On the Tendulkar trail
At Stamford Bridge they chant and stomp their feet to the tunes of "Blue is the Colour". Liverpool fans and players become one whenever "You'll Never Walk Alone" plays over the PA. At Fenway Park, a legion of fans lifts its team from the gloom of a New England night with a slow-stomping chorus of "Let's Go Red Sox, Let's Go!" In India there is only one repeated vocal call-response catchphrase - "Saaaachin! Sachinnn!" - from Pune to Visakhapatnam and Gwalior to Cuttack, and it unites the country like few other things do.
The anticipation around Sachin Tendulkar emerging from the pavilion, and his walk from the boundary to the centre is almost surreal. To hear a passionate crowd chant his name, to be topped by an enormous roar when he emerges onto the field, is electrifying. To experience this at its most fervent you have to be sitting in the Wankhede Stadium when 40,000 boisterous voices reach a crescendo in anticipation of their favourite. There is no sense of loyalty towards a player like there is in Mumbai for Tendulkar (though ironically it is where he was booed by the crowd in 2006 during a Test against England).
Tendulkar is synonymous with Mumbai, his legend firmly entrenched in the fabric of the metropolis. A number of maidans spring to mind and with each is attached a memory - vivid or vague, depending on whether you saw it live or read about in or heard about it over a drink with a group of cricket fanatics - of Tendulkar's fascinating journey.
The Tendulkar map embraces all of Mumbai, from his original home at Sahitya Sahawas in the suburb of Bandra (East) to the hallowed ground of Shivaji Park and on to the open-to-all Cross and Azad Maidans in south Mumbai, and then the international arenas of the Wankhede and Brabourne stadiums.
Accounts of a young Tendulkar being driven from ground to ground, day after day, match after match, on the scooter of his coach Ramakant Achrekar, are now the stuff of legend in Indian cricket history. His move, on Achrekar's suggestion, from the Indian Education Society's New English School to Shardashram Vidyamandir in Dadar is well documented. Commuting every day from Bandra to the new school meant about an hour's journey and several bus changes, but the determined little boy did it.
There are plenty of grounds that feature in the Tendulkar's story. The Navroze Cricket Club ground, where, in late 1984, he made his debut for Shardashram in the Giles Shield Under-15 tournament against Khoja Khan High School. Azad Maidan, where, on February 23, 1998, Tendulkar and good friend Vinod Kambli stitched together a stand of 664 out of a total of 748 for 2. Across the grassy esplanade, Cross Maidan, where, against Don Bosco in a Giles quarter-final, Tendulkar smashed 10 fours in an innings of 50 that prompted one of the umpires to call Achrekar and predict the boy would one day play for India. The MIG Cricket Club ground, a short walk from the Tendulkar residence, where he was once bluntly barred from the Bombay Cricket Association (BCA) Under-19 nets because, at 12, he was too young. Fifties and centuries at the PJ Hindu Gymkhana and Dadar Union CC in the GR Viswanath Trophy. The set of maidans - Catholic, Hindu, Islam and Parsi - along the seafront Marine Drive, and many more spread across the city, that hosted matches of the Cosmopolitan Shield, the Bombay Junior Cricket tournament, the Mahim-Dadar Shield, and the Gordhandas Shield, to name the more prominent ones.
Of these, it is Shivaji Park that is Tendulkar's most hallowed ground. It is where he was introduced to Achrekar, who had asked Ajit if he could bring his brother along for the nets he conducted for Shardashram and Kamat Club. Situated in the heart of Mahim, one of the original seven islands that were joined together to form the present day Mumbai, Shivaji Park is home to eight cricket clubs and occupies pole position in the city's cricketing history. It was here, in the early to mid-80s, that a young Tendulkar honed his art. Driving past the famed maidan, it is impossible not to turn your head and peer past the drooping trees and couples sitting on benches, and joggers on the sidewalk, in hopes of catching a glimpse of a young boy driving a cricket ball back past a bemused bowler, preferably one a few years older, with elbow perfectly poised and head absolutely still.
The Brabourne is where, in 1998, Tendulkar scored a glorious double-century - his maiden in first-class cricket - off the touring Australians in a warm-up game. And the nearby Wankhede, where he made a memorable Test hundred against Sri Lanka in December 1997, and where he was famously stumped off a Mark Waugh wide for a stroke-filled 90 during the 1996 World Cup.
Each of these venues relates to Tendulkar and he to them. To understand what Tendulkar means to Mumbai, make sure you're at the Wankhede - or, second best, walking down Marine Drive while India are playing inside - during the World Cup. Listen closely, and you'll understand how one man unifies people from all walks of life to cheer toward a common goal.
The Brabourne and the Wankhede, the city's two major cricket stadiums, are very close to each other, in the heart of south Mumbai. The older, Brabourne, which houses the Cricket Club of India, is located near Churchgate station, which is also a stone's throw from the Wankhede. The two venues are easily accessible if you're using the local train to get into town. For those staying in hotels in South Mumbai, every taxi driver can easily get you to your destination. Wankhede, which was built after a dispute between the CCI and the Mumbai Cricket Association, is the city's most famous venue, having hosted many Test matches and World Cup fixtures. It is home to the Indian cricket board.
From either venue you can stroll down Marine Drive, with the waves of the Arabian Sea lashing against the ramparts to your left, until you get to the sequence of gymkhanas on your right. It was at the Hindu Gymkhana on January 19, 1989, that Tendulkar gave his first TV interview.
A leisurely walk inland from either takes you toward the stunning heritage Victoria Terminus (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) station building, opposite which is Azad Maidan. Head west, past what MG Road, formerly known as the Esplanade, and you're at Cross Maidan. Connecting the two grounds is what is now known as "Khau Gully" or Food Lane, where you can sample an array of snacks and wares laid out by hawkers.
Shivaji Park can be accessed by local train, starting from Churchgate or CST and alighting at Dadar or Mahim, from where you can take a taxi or bus to the ground, which is a local landmark. The Shardashram school is barely a couple of kilometres south-west of there.