Critics have always argued that Sachin Tendulkar lacks the patience and fitness to go the distance, to hop over the final hurdle and to take India home when his team needs him to.
Often, in a long and entertaining innings, laced with timed boundaries sweeter than most rasmalai, the jog of the team physio is witnessed on numerous occasions. Dehydration, cramps, fatigue — Tendulkar experiences all en route milestones that don’t come as a surprise to anyone and records we all know he’d break.
But as cricket fans, Indians or otherwise, putting aside worldly matters, you need to sit back and admire the legend. Even if the vigil, oozing entertainment results in India losing, the criticism must be put aside for the thrills that Tendulkar provides while he’s in the middle, leaving onlookers in awe and bowlers in a state of trepidation. Tendulkar has made me spend a lot of money, he has forced me to fly halfway across the world, for it could have been the last time I’d be able to watch him bat.
Air travel isn’t getting any cheaper, a fact that dawned upon me when I booked my flight to Johannesburg for the 2009 Champions Trophy because it offered the delectable treat that was Pakistan versus India. Moreover, it offered a contest between Tendulkar and the star that was Mohammad Amir. Putting aside my patriotism, and the fact that Pakistan needed the points to progress, I wanted a treat.
For that very reason, I opted to catch every glimpse of the man himself, watching him work wonders with the bat and listening to that sound that is created the instance the leather hits wood. And watching the fright on the bowlers’ faces, as they wait anxiously and follow the ball’s path.
Standing 10 feet away from him, with only a practice net dividing us, I looked on as Gary Kirsten, India’s coach, chucked away at him with all his might: Short ones, overpitched ones and some at good length. The fairytale lasted 20 minutes. Every single hurl, and there must have been over a hundred, was greeted at the meat of the bat, not an inch higher or lower.
The calmness in his eyes was clear, the intent clearer. There was no big match pressure and he wasn’t dealing with swing, seam or sledging, but the level of concentration and the sweat trickling down his cheeks made up for the hammering that my wallet had received.
Tendulkar wasn’t able to impress the following afternoon, edging Amir as Pakistan breathed the hugest sighs of relief, and India went on to lose, just as they did in January 2006 in Karachi. But looking at him as he ignored the waiting fans because the training session was not finished, I wished independence had never come our way.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2011.