambit Bal: Tendulkar was the biggest worshipper the game could ever find, and in that lay the foundation of his greatness

Tendulkar's perfect balance

Sharda Ugra: While the team, the country and the sport changed around him, Tendulkar remained constant

Why do we insist on seeing the 'real' Sachin?

Rahul Bose: You can ask as much as you want for a more "human", more "feelable, touchable" Sachin, but he'll probably not change - and that's a good thing

Zaltz Stats

550,000,000
The approximate number of people in India today who had not been born when Sachin Tendulkar made his Test debut in 1989 (calculated from these figures). His batting has been so erotically outstanding that the global population has increased by almost 2 billion during his career, with the biggest increase, understandably, in India itself.

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.

Sachin Tendulkar doesn't want to think of what lies ahead just yet