Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sachin Tendulkar's last match - Recounting a historic experience

Have you ever been a part of the huge crowd that chanted "Sachinnn...Sachinnn" *clap clap clap*? (spoiler alert: you're going to read this cheer quite a few times ahead) If not, you, my dear friend, have missed out on something really incredible in the era you lived in. I was missing out too, until recently. I have guy friends who are crazy fans of Sachin Tendulkar (the GOD, as they like to address him). They remember his cricket career statistics and the dates more distinctly than they know their girlfriend's choices and her birth date. But somehow, I never counted myself one among them. Obviously, I knew that Sachin is a legend and I'm a huge fan of his cover drives, straight drives et al. But not to the extent of painting my face, yelling his name out loud every time he bats, bowls or even fields, bunking lectures, missing exams, and sitting in the college/office canteen for hours discussing about his test and ODI innings. I have truly admired the guy (pardon me for not referring to him as GOD) and he is the most inspiring sportsperson I know in our country. 
Sachin's last celebration lap around Wankede, Mumbai.
But on 16th November 2013, I became one among them! It was Sachin’s last international cricket appearance and I knew I couldn't miss it for anything. Since he announced that this match will be his last, everyone in Mumbai wanted to be in the stadium to watch him play live for one last time. With a stadium capacity of 45,000 and with Mumbai’s population of more than 20 million, my chances of getting a ticket to the match was, can do the math. I was lucky enough to get my hands on the tickets for all five days. I fortunately had a holiday on day two of the match and took a day off of work on day three - how could I not! I yelled so much in the two days that my voice got hoarse (it was totally worth it). I’m proud to say that I was a Sachin fanatic for a short, but the most memorable, period of time.

Day two of the match

I went to see the match on the second day. At 9:30 am, he came out of the dressing room and the crowd roared! The minute he entered the ground, all I could hear was - "Sachinnn...Sachinnn" *clap clap clap*. He batted with so much ease as if it were his 1st test match and no one in the stadium knew him. But the truth was, every ball he faced, every run he took, every move he made was watched avidly by millions of people around the world. He was playing his usual awe-inspiring shots and looked in great form. But suddenly, at 74, he tried flicking the ball past the first-slip fielder and got caught by the fielder. The entire stadium dropped silent. Everyone's heart sank at that very moment. We didn't know how to react because we were gearing up to celebrate his last century. He began walking towards the dressing room. But the entire crowd recuperated in seconds and there we were, giving him his one last standing ovation after he inspired us with his batting. Many of us had tears in our eyes as we knew this could be last time our hero was batting for us, for India. The chants of "Sachinnn...Sachinnn" *clap clap clap* continued until he reached the dressing room. Just before walking up the stairs of the pavilion he turned and waived to the entire stadium as an acknowledgement for its support – what a true gentleman! 

Throughout the rest of the day, as other Indian batsmen continued batting, the crowd kept cheering for Sachin. People squalled to Dhoni (the Indian team captain) to declare the innings, to the umpires suggesting them to cheat and declare the other batsmen out, and to the West Indies team supporting them as they struggled to restrict the Indian batsmen from scoring runs. The crowd didn’t mean ill for the rest of the Indian team, but they came with a sole purpose - to watch their hero bat! At the end of the day, the Indian team had overtaken the West Indies team by a good 300+ runs and took 3 early wickets in a matter of just 12 overs. Everyone knew that day three will most probably be the last day of this test match. They might not get to see Sachin bat once again. 

Day three of the match

All the predictions came true today. Day three turned out to be the last day of the match. I took an off from work because I knew that I will be witnessing a historic moment in the stadium. I reached the stadium early with my best friend. Having her by me as we witnessed the day was just an added advantage. At 9:30 am the third day of the match began. As soon as Sachin came out of the dressing room, the entire crowd erupted in chants of, no points for guessing here, "Sachinnn...Sachinnn" *clap clap clap*. He was like a superhero on the ground that day. Whichever direction he looked, people waved frantically and yelled. He waived back to all of them every single time. The crowd was sad that they wouldn’t see their superhero ever again after that day, but I was imagining what Sachin’s thoughts were. He would miss all this love and attention from his fans soon. 

West Indies team kept struggling to find a good partnership and kept losing wickets quickly. Before we knew, in a couple of hours, West Indies had lost 8 of their wickets. Our hearts were beating fast because we knew “the end” was approaching sooner than we thought. The crowd wanted Sachin to bowl (though he isn’t a professional bowler, he is pretty good at it) at least a few overs. Luckily, Dhoni gave him two overs. As soon as Sachin took the ball in his hand, removed the cap to give to the umpire and walked past the crease, the entire crowd stood up and erupted to make a loud cheer for him. Both the overs were mediocre but no one bothered. It was total “paisa wasool” for all the attendees. Soon after his overs ended, the match came to an end after West Indies lost all their wickets and an inglorious match came to an end for them. 

The historic moment

As soon as the last wicket was down, the entire crowd of 40,000+ people stood up. They knew what they’re going to see next is what they will be telling people outside the stadium for the rest of their lives. I know I will! The Indian players congratulated each other and everyone except Sachin sprinted to form the Guard of Honor for his hero. Sachin walked through them as the players and everyone around applauded. The crowd kept applauding as they saw their hero get emotional. In the dressing room he was presented a special memento by the West Indian team. Both the teams then came out for the presentation. During the entire presentation, every mention of Sachin was received by a huge roar. But the most memorable part was when Sachin was handed over the microphone to speak. The whole crowd kept roaring "Sachinnn...Sachinnn" *clap clap clap* for more than 40 seconds, literally! Sachin gestured the crowd to be silent but the people were too ecstatic to control their feelings. After a long wait, Sachin gave up and began talking. Watching him speak on the huge screens, the entire crowd dropped silent. Every single person was standing since the time the match ended and listened to Sachin passionately. We laughed, clapped, sighed, and reacted to his words innocently like children. It was an amazing moment to hear our hero’s last speech where he thanked each and every person who touched his life. My respect for him and the people, who made him who he is, rose to another level. You can view his last touching speech here. As soon as he finished his speech, there was pin drop silence around the stadium. I reckon many of us were in tears. Not me though, I cried a bit later. I’ll get to that soon. 

So, here we were, with our moist eyes readying to bid adieu to a guy who entertained us for 24 long years, a guy whom we, including many legendary cricketers, like to call GOD. Escorted by tight security, he began his final walk around the stadium waving to the people. He was surrounded by his family, security personnel, journalists, team mates, and others. Soon, his teammates picked him up. There are 8 stands in the Wankhede stadium; as he passed each stand, everyone in that stand either clicked pictures and videos of him deliriously or bowed to him. I was among the latter group of people. As he came towards my stand, it all seemed unreal! I couldn’t believe my eyes that Sachin Tendulkar was just 10 meters away from me. I usually don’t refer to Sachin as GOD, but just for that moment, I said to myself – “So, this is what it feels to see GOD smiling in front of you!”  After his lap around the stadium, he went to the pitch alone and touched it for one last time. It was one emotional moment for him and his millions of fans. I have to admit, a tiny drop of tear rolled down my cheek as I realized that I will never see my hero play supernatural shots ever again. His humility and innocence was evident through his eyes and gestures. This was indeed the most special moment in his as well as our lives. Witnessing that epic moment made each of us feel special. I will remember those 3 minutes for life. I have never felt so much respect gushing into my veins for any person as I felt at that time. It was ethereal! I have never admitted that I was a Sachin follower, but after that day, I would be lying to myself if I denied being one. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, I bow to thee! 

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