Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai. Nov 14, 2013, the first day of the second test match. It’s the evening session. After West Indies were bundled out for a measly 182 in their first innings, India begin their innings rather smoothly and briskly. The West Indies bowlers are delivering on a plate for the Indian openers and they are taking full toll of it. Murali Vijay drives one past the bowler, a picture perfect on drive. No, not quite though, everything is perfect except for the fact that it is played by the wrong batsman. We wish if it had been played by the number 4 batsman, the man who is assumed to have patented that shot.
We personally don’t want to see him coming out to bat today. What if he gets out today itself ? We don’t want the main act to be finished, done and dusted, within the first day. There should be something to look forward to on day 2. We want to feel the anxiety and thrill over a Tendulkar-to-bat day overnight. We want to be a part of an early morning crowd thronging into the Wankhede stadium anticipating something special.
Shikhar Dhawan pulls out his favourite sweep shot against Shillingford and top edges it. That is very much against the run of play, we think. Chetheshwar Pujara joins Vijay, the duo which knows how to string together big partnerships. Surely they will play nightwatchmen to Tendulkar, we hope. But after two balls, Vijay gets an inside edge to backward short leg. He looks disappointed, rightly so because he has been batting beautifully. The umpire consults with the Third Umpire for the no-ball, but everyone knows that it’s only a formality.
Vijay walks back and we can now see ‘The Man’ coming down the stairs. It’s not clear from our end. We are at the North Stand exactly opposite to the players pavilion, but we can see it in our mind, Tendulkar putting on his gloves through the steps. We can hear the decibel levels going several notches up as he takes each step towards the middle. In fact we are contributing to the noise even though we are tensed. The guard of honour from the West Indies players is already in place. The umpires also join in. Tendulkar reaches the middle now.
It’s 3.30 only now. The play can be extended to 5 pm if 20 more overs are not bowled within the scheduled close of play. That’s a lot of time and overs. I am trying to tell myself to concede the fact that I might have to leave the stadium disappointed today. The fun might well be over by stumps. But there’s Virat Kohli anyway. What a treat watching him has been of late. What about a swashbuckling knock from Dhoni tomorrow. It’s going to be entertaining in any case. But even then we badly want him to stay not out at the close of play.
What can be done to make sure that Sachin doesn’t get out. The first and the easiest step is not to sit. Nobody is sitting in the crowd anyway. The first ball, he survives, bounces short of the short -leg fielder. There is real tension in the air. You can cut it with a knife, but you can never make it subside. My friend is urging people to keep quiet and not to put the master under pressure with the Sachin- Sachin chants that have been resonating around Wankhede. What an absurd request by him !
An over later, it’s Shillingford again to Tendulkar, his nemesis from Kolkata. In fact, off spinners have been fancying a bowl at Tendulkar for a while now. He needs to get off the mark. He plays an ugly hoick across the line and manages to pick up a single. It’s felt as if it is a release shot. He won’t be emulating Bradman in his last test, after all. I am trying to make sure that I stay in the perfect position. I don’t want to jinx him in anyway possible. If Tendulkar’s quest at the crease is for balance, ours is also for balance of a different kind. A balanced state from where we can let him play without getting out, simple. If that means keeping even the tiniest piece of paper around us in the exact same position as it was for the previous delivery, then so be it. It’s an esoteric superstition that only cricket fans can understand.
Tendulkar is beginning to hit his stride. He has already hit Shillingford for a couple of boundaries. The crowd is beginning to loosen up. But I can’t do that just yet I feel. I am ready to stand up for the whole innings if needed, I am ready to repeat the routines if that keeps him going out there in the middle. Shillingford is the main danger, I feel. My friend is telling me that Shillingford hasn’t yet hit the right length to trouble Tendulkar. I understand that, but I reply to him saying that he will hit his length the very next ball. I often try this counter jinxing technique with Tendulkar, where I think or speak about all the possible harmful things that can happen to him while batting. It can be a ball that keeps low all of a sudden, I picture him squatting and getting bowled. It can be a ripper of an off break going through the gates. It can be him trying to play a cute paddle and missing the ball and finding himself dead in front of the stumps or it can be an umpire trying to show his ability to not be swayed by emotions and thus giving a marginal decision against Tendulkar. I have gone through all such scenarios in my mind. Hopefully I have counter jinxed them all for Sachin.
Pujara is turning over the strike at will and Tendulkar is looking more and more assured at the crease. But all the setting up work could come to nothing in the next three overs. Darren Sammy bowls a loosener, or is that the best he offers. The straight bat meets the ball, not much of a follow through. Mid on fielder can fetch the ball from the boundary. Now that is a perfect on-drive. Everyone around knows that this is special. We are high-fiving with people we don’t even know. There is a genuine sense of satisfaction on everyone’s face. We are no longer clapping and praying for a toothless old master, we are cheering on and witnessing the real master who has just produced his trademark shot. There are people who have spent the same X as us or less than X or more than X for their tickets. But everyone now feels as if whatever has been spent is well worth it.
The day is over. Sachin is batting on 38. The perfect scenario. Next day will turn out to be a full house. Pujara’s score and India’s total score ? Most people don’t know and they don’t care about it too. To be fair, we too are not aware of the overall picture. We are walking by a maidan after play and someone asks us what the state of the match is. “Sachin not out on 38” . He asks for nothing more too and goes away. Has he smiled hearing the news ? We want to tell it to everyone, spread smiles all around and just basically cherish those moments.
Day 2 arrives. The moving day of a test match these days, except that for this match, the game has moved forward a lot on the first day itself. We are sitting on seats that offer the best view from the North Stand, upper level. We know that today someone will come demanding our seats (theirs in fact) showing the seat number. We reach two hours prior to the game. But that is of no use now as more and people come saying “yeh, mera seat hai, please move”.
Thus we are now sitting on our original seats. The view is not as perfect as it was before. But why bother about that, we never thought we would be able to get in and there were days when we might have had wished to become a fly on the walls of Wankhede for this match to get a piece of the action. So let’s settle and enjoy Sachin or get really nervous for him. Sachin looks relaxed today morning. This is not a fresh start for him it feels. He is trying to dazzle the crowd one last time.
He goes for that favourite upper cut despite a third man fielder is being stationed. For a moment, I think it’s over. No, the umpire hasn’t heard anything and he is safe for now. May be it’s time to become more careful now as a spectator. We shouldn’t be betraying him in this last hurray. I start to follow a pattern of pre-ball routines that will serve Tendulkar well in the middle. I look to the scoreboards to my right and left one after another before every delivery that Sachin faces.
It seems to be working wonders. Sachin drives Tino Best past mid off for a four to reach his half century. ‘Sachin, Sachin’ gets louder and more importantly happier by the minute. Our throats are working overtime, but not everyday they have to do this. We are talking among ourselves that Tendulkar seems to be in that zone. Moreover he is determined to show off. He is happy to go for shots and risk his wicket in the process. Tino Best has been following through on the pitch and coming very close to Tendulkar at the strikers end, trying to upset his concentration with some words and stern looks. After the end of an over, Sachin goes past Best who is on his haunches and seems to have gently tapped on his head. This is a master of 24 years of experience cherishing every moment of this grand finale.
First over after the drinks break, fifth ball. Has he caught it ? We know it’s over. Tendulkar is gone for 74. How did it happen ? Have I violated my balance ? Have I been sitting when the ball was bowled ? More importantly, what should we do now ? Stay silent and analyze that dismissal ? But before that we have to give that rousing applause for one last time for Sachin seems to be in no mood to hang around. He walks back pretty quickly and takes off his helmet within the field itself. That’s so rare, I’m thinking. He turns around and raises his bat acknowledging all sections of the crowd.
We are pretty sure that we have seen the last of Tendulkar with a bat in hand and while it lasted, those 2.5 hours in all, they epitomized our life thus far. It’s one big emotional roller-coaster that we are parting with, one that has been enjoyable all the way even through the tensions and the apprehensions, one that has made us do all sorts of weird things, and one that has made us look forward to another day in life.
P.S : I miss those days, those days from two weeks back when we were on a massive mission, a challenge indeed where we had to be single minded and give all our attention to the task at hand to succeed. That was the biggest hunt for tickets for a cricket match we ever had to do and for sure will remain the biggest in the future too. The group we had created for conversation on the topic was buzzing always. In fact, it was the only group with so much activity that I have ever been a part of.
“Hey, I found a guy on Twitter, he has tickets for North Stand”. “I got the number of a guy from Internet, who seems to be an MCA member or he seems to know someone from the MCA”. “Good, keep in touch with him”, “I think X is a decent buy, but try to bring it down to X- Y “. It went on like that for two weeks and finally we got our tickets for an amount that we still thought was too high, but after all, this was no ordinary occasion. This was the curtains coming down to our childhood, or more clearly our life thus far. We just had to be there at Wankhede for the farewell and we managed it. Thank You Almighty for making it happen.