We knew we had to make today count. We hoped to see him in the second innings, walking out to the middle with a quick glance at the sun, arms swinging like windmills, but deep down inside we knew we wouldn’t be that lucky.
We didn’t waste a moment. The intersection of D Road and Marine Drive had probably seen crowds like today’s only after India won the World Cup in 2011.
We waited for the team bus, waving flags and posters, sporting wigs and painted faces, braving the police who tried stopping us from standing on our cars at traffic lights, hoping that the elevation would make it easier for him to see us. Our chanting increased tenfold when we saw the bus 200 metres away. But he passed us in the blink of an eye. We hope he heard us.
Inside Wankhede, everyone had regressed to their ten-year-old selves. Grown men were jumping and hollering with the glee of a child finding out school has been rained out. Grannies kitted out in kurtas and keds were unwaveringly climbing over rows of seats, rather than using the aisle, so that they had the best possible view of him. The seat numbers on tickets didn’t matter; today was too important for rules.
Even though we knew he’d never see us, we used our accessories to express our feelings. The trademark “Tendulkar 10” jerseys were mixed with a few “God 10” ones, while others sported images of Hanuman opening his chest to reveal a smiling picture of him. Heads were covered in the characteristic blue curly-haired wigs and tricoloured turbans. We got our posters ready, armed with extra markers and tape to hold everything together – “India divided by religions, united by Sachin”, “Weather Forecast: Sachin Tsunami in Wankhede” and “Sachin: God’s Gift to Cricket”.
Surprisingly, we decided to ease up on our expectations of him. Of course we would have loved if he scored a century or more, but today we’d be happy with “…even 25 more runs” or “just a meaningful contribution – like if we were eight down and needed 40 to win.” Perhaps we realised how unfair we’d been to him over the past 24 years and hoped to redeem our selfishness by trying to be less demanding.
Our noise level kept increasing the closer we got to the start of day’s play. Seetee Kaka, aptly named for his whistles that were loud enough to be heard clear across the stadium, was our self-designated chant leader, and ensured we were loud enough to make sure people within a 50 feet of Wankhede knew who we were there for. There were the old chants – rhythmic repetitions of those two now immortal syllables, Saccchhhiiinnn, Sachin and Ganpati Bappa Morya – and there were new chants: Mumbai ka king kaun? Sachin Sachin.
All eyes were on the dressing room, waiting for him to come out. The sound kept building and after a point was just a wall of noise, an impregnable bubble that made us forget there were people going about their daily lives not 20 feet away. From the minute he appeared in the dressing room, Wankhede became a standing-only zone with a constant soundtrack of whistles and chants. We cheered when he came on strike. We cheered the singles, the blocked shots, the effortless boundaries like our lives depended on it. Just short of his half century, there was a possibility he might be out. For a minute our collective hearts skipped a beat, but after the umpire failed to give in to the bowler’s appeal, we were doubly loud and made sure the bowler knew he was too insignificant to mess with him.
The runs were flowing from his willow – our dreams were playing out in front of us. He reached his 50 with a shot he has perfected over the years– the straight drive – and we celebrated with a few rounds of Seetee Kaka-led chanting and applause, joining the other 30,000 believers. Unfortunately, our revelry was short-lived thanks to a cut shot that was scooped up before anyone knew what was happening.
The profanities came only once we saw him walking back to the pavilion. But then propriety took over, and, as one, we rose to thank the man who made us feel good every single time he walked out to play for India in the last 24 years. There was no drawn out applause, no tear shedding, no remorse of any kind. It was back to business in no time. Of course, our inherent greed to see him at the crease one more time meant that we willed the following Indian batsmen to throw their wicket away, hoping India would be forced to bat a second time later in the Test. But we now know that’s not going to happen.
And so tomorrow we will bid farewell to someone who has been a habit in our lives, someone who held our emotions at ransom whenever he padded up, someone who has been the repository of aspirations across ages and someone we will miss terribly. Tomorrow we will shed tears and reminisce on a generation’s worth of memories for the next few months.
But today we lived out one last day of unbridled revelry as only he can inspire, because we knew we had to make today count.
Published on Wisden India – November, 2013