Dear Sachin Tendulkar,
In the language that you and I occasionally lapse into there is a very simple expression. After a good meal, which you so enjoy, after a nice family get-together, we say “maja aali”. We had fun. It is often said with a contented smile and a gentle shake of the head. To a lot of people your last test is a sad event but I am not so sure because we must all go and when the time comes, think of the good times we left behind rather than the uncertain ones ahead. As I look back over the last 24 years, all those great innings played, those challenges countered, those dreams achieved, I’ll choose just two words for you Sachin. “Maja aali!”.
I have been seeing statistics all over and while they are stunning they tell only a part of the picture. Your batting has been analysed to death and the numbers you generated memorised by young men all over the world. But I have long believed, not just with you but with your other outstanding teammates like VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and the like, that the person you are determines the cricketer you become. At various times in your career, when you were batting like a dream and when you were battling like just another cricketer, you never lost sight of who you were. That I think was actually the making, and the sustenance, of you.
Just a couple of days ago, on a hangout (these new things, you must wonder, for even the internet wasn’t around when you started in test cricket!) I was asked if there was one word that best described you. The most obvious were “genius”, “legend”, “master”, oh so many, but the one that came instantly to mind was “humble”. About life but most distinctly, about the game you adored. I remember that Pepsi commercial where they gave you a fly swatter and you were shown hammering cricket balls with it..and you said it would be disrespectful and asked for it to be reshot with a cricket bat. I remembered when you spoke with such feeling, to the young players at the Mumbai Indians camp about putting the game first. And I remembered so many years ago in your Sahitya Sahawas house when Anjali popped in to make tea and you put out the cups..it could have been any middle class family.
In fact, I have often said that you could have, with the pedestal we put you on, looked down at the game below, that you could have allowed yourself to think you were its biggest star. Instead you remained a servant, always putting the game and its traditions first. Much has changed around you but your respect for the game hasn’t. It is a nice lesson for those obsessed with stardom and its trappings.
And that is why I think one of your biggest contributions to Indian cricket was in not behaving like the star you were. In our obsession with the individual, we always put you first and if you had thought that way about yourself, you might have created discord, personal rivalry, you could have split the team. I know you weren’t happy with the declaration in Multan, for example, that declaration, but you and that other fine gentleman, Rahul Dravid, settled matters so easily because both of you put Indian cricket first.
And that contribution was seen at the time of Indian cricket’s worst crisis around the turn of the century. The whole match-fixing issue hurt the fan very deeply because like you, the fan gives everything to Indian cricket. He was suspicious, he was worried and he was angry. One of them wrote to me and said “Please tell me Sachin is not involved because if he is what is left!” To me, that letter symbolised what the fan thought of you. That core group, you, Dravid, Laxman, Kumble, Srinath and Ganguly saved Indian cricket then. It wasn’t about cricket at that time, it was about people. You reassured the fan and that is why he has stood by you. I know you will acknowledge him when you finish.
I am also amazed that for all the intensity you carried onto the field you never once lost it; there was no abuse, no tantrums, no rants. Not even when that idiot ran onto the field in England when you were walking back. You just let him be, most others would have let him know what they thought, some might have shoulder-charged him to the ground…You know what I mean! But you just walked back calmly. It was so “you”.
And I am not surprised younger players talk about how you put them at ease. I often wondered how a young kid could come up to you and tell you that you were playing a bit away from your body, for example..because to them, what you did was right! But you said to them it was better they pointed out a mistake before you got out rather than after. I’m sure that broke the ice but it was important you did it.
I am delighted you are going out bat in hand, that you are not forced out by injury. I remember seeing you in great pain in that first IPL when you were being forced back into rehab. You hated it because everyone else was playing and you couldn’t. “I can take the pain but I can’t stand this rehab” you had said. I had feared that one day your body would announce to you that it had had enough. It had a right to for you had driven it for twenty five years! I am delighted it is in decent shape for this last game. You still have to run that second run hard even if your legs occasionally remind you they are yours and not Virat Kohli’s!
I am going to enjoy this game. It will be a privilege to broadcast on it. I know you will be showered with love, I only hope you are not strangled by it. The whole cast is going to be there; your batting colleagues Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly; your great rivals and friends Brian Lara and Shane Warne and the people who have stood by you the most, your family, and those fans in the stands and in front of tv sets. It is going to be a big, fat Indian wedding after all! Even you, I suspect, will find it difficult to shut off the cheers when you come into bat this time.
It was fun, Sachin. You’ve been a jewel to our game, you are leaving it richer and you brought hope and happiness to many who didn’t always have a lot of it. You did well for India. And, yes, maja aali.