From SRT with love
My dear fan,
Please forgive me for writing what I have been reliably informed may well be the most extensive group email ever sent. I just wanted to add a few thoughts to what I said at the weekend.
Well, what a last few days that was! All I can say is cor blimey, Gordon Bennett and lord love-a-duck. (You can tell I've been putting myself to sleep by reading my trusty Cockney dictionary - owing to some ancient tribal custom, those nice Yorkshire folk banned me from bringing it over in '92, along with my poster of David Gower.) Not sure how many free chingdi macher malai curries I've been offered, but it's been estimated in the low eight figures.
I can't quite decide what I'll remember most. At first I thought it would be Johnny Mac's text - "Retiring? You cannot be serious! Still, more time for that game in Central Park". Then came one from Mikey Schumacher - "Give up competing? I'd rather give up air". Such a gentle soul. And then there was that lovely bunch of yellow Irish roses from Bono. I'll even quote the card: "Still haven't found what you're looking for? Come to Bono Towers for free therapy and lemon lassis".
Then there was the banner that made me blush: "Now only humans will play". Then, to cap it all, the Prince of Port-of-Spain took me shopping for a platinum iPod, which was brilliant, although I did feel a pang of anger when he admitted he thought Viv just shaded me. He didn't have to face Murali, Warne, McGrath or Steyn, did he?
All the same, the moment I'll probably remember best was when Nigel Llong came up just before day two and, rather nervously, said he was going to wear earplugs to shut out the crowd, to stop himself being swayed. I was staggered. Wouldn't that impair his ability to hear any edges? I'll always treasure his explanation: "For one thing I can't hear them anyway, with all that shrieking. More importantly, I admire you too much to do you any favours."
In addition to my wife and parents and children and coaches, and your good self, I have so many others to thank: Sachin Dev Burman for inspiring such a soft, memorable, loveable name; silly old Lillee for telling me, in his own gruff-but-sweet way, that I would never make a fast bowler as long as the sun rose over the WACA; Ramesh Pardhe for wetting that rubber ball and helping me locate the middle of my bat; Babu Moshai Ganguly for convincing me that captaining one's country was no way to prolong a career. I've also been thinking about my old school pal Vinod, and how I wish he could have had half the luck I've had.
How do I feel now? Numb. Numb from all the handshakes and interviews and parties and toasts and tributes. Numb from the rush and crush of memories as they gush back like some super-fast-mo highlights reel. Numb at the realisation that I will almost certainly never again play a single game for the best part of a week. Maybe I should try becoming a chess grandmaster like Vishwanathan Anand (did I ever tell you he once confessed to me that he would have given it all up to bowl an over at dear old Bishan?). But that would only fill part of the void.
You probably know my favourite movie is Coming To America. Well, right now I feel just like the Arsenio Hall character, Semmi, when he realises he doesn't like being poor. I've thought so long about what it might feel like when I finally stopped playing, tried so hard to look forward to all the benefits, but now it's actually happening, it scares me half to death.
Just about the only thing I know for sure is that I want to shut my eyes and, just for once, not dream about balls. Not out of fear, more because I have a faint suspicion I'm going partially colour-blind in my right eye - from all that switching between white and red. Would have been a bit of a blow if I was starting out now, eh? I might go for a single with six to win - or dash down the pitch with one to get. Want an exclusive? I'm glad I'm 40 and a half.
Sure, I wouldn't mind being that ball boy during the 1987 World Cup semi-final all over again. And I'd love to hear the Don's incredibly kind comments for the first time all over again, and, of course, win the World Cup all over again. But honestly, the second least confusing thing about my life right now is that I've run out of cricketing goals - other, of course, than seeing Arjun make a Test hundred at Lord's.
Do I care that I didn't manage one? You might as well ask whether I'd turn down a candlelit net with Maria Sharapova. I know I'm not supposed to say this either, but Lord's has long been a member of my Academy for the Overrated, alongside Yorkshire pudding, Coldplay, Manoj Prabhakar, Saleem Malik, Ayrton Senna, Bjorn Borg and - may he rest in peace - Mike Denness. Besides, I didn't need that validation, though Arjun almost certainly will.
In fact, that might be my biggest worry - even more than how I'll spend my waking hours from now on. How do I protect Arjun if he continues his development? I've told him going into the family business might not be the wisest move, but how can I deny what's in his heart any more than Dad denied what was in mine?
I don't want to sound unappreciative, but for Arjun that would mean coping with a level of expectation that nobody, nobody, could possibly imagine. Please forgive me for saying this, but how do I protect him from that? How do I prepare him for the sort of attention that makes failure a source of national and even international sadness? How do I shield him from all those bowlers who want to knock his block off because they couldn't knock off mine? How I wish he didn't have my footsteps to follow in. How I wish I had smaller feet.
Fortunately for him, he has bags more courage than I ever had. He could have spared himself a lot of grief by changing his surname, as the Don's boy did, but he's made of sterner stuff. Maybe I should trust him more. Still, please go easy on him.
So, what am I looking forward to? Here's a taster:
- Never ever wearing a bloody helmet again
- Long holiday in London, roaming parks and streets without having to keep an entourage of minders entertained by quoting Amitabh Bachchan's best lines from Deewar and Zanjeer
- Re-teaching Anjali how to eat lunch at lunch and tea at tea
- Becoming a comic-book hero - Christopher Reeve, God rest his soul, once told me playing Superman did wonders when it came to getting the best table in the very best Californian restaurants
- Spending more time with the family
- Spending a full fortnight at the Australian Open
- Spending a whole day watching Shikhar Dhawan without having to worry about following him
- Never ever again being asked by an English reporter how it feels to never ever have made a Test ton at Lord's.
Most of all, though, I'm looking forward to not thinking about numbers. Such stubborn, ruthless things. So judgmental. My favourite? Given that the boy Virat appears bent on reaching three figures every time he takes guard, and succeeds almost as often as not, it has to be those 200 Tests. Unless Shiv or Jacques are popping some extraordinary new hormone-replacement pills, I fancy that'll stand forever.
In fact, if Arjun not only intends to make cricket his job but perhaps even play a Test in front of a few sheikhs in Abu Dhabi, he'd better hurry up. Sooner or later, what with the credit crunch and the Eurozone crisis, somebody is surely going to notice that doling out five days' pay for one match isn't terribly cost-effective.
But maybe that's my destiny: persuading mankind Test cricket is worth preserving, no matter the cost. Sure, that way nobody could ever accuse me of safeguarding my records, but it's more than that. A Test match is the finest sport has to offer because:
1) It requires patience and discipline - name a better life lesson
2) It can't be rushed (unless Dale is in one of his moods), and rushing is only good for American footballers
3) It gives everyone a second chance, which everyone deserves
4) It values wickets more than runs - and even I'll admit that makes for better cricket
5) It just is.
In fact, come to think of it, I could always kick things off by giving my name to the World Test Championship trophy in exchange for a quiet but forceful word with the lads and lasses at Pepsi. And before you accuse me of bias, I can't exactly see "Coke adds life" going down too well with the ICC drug-testers, can you?
I'd rather nobody suggests renaming Test cricket Tendulkar cricket, but if that's what it takes to ensure it remains the pinnacle of the game, so be it.