Around him, the fans chanted his name, screamed and shouted and clapped when he worked the ball into the gaps or drove ferociously. Arjun, his son, sat just outside the boundary rope, dressed in whites, his persistence forcing Mumbai Cricket Association officials to accede to his request of being drafted in as a ball boy. Nearly 26 years ago, at the same venue, his father had embraced a similar role during the 1987 World Cup. Talk about life coming full circle.
In the comfort of an air-conditioned box in the grandstand, Anjali, his wife, watched every single ball, a silent prayer of thanksgiving on the odd occasion when he played and missed merely interspersing prolonged moments of controlled delight when the ball sped across the outfield and peppered the boundary boards. His mother, who made it to a cricket ground for a second day in a row, watched on stoically – no one will ever wonder where Tendulkar got his equanimity from.
It was as if Tendulkar wasn’t even aware of the goings on around him. His eye was on the ball, in the truest sense of the word. The prospect of watching him bat for perhaps the last time, the prospect of seeing him whip off his helmet one final time after reaching three figures, the prospect of being a part of the celebration of Tendulkar the batsman and the cricketer, had driven thousands to the Wankhede Stadium long before the first ball of the day was to be bowled. Some 75 minutes after the start of play, five minutes or so after Tendulkar’s departure, the queues changed direction. People started to line up to leave the venue. For many, the match had already ended with Tendulkar’s farewell wave to his ardent supporters.
He was every bit as fluent on Friday morning as he had been for 82 minutes the previous evening. He was quickly into his stride, cutting and sweeping Shane Shillingford for successive boundaries, even as Cheteshwar Pujara, forgotten and unnoticed, basked in the luxuriant strokeplay of his partner and hero.
For a brief while, Richard Kettleborough was in the limelight, winning over a million hearts with a simple shake of the head. Tino Best got one to get big on Tendulkar, who shaped to ramp it over the slips. Tendulkar whipped his head around in disappointment at having missed out on a boundary; Best went up in animated appeal, convinced he had found the edge. Kettleborough, who used to bowl in the nets to Tendulkar when he was part of Yorkshire’s academy more than two decades ago, was calm and unruffled, and ruled in the batsman’s favour. The Wankhede breathed again.
Tendulkar then played a fabulous off drive to top 50 for the 119 time in Test cricket, having taken 24 minutes and 18 deliveries to progress from his overnight 38. Then came a couple more missed ramps, including one off the last delivery of the 41 over. At the end of it, Best sat on his haunches, beaten, battered, tired. As Tendulkar walked down the pitch to touch gloves with Pujara, he playfully punched Best twice on his right shoulder, a beautiful moment of empathy and commiseration.
There was no mercy in Best’s next over as he stood tall, the high left elbow prominent in the punch off the back foot that sped through covers. Trademark Tendulkar, in an innings full of emblematic strokes, including another sumptuous punch-drive off Shannon Gabriel that sped past the bowler and away to the boundary long before the tall pace bowler had complete his follow-through.
The first drinks break of the day allowed everyone to catch their breath. Disaster struck immediately on resumption, with Narsingh Deonarine the most unlikely villain and Darren Sammy the more likely catcher. A steer-cut from the part-time offspinner flew head high to slip, and Sammy pouched it superbly. Tendulkar paused a second, then began the long walk back. The fans, momentarily stunned, then rose as one to cheer him all the way back, as did the West Indians. Tendulkar walked on, head held high, not a trace of emotion on his face.
Nearing the boundary rope, he stopped, turned back and raised his hands in acknowledgement. Thank you, he said to the fans. Then, he climbed the steps and walked into the dressing room, every single occupant of which was standing, echoing the sentiments of millions of cricket lovers across the world – ‘Thank you, Sachin.’
There was no fairytale hundred, but 24 years to the day after he made his first Test appearance, everyone will take this 74 – the most celebrated such score in cricket history.
R Kaushik is deputy editor of Wisden India (www.wisdenindia.com).
Will Tendulkar bat again?
West Indies lost three wickets after getting their second innings underway and trail India by 270 heading into day three of th Test. The likelihood of them reaching that target and forcing India (and Tendulkar) to bat again is slim.