“Don’t whisper a word. The whole world will be able to hear you. Wankhede is stunned into silence. Rampaul spoils the party, Sammy holds the catch at second slip.”
Perhaps obituaries would sound comparatively pleasant to some cricket fans. The lines appeared on ESPNCricinfo web portal, as Sachin Tendulkar departed without scoring what could have been his 100th international century – just one-hit-over-the-boundary short of it. As many firsts that the man has pocketed, this would be another first in the history of the game.
The dreaded words appeared: ‘SR Tendulkar c Sammy b Rampaul 94’. At little under 140 kmph, this may not be the best ball West Indian pacer Ravi Rampaul might have bowled, but certainly will be the most memorable for him.
Right at the moment, the waving flags stopped, as if time froze. The clapping hands were on the heads. The crowd remained glued to their seats – silent in disbelief – as if this was not real. It couldn’t be, they’d come in hordes to see their favorite player touch a milestone nobody else had dreamt of before. The shock on the faces of spectators, beamed through the TV, looked as if a catastrophe had struck the stadium.
A long walk for the most coveted batsman in cricket history followed, at the ground that’s been called his home ground, for past couple of decades. A sigh came from him. He looked at his bat. He looked at the crowd, as if to say, I’m sorry…
Before that very moment, all media, including social media was abuzz with mention of SRT’s possible century. Fans crying out for support, anticipating a celebration… A tweet read: “In the train, around me everyone is logged onto either ESPNcricinfo or radio. Smiles and random fist pumps.” Then, Tendulkar was going more than run-a-ball, having scored a four and a six in a Fidel Edwards over, bowled close to 150 kmph. Tendulkar looked ominous, giving people glimpses of his creativity, as he leaned back, played upper cut to score two sixes off Edwards, in the innings and also showcased the best of his straight drives. As thousands roared, the century was for his taking.
Just a moment later, after his shock dismissal, a frustrated tweet read: “No he is not out. That was a wide ball and no ball and dead ball and Ravi Rampaul is involved in match fixing and takes drugs.” Anger, just because he ousted Sachin.
This is the awe that he inspires in a country of more than a billion, and beyond. Having been a witness to his batting and spectators’ admiration in the Test Match in Delhi recently, this scribe learnt a few things about what cricket is for his fans. For them, cricket exists because SRT plays it. Yours truly – being an admirer of the cricketer and watching the match in expectation of his 100th ton – was still amazed to see fans chanting “Sachin, Sachin” at their loudest, even when he picked the ball that rolled to him. For others, boundary-saving efforts were treated with mere claps.
A fellow spectator said, “I wonder how he is able to pick his bat, under such pressure. I’ve seen, this is even louder in Mumbai”. During the match, when Virender Sehwag was out, the noise reached its crescendo. Not in appreciation of Sehwag’s batting, but because Tendulkar was coming in to bat. Everybody wanted him to score the 100th. However, he missed it, and the fans still clapped. They were frustrated, but I could not hear a word of criticism.
It’s not easy to manage such adulation, being human. It’s not easy to shut your ears to such decibels. But then, it’s not easy to be Sachin Tendulkar.
He will definitely score his 100th, sooner or later, as Amitabh Bachchan tweeted: “Heartbroken! Ah well another day maybe. We’ll wait!”
Another fan, in yours truly could not resist the temptation and wrote: “Sad that Sachin did not score the 100th… Proud that he played like Sachin we admire… Would be sadder to see him crawl to it…”
(PS: The write-up appeared in Yours Truly’s weekly sports column – OFFSIDE – in The Kathmandu Post, on 26th November, 2011)