The events of the last few weeks are freaking me out. Anil Kumble has gone, Sourav Ganguly will go, and the other three may not be far behind. I assume there is a large group of cricket fans in their mid-to-late 20s, like me, who are grappling with the implications. This transition is messing with our minds.
Let me explain. For many of us cricket began in November 1989. Pictures of what went before are too hazy. I remember Allan Border lifting the World Cup but don't recall what I was doing then. So I can't connect Australia's World Cup win to my own life.
Sachin Tendulkar spoilt us. He commanded that we sit in front of the television sets. He ensured we got late with homework, he took care of our lunch-break discussions. He was not all that much older than us, and some of us naïve schoolboys thought we would achieve similar feats when we were 16. We got to 16 and continued to struggle with homework.
Then came Kumble and the two undertook a teenager-pampering mission not seen in India before. Tendlya walked on water, Jumbo parted seas. Our mothers were happy that we had nice heroes - down-to-earth prodigy and studious, brilliant bespectacled engineer. They were honest, industrious sportsmen, embodying the middle class.
When we thought we had seen everything, they reversed roles - Tendlya bowled a nerve-wracking last over in a semi-final, Jumbo played a match-winning hand with the bat. We were such spoilt brats that we pined for openers and fast bowlers. We cursed the side for not winning abroad. Such greed.
Economists would probably have predicted the bursting of the bubble. We had a deluge instead. One fine day at Lord's we got a glimpse of two new saviours: Delicate Timing and Immaculate Technique. Suddenly my group of eight friends was split into two camps. You were either with Ganguly or Dravid. In that period we even took Kumble and Tendulkar for granted. It was adolescent indulgence taken to the extreme.
When we played cricket on the streets, we had a number of choices. Left-handers were thrilled, defensive batsmen were happy, extravagant stroke-makers were delighted, the short boys didn't need to feel left out anymore, spectacles became cool, and freaky bowling actions were no more laughed at.
In such a state of bliss did we live our lives. We flunked important exams, shed tears over girls, crashed bikes, had drunken parties, choked on our first cigarettes, and felt utterly confused about our futures. But every time we felt low, we had an escape route. One glimpse of Dada stepping out of the crease, or Jam leaving a sharp bouncer alone, or Kumble firing in a yorker, was an uplifting experience. So what if India lost? Could any of those Pakistani batsmen even dream of batting like Sachin or VVS?
I remember Ganguly and Dravid soaring in Taunton, mainly because it was the day I got my board-exam results. And boy, did that provide some much-needed relief. I remember Tendulkar's blitz against Australia in Bombay because my dad, who thought cricket was a waste of time, sat through every ball. So connected were these cricketers to my growing up.
Now, after close to 20 years, my generation needs to brace itself for this exodus. Some of my friends, crazy as this sounds, have been talking of needing to revaluate their own careers. Others are realising they need to recalibrate their childhood definitions of cricket. "Part of me just died," said a college friend who was the kind of extreme cricket buff who memorised scorecards. "No Dada, no Jumbo. I'm positive I'll stop watching after Sachin and Rahul retire."
These players were not only outstanding cricketers but also great statesmen. However hard they competed, they were always exceptional role models. Now we dread the next wave of brashness and impetuosity. Harbhajan Singh and Sreesanth are talented cricketers, but there's no way anyone would want a young kid to emulate either. The younger crop seems worse - a visit to some of their Orkut and Facebook pages tells you enough - and things may only get cruder in a cricket world when you can make a million dollars in a little over three hours.
"Our childhood is ending," said a friend from school, and in some way he was probably spot on. Tendulkar's retirement may mean a lot of things to a lot of people, but for a generation of 25- to 30-year-olds it will mark the end of the first part of their lives. Switching on the television the day after will be a serious challenge.