It has been three years since you left the ground for good. You left the space you owned, the teams you pwned. You left and created a vacuum. Three years is a long time for any vacuum to fill, for any wound to start hurting a little less. It is a long time for fans to just move on with the fact that nothing can happen now. It is a long time for one to stop telling lies to oneself and just get on with the game. But the fans, they never just give up. The nature of admirers is such, they pin their hopes on that one last time. That last shot, that last wicket, that last punch, that last tee-off. But it never comes to life. The pain subsides, but the scar remains. To tell stories of the glorious past. The scar your absence left still haunts us.
It has been three years, Sachin. Countless players have made their debut since then. Some many have given up hopes and returned to seek survival in another day to day jobs. Many would have stayed on, burning themselves out in the sun. Trying to be you. Or a vying with their teammates and competitors, to achieve a fraction of what you achieved. Some of them might. Virat Kohli will. Rohit Sharma might. Still, none will become Sachin. That pain remains.
I hear the word ‘cheeky’ a lot these days. Most batsmen are cheeky these days, playing unorthodox cricketing shots in the shortest format of the game. It is good for the entertainment value but feels like a sore thumb in an otherwise too battered hand. These shots lack the definitive authority that your paddle sweep had. It too was cheeky. But it had a definition. That the moment the ball touched the bat and went past the keeper, it would go hit the fence. And 99 out of 100 times, it did go past the wicketkeeper. And 99 times out of 100, the ball did kiss the boundary rope. That was authority.
It has been three years since I have stopped following cricket. Most of us have. Unfortunately. As much as you would not have liked that to happen, it has. I still watch sometimes though, when Virat bats. And in world cup games. The fan of the sports refuses to die just yet. The worshiper of Sachin peeps out of the keyhole in the door, puts half a smile of satisfaction at Virat’s cover drives, and makes a hasty retreat into the shell of good memories. A cocoon, where there are straight drives, and back-foot punches.
A small world where Sachin Tendulkar is still on fire, battering Shane Warne and the might of Australians all over the place. A stadium inside our minds, where the Sharjah storm still comes every day. For the fan of the game though, there are some relaxations, some moments of relief. They watch Virat Kohli and are assured that Indian batting is in safe hands. They watch those exquisite drives from Rohit Sharma and are confident that the Bombay School of batting is somehow still flourishing, after Sunil Gavaskar, Wasim Jaffer, and Ajinkya Rahane. But there is no Sachin. No chants of Sachin Sachin resonates in the stadiums now. It is sad but is the reality.
For a cricket crazy nation like us, there is an analyst, an expert of the game sitting on every bench in every corner of the country. Everyone feels that the pull shot would have been a better option than the late cut. All of them have an opinion on the inswing and the outswing. Ask them and they will tell you why M S Dhoni ought to bat lower and promote Hardik Pandya since he is a pinch hitter. Or how, Bhuvneshwar Kumar should bowl more yorkers in the death overs. And why the pitches need to be fast, and why Indian bowlers need to practice on pitches that have grass on them. But never, never in the 20 years that I understood and watched you played, did one voice utter, Sachin should play this shot or Sachin should not play that shot. Time and we, with time, stood mesmerized, in awe of the array of shots that flew to all parts of the ground. For me, that was the best testimonial that India can give you.
Dear Sachin, you turn 44 today. We still see you in the Mumbai Indians’ dugout. We see you with Ricky Ponting, cheering each shot that Rohit and Rayudu or any other batsman plays. And we see you clapping, egging the batsman to present the full face of the bat to the ball. Like you always did. We see you happy, like always, after every game you win. As a fan, we still wish that your team wins every time. It is understood that the other players are ours. It is understood that they might be future stars. But no one ever will be Sachin. There will be no more chants of someone’s name in the stands. There will not be a deafening silence over an entire landmass when a player gets out. And there will not be another Sachin, for whom I will, and a million others like me, pour hearts out and sing accolades.