You needed a hard-as-a-new-cricket-ball heart to not shed a tear or not endure a rugged throat on Saturday afternoon. The inevitable happened. Sachin Tendulkar walked away from a pitch in whites for the last time. This was after doing a lap of honour with his teammates. Here, at the pitch, he was alone. He bowed in respect, in gratitude, deepest appreciation, touched the pitch with both hands and then drew them to his chest.
The lunch break was delayed when the West Indies were two wickets away from defeat. Can they do that, asked the pundits in the press box. “Only if nine wickets are down,” someone said. Not that it mattered. Soon, the last West Indies wicket fell, but all eyes were on the man with the floppy hat. Ravi Shastri was seen down at the far end boundary, walking through the ground to conduct the presentation. He was the first non-playing member to wish Tendulkar after the game. Only fitting considering Shastri had been a senior colleague and later a mentor/advisor.
Lunch was ready for the media, but there were very few takers. All waited for the other awards to be over and done with for Shastri to call on Tendulkar to give his speech. As a ritual, Tendulkar always spent a few moments to tap the pitch with his bat so that the crowd could settle down. In this case, he put the microphone to use and requested them to settle down. The speech was just perfect. Not profound, but thorough and well-prepared just like he went about his cricket.
Probably, the most emotional bits were when he mentioned his late father, the person he misses most in his life and when he stressed that he would miss the ‘Sachin, Sachin’ chants. He didn’t leave out the media, who supported him ‘till this morning.’ For him to remember his late agent and friend Mark Mascarenhas was a fine act.
After the speech, it’s back to work for the journos. No, wait, there is the lap of honour. Later on, I hear Mahendra Singh Dhoni initiated the process of carrying his most celebrated teammate on his and Virat Kohli’s shoulder. Suddenly, the Wankhede Stadium looked fuller and noisier than what was witnessed in the morning when West Indies succumbed without a fight.
In the back row of the press box was Uday Gharat, the scorer, whose Tendulkar inscriptions on scoresheets date back to his ‘A’ division club debut for CCI in 1988. Gharat, official scoresheet in hand, appears sad, but doesn’t express it in words. For some, there are memories of Sydney 2004 when Steve Waugh was lifted by his teammates at his farewell bash at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
There are no memories of Waugh speaking at length on his home ground, but his lengthy press conference — also attended by his family — cannot be forgotten. Will Tendulkar address the media, ask a few optimist journalists. They don’t get a yes for an answer. Understandable, feel a few considering he said so much in his speech. Dhoni’s absence at the media briefing does cause a surprise. Why should a captain stay away after winning a series, is a fair question. “He’s tired of carrying Tendulkar,” quips a reporter.
Man of the series Rohit Sharma arrives. He speaks eloquently on the retired maestro: “We wanted to give this special man something special — a series win. I’m happy we could ensure he went out on a winning note. That was a very emotional speech. We were all emotional. I didn’t know how to react. I was only looking at him. I knew it was the last time I’d be watching him in whites.” It’s time for some to dry their eyes and pull themselves together. But it’s hard. If you ever needed a new cricket ball-like heart, it was on Saturday.
Clayton Murzello has covered Sachin Tendulkar for MiD DAY since 1988.