“Cricket Is Our Religion, Sachin Is Our God.”
I can happily say that I am from a generation where millions just watched cricket so that they could watch him bat. I still remember the time when people would leave cricket grounds or switch off their TV sets at home after Sachin Tendulkar got out. As big of a cricket fan as I was growing up, a die-hard Gangulian, it was mind-boggling to me; I couldn’t understand the whole sachin-mania.
I remember seeing him practice for the first time in 2000 when the Indian national cricket team was in nets at Poona club and to my surprise, he looked…normal. But there was something about him. I remember watching the attention that he attracted every time he jogged past a crowd on the sidelines; it was unprecedented. He was the only one that people were going crazy for and had to be held back by the police every single time. As for me, I was as excited to see Ajit Agarkar practicing catches as spot him sprint in front of me.
I remember sitting in a ‘tuk-tuk’, on my way back home, not believing that I had just watched the Indian team train and as satisfied as I was, I couldn’t flush my head of those people going crazy for Sachin. There was something about him that nobody else had: an aura of some sorts.
I mean he had been the poster boy of Indian cricket for the past few years, and he had obviously played those test innings in the recent past against Pakistan and those two unforgettable knocks at Sharjah against Australia not too long ago and he was the youngest cricket captain that India ever had but I couldn’t get my head round the fact that people started to cry after they saw him from close. It was crazy; I just couldn’t understand.
So, I started reading on him, watching more of his videos and interviews and speaking to as many people in school and in the neighborhood, trying to figure out how and why he was so big, and I came to an understanding that everyone whom I spoke to felt that they considered one of their own: like a brother and one who had the backing of everyone. What was really interesting that most of the people I interacted with referred to him as Sachin and not Tendulkar, underlining the fact that they felt like he was one of them.
As I grew older, I finally got a chance to watch him play and to my astonishment (not!), he played one of his best IPL innings, scoring an unbeaten 72, against KKR. The only reason I went to Mumbai was to watch Sourav Ganguly bat but I came home realizing that I had wasted my life not seen Sachin – the man who carried the national team for the longest time – bat from naked eyes for India. It so happened that even though I was backing Dada’s team, seeing the ‘master blaster’ stroke the ball, I couldn’t stop but wishing more of the same. Now that I think of it, a bunch of us grew up as Gangulians, Dravidians and fans of Azhar but by default, we were all Tendulkarites.
In 2009, I was writing for a national Indian newspaper and in August, I was told that the cricketing maestro was going to be at this MCA press conference that I also had an invite to. An overly excited me, reached three hours before the event and discovered there to be an outrageous amount of media. As it turned out, what was going to be a press conference had to be changed to a proper hall function with a stage and speakers. As the he walked onto the stage, even people from the media cheered. I was amazing – and shocking – at the same time; I mean who expects the media to cheer? But then, I knew that I wasn’t the only one for whom he was a really big deal and my excitement was justified!
But what happened next was even more surprising. After speaking, the ‘God of Cricket’ went and made himself on the chair that he was previously sitting on as Mr. Ajit Wadekar took the began to speak, and after a couple of minutes very expertly exited from behind the curtains which I did not take a note of. Apparently, everyone else did and there was a wave of journalists, in groups, running out of the door, hoping to get a shot of the legend. That wave was nothing like I had ever seen before; it was brisk just like Sachin’s straight drive.
From the time he walked in to the time he left, you couldn’t help notice his aura; it was the third time I had noticed it. It was massive and gracious. And from what I have read and heard, it was of a man who just wanted to play cricket and worked relentlessly hard to become who he was: the best ever who was loved by billions for what he did and how he served.
Over four years ago, when I had started off with my masters in sports management at the Florida State University, I was asked to give a presentation on cricket. As I was about to start the presentation, one of my classmates raised her hand and said, “I don’t know much about the sport except for Sachin, who is called your God, I have watched him play a few times.” That instance. Just that; it still makes me smile. Who would have thought that somebody on the other side of the world, who doesn’t even know the rules of cricket, would be knowing of India’s famous number ten!
From being somebody who thought Sachin was a fantastic batsman to one growing up to realize that the ‘Little Master’ is not just a cricketer, he is much more than that. To a bunch of us, growing up in the 90s, he has been cricket. Even though I have been in his presence a few times, the only regret that I have so far in my life is to have not watched God play for India from the naked eye.