Vishal Dikshit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
IND v AUS (1)
CPL 2023 (1)
Gulf T20I (3)
Malaysia Tri (2)
County DIV1 (5)
County DIV2 (3)
Asian Games (W) (2)
ENG v IRE (1)
BAN v NZ (1)
There were no serpentine queues outside the stadium, no rush to buy tickets from the counter, nobody offering to paint your face as you approached the Wankhede Stadium on Saturday evening. Sure, it was no international match, but this is Mumbai, where Sachin Tendulkar still gets mobbed even if he his inaugurating a mall in the unknown outskirts of the city. So where was everyone as he returned to play after all these years?
Well, by the time the coin was flipped for the toss, as Tendulkar, captain of India Legends, and Brian Lara, of West Indies Legends, walked out in retro-looking blazers, the crowd had already packed the stands. For a 7pm start, office-goers had wrapped up work, students of colleges in south Mumbai hung back after the last class, and the rest took trains from far and wide to throng the stands even before the toss. And all this largely to watch the man who last played a game at this very ground, six and a half years ago in his 200th Test.
There was hardly a cheer when Tendulkar decided to bowl. It meant these fans, who had already waited for all these years, had to wait for another 90-odd minutes to watch the master bat. That's another thing that in a charity match they took nearly two hours to bowl 20 overs, and in those two hours too, the crowd got plenty to cheer for.
Zaheer Khan ran in to bowl as gingerly as he did when he used to carry those niggles and even beat a well-set Daren Ganga to rattle the stumps. Khan celebrated like he used to: he let out a roar, raised both his arms like an umpire does for a wide and walked even more gingerly in celebration.
Yuvraj Singh was cheered when he moved to long-off in the ninth over and nearly broke into a bhangra every time the crowd right behind him chanted his name between balls. The loudest of them came earlier though when he was at point and Ganga tapped the ball towards him for a risky single and Singh snooped in for a direct hit at the keeper's end. The crowd erupted as soon as the zing bails lit up.
Ganga's wicket in the sixth over brought out the other legend the crowd came to watch. Much like his lofted drive over the covers in the Bushfire charity match last month, that went viral on social media, Lara let out a few more of his majestic strokes right from his first ball. An aerial drive over extra-cover against Khan, a charge down the pitch to Manpreet Gony next over straight down for a one-bounce four, the trademark swipe-pull with the exaggerated lift of the front leg, and a drive through the covers off Irfan Pathan's first ball had such a flourishing finish that Lara's bat went all the way to touch his shoulder blade in the follow through. The four fours he middled in his 15 balls was nothing short of what the crowd came for.
West Indies finished on 150 for 8 and the spectators' wait to see the local legend bat was finally over. That familiar walk down the staircase from the dressing room while putting on his gloves, the glance towards the sky as soon as he stepped on the field, the shadow straight drives on his way to the pitch, and the phones were out from the stands to capture this all, like it used to happen all those years ago.
Cricket may have transformed in a variety of ways since his retirement but nothing has changed about Tendulkar. He was still gesticulating vigorously, irked by someone near the sight screen even when he was not on strike. He was still adjusting his crotch awkwardly just before settling into his compact and perfect-looking stance, that lean on the bat in his right hand at the non-striker's end with his right leg crossing over his left, and he was still pinching singles with his loud and childish shrieks, making Virender Sehwag burn a few more calories than he wanted to.
"Initially he said we won't take risky singles but he then tapped the ball around for quick singles; that's Sachin for you," Sehwag said after the game. "He played some magnificent attacking shots, it doesn't feel like he hasn't been playing for so many years."
The way Tendulkar timed his shots bore testimony to Sehwag's words. Even as Tino Best, one of the fittest players across the five squads this series, steamed in and beat Sehwag with pace, Tendulkar nudged around his deliveries closing in on 140kmh nonchalantly. Against a much slower Pedro Collins, Tendulkar danced down to attack, and against Sulieman Benn's spin he took out his late cut and delicately placed the ball between point and cover-point.
He gave the crowd a scare too, edging one to Carl Hooper at slip, who couldn't hold on to the catch and neither could Ridley Jacobs despite being within touching distance for the relay attempt. Deafening silence spread in the stands when the ball was in Hooper's hands and a screaming cheer followed immediately when the ball touched the ground.
Unsurprisingly, the loudest cheers from the 26,006 people were echoed for Tendulkar and they will remain in the stands for remaining matches. Don't be surprised if you hear the familiar "Sachin! Sachin!" chants even when India Legends have an off day in the Road Safety World Series over the next two weeks.