1030 hrs, 15th November 2013
On any other day, I can be seen checking mails in Outlook in the office at this time. But today was different. Sachin was still at the crease, playing in what has turned out to be his swansong. I missed watching him in his final moments as a Master Batsman and will for the rest of my life. I sounded so banal, right? You might have already heard many others like me saying ‘Cricket will never be the same again’. But then isn’t that the fact? Well, some might differ with the likes of Virat and Rohit making their mark in a spectacular fashion. Yes, they are remarkably talented. But it remains to be seen how well they perform in the bouncier pitches of South Africa. God, I digressed again!
I am 26. Sachin started his international career on this day, 24 years ago. Fair to assume that I and many others of my generation have literally grown up watching him play his trademark straight drives and leg glances – two strokes you know run away to the boundary when Sachin plays them. Such was his impeccable timing. Of course, I know two other Indian players who had a divine sense of timing like him. They were his contemporaries – Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly. Rahul almost always pulled the short ball with disdain and yet managed to keep it to the ground – a shot I tried to replicate in the matches I played and failed miserably. And of course Sourav is the ‘God of off side’. I especially enjoyed the long partnerships Sachin shared with Rahul in tests and with Sourav in the ODIs.
Reminiscing those glorious days, when I used to sit glued to the television sets watching ODI cricket played by players who were real gentlemen, I can understand why my maternal grandfather keeps harping on how 20-20 cricket has killed the fun of watching test cricket. My generation of cricketers – the likes of Sachin, Rahul, Sourav, Anil and VVS were aggressive on the field and yet played ‘nicely’. They were players who would keep their emotions in check (Sourav’s extravagance and Anil’s temper? Okay. But we all crave for a little spice, don’t we?). But if tomorrow, my kid cousin brother comes up to me and asks which cricketer he should emulate, would I say Virat or Rohit? NO! Sorry Virat and Rohit. But dudes, beep your expletives please! I am no one to comment on your skills for you both are well on the way to be legends in your own right.
We Indians are jingoist. Offended? Oh, come on! Truth is bitter. But when it comes to Sachin, have we been so? You would say that all the immense adulation, respect and love that his contemporaries, cricket experts, the common man, politicians and Bollywood stars alike have showered on him is what he fully deserves. Yes, he does! Unequivocally yes! Otherwise, what would explain the fascination of Media and Brands with Sachin that has reached the pinnacle today? But this ‘Sachin mania’, a phenomenon of an unprecedented scale has happened because quite a few elements of the universe have come together at the right moments to conspire and lead to the phenomenon we Indians are witnessing today.
- 1983 – India wins the World Cup: And if cynics then dismissed this off as a flash in the pan, then winning the Benson and Hedges Cup in 1985 proved them wrong. This period coincided with the spectacular fall of Indian Hockey. People found solace in the fact that India was beginning to do well in Cricket. The win in 1983 and 1985 only served to popularise the sport we are so obsessed with now. Cricket stars like Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev were soon endorsing brands and BCCI shifted its focus to organising more and more ODIs to mint money. And even as Cricket started undergoing what many would call ‘glamorization’, a certain Sachin Tendulkar was already creating a buzz in the domestic circuit.
- 1991 - Liberalization of the Indian Economy: Sachin’s genius by then was already being talked about and as a child prodigy, he was touted as the next big thing. And then our economy opened the doors to the likes of Coke, Pepsi, Nike and Adidas. Realising the immense marketing potential Cricket as a sport offered, they lost no time in making Sachin the poster boy of Cricket. With his endearing boyish looks and yet an adult like maturity in batsmanship, Sachin’s brilliance was soon the talk of the town. The fact that Sachin, a boy from a middle class family, never let success get to him made him a darling of mothers who wanted their sons to emulate him. And sons like me are still trying to. Why? I won’t bother to answer you! But his demeanour on and off the field speak for themselves. And I am not even talking about his feats in numbers and statistical parameters.
- 1996 – Mark Mascarenhas signs a long term contract with Sachin making him one of the richest sportspersons globally. That to me was the moment Sports marketing became synonymous with Cricket. The likes of Virat, Rohit and other youngsters minting so much money now through IPL should thank Sachin for it.
- Sachin and the Indian Demographic profile – An estimated 150 million Indians today are in the age bracket 18-23. And over 450 million Indians today are in the age bracket 5-24. What does this mean? Simple. An entire generation (40-45% of the country’s population) has grown up watching this man play. Add to this the fact that Sachin’s textbook technique and boyish charm has even impressed the likes of my Grandfather – a generation that has grown up watching test matches (Of course back in the 60s and the 70s, people in India had all the time in the world to sit and listen to Radio commentary all day). His humility despite absurdly insurmountable levels of success he has achieved, longevity and endurance has ensured that he waved his magical wand over youngsters and elders alike. Isn’t that enough reason why we all should miss him?
What does Sachin mean to me?
He’s a demigod to many Indians. Someone, guys like me can look up to for lessons in humility and achieving excellence. But for me, Sachin is much more. Sachin was the answer to that one question which I believe led to IIM A opening its hallowed portals to welcome me in. In retrospect, I did answer many tricky questions well but this question about Sachin will be something that I will always remember and cherish. Aah! I can see you are keen to know how. So here goes the story.
I was the first candidate to be called in for the interview by the panel. 15 minutes into the interview, I hadn’t stumbled at any point, though I took my time to answer their tricky questions. But the panel had other thoughts. They were yet to throw their best salvo at me. And then one of the professors asked me which sport I followed the most. I said ‘Cricket’. They grimaced as if to suggest ‘Oh God! Cricket? Not again’. Then they asked me who my favourite cricketer was? Yes, you know what I answered. And then they asked me to plot his ‘Popularity curve’ with time on the x-axis and popularity on the y-axis. That caught me off-guard. There was no right answer to it. But then I had to be logical and explain why I drew a classical ‘S-curve’ - a Sigmoid function that saturated towards the end.
‘Why do you think the curve should saturate to a straight line?’ asked one of the professors.
‘Sir, to be honest, Sachin’s reflexes are already slowing down and with the young crop taking over, his popularity might dwindle a bit. So I think it would saturate towards the end’, I replied. They nodded.
Three months later, I was elated. I was in IIMA and was living my dream. And the two years that I spent learning the nuances of management also coincided with that period when against all odds, Sachin once again peaked to the best form of his life. His 200 in the ODI in Gwalior against a very good South African bowling attack and then his last test century against the same opposition in the bouncier pitches of South Africa – both of them in 2010 stand out. He seemed timeless. And then in Diwali 2010, I saw him bat for the first time in the test match in Motera against New Zealand. He missed out on a half century. But watching him bat in front of my eyes, I realised he was human after all. I saw him in flesh and had goose bumps all over. That day, when he walked back to the pavilion visually disappointed, it struck me that I was wrong to surmise that Sachin’s popularity would dwindle. Leave alone his popularity. He had set newer benchmarks and broken records in 2010-11 with the final jewel on his crown – A world cup medal. Damn! He cried, I cried and like me a million others. Trash that S-curve! It didn’t straighten after all.
God has powers. A superhuman is a human who with sheer talent, perseverance and humility achieves the status of a demigod. So, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar isn’t god. He’s a superhuman. And now he’s a Bharat Ratna. But for me, Sachin would remain an enigma, a name, a memory associated with those moments when I had given it all to fulfill a dream. I was wrong about this man, and I don’t regret one bit about it.
Yes, I had tears watching him touch the cricket pitch one final time in reverence and make that final farewell speech with an immaculate control over his emotions. Amidst tributes galore to this great man, I couldn’t resist the urge to jot down what I feel for SRT.
If ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’, a biopic on Milkha Singh has grossed over 100 Crores globally, then I am pretty sure a blockbuster of a movie is coming its way with a biopic on Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar!
P.S: Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly deserved a similar farewell. But then I am not missing them much. In their new avatars as a commentator and a cricket analyst, they are as classical and extravagant as they both were while batting.