Sachin And The “Cricket Maddy”
“Cricket Maddy” – it was the name conferred to me by my family and friends, as a boy who breathed cricket every single moment. It was since 5th standard I started to hear cricket commentary in a half wrecked transistor underneath the bed sheet in the hours allocated for studies. As a boy who didn’t have enough Hindi and English in his routine, the only words I could recognize were some technical terms and the names of my favorite players like Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Gundappa Viswanath, Kirmani, Madanlal, Keerthi Azad, et al. But, that was enough for me to imagine the game happening far away in England or Australia. The adrenalin rush when the commentators uttered “Chakka” and “Chouka” with utmost fervor, gave me the idea that something tremendous was happening in the field. Countless nights had I been awake to hear the commentaries of the matches going on in countries like West Indies and England. The cricket commentaries in Akashavani, which switched into Hindi and English, were sweeter than the songs of Yesudas and Mohammed Rafi.
It was as callous as hell to sleep, if players like Gavaskar, Viswanath, Mohinder Amarnath or Anshuman Gaekwad were heading to a century when the first innings of a test ends. When we play cricket from the school ground with wooden bat and stumber ball in the evenings after a test match, that “Cricket Maddy” inside me was ambitious enough to get inside the spikes of Kapil Dev to gear up for a century with a boundary. No player inside the 22 yards could have taken up the pressure that I had when India strived to avoid a fiasco (India won comparatively less matches those days). Yes, I am a “Cricket Maddy”.
It was when cricket ruthlessly conquered my brain and mind, that news appeared in Mathrubhumi News paper. ‘Cricket World Cup starts today’. Above the eight column news, the sports page printed the photos of the captains of the eight teams which played the world Cup. I cropped the photo of our captain Kapil Dev to paste it on the wall of my study room.The first game was against West Indies but, tuning the radio ended up in vein. The knob of that grandpa radio was not ready to help me in any way. Only the next day could I know that India defeated West Indies, who were the previous champions. The following days were that of uncontrollable heart throbbing and immense anxiety. As each days passed, the number of black and white photos pasted on my bedroom walls got increased. On the day when Kapil Dev scored 175 against Zimbabwe, without even a drop of incertitude, I declared in front of my friends that he was actually an incarnation of God. The glorifying words about Kapil Dev that I had written in the back pages of my most hated Chemistry notebook was actually my first sports article. The oath was taken on the day when India lifted the World Cup; it is pointless to study anymore, my destiny is to become a cricket player. I should play for India, we should lift a world cup once again. Later on, I started reading articles about Ranji and Dileep Trophies published in Mathrubhumi and The Hindu in utmost attention to decide who all should be playing in the 1991 World cup team under my captaincy.Things were as sure as that for me.
To the exhilaration of the ‘Cricket Maddies’ like me, a television arrived in one of my relative’s house when I was studying in the 9th standard. So did the Indian matches start to get telecasted in Dooradarshan. Those were indeed goosebump moments, Vengsarkar, Sreekanth and Kapil Dev winning over Australia and New Zealand, hitting mammoth runs in the Tri-National tournament. My entry to the college cricket team in the pre-degree days transposed my dreams into CinemaScope colour. The applause that I got scoring 10 – 20 runs against two locals teams played against us bestowed me immense euphoria. But, by reaching in the degree classes, I could realize that my dream of playing for India was not going to be materialized. Because, a sixteen year old boy had nabbed my slot in the Indian Team. His name was Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. But, I was not ready to give up the love for cricket. Instead, I decided to become a die hard fan of that boy. Into my heart he walked down playing ardent innings. Saying nobody, I started weaving new dream.To become a sports journalist to watch him play from the stadium and to interview –that was my dream.
The reason behind taking diploma in journalism and applying for the job in Mathrubhumi were the same. And I got what I wished. I was appointed in the sports desk of Mathrubhumi and later to the Sports Masika. The Executive Editor V Rajagopal and the in charge of Sports Masika, O R Ramachandran, realized my overwhelming craze towards the game. So, they unleashed me into the cricket grounds. In every match covered for Mathrubhumi, my main focus was towards that young dashing gentle man.The first match I covered of Sachin was the India-England Test match which was held in Mohali on December 2001. Sachin played as the 5th number batsman in that match, in which India got a clean sweep. The crowd welcomed Sachin with turbulent cheer – “Sachin… Sachin”. No cricket admirer can sit back in the chair and remain calm when the legend pads up for the game. Sitting in the the press gallery, I could hear the same uproar inside my heart. It started to beat with the rhythm of the exuberant roar of the crowd – “Sachin… Sachin”. I could do nothing but to sit solemnly in the press gallery because, I was not a cricket fan there, but a responsible sports journalist. Meanwhile, somebody grabbed the empty seat very next to me. To my colossal exclamation, I recognized that the person who sat besides me was the one and only Sunil Gavaskar. It was indeed a kickass moment that the legend whom I adored since my childhood was sitting next to me. “Am I dreaming ?!” I asked myself. It might be because he had recognized the admiration in my eyes, Gavaskar asked my name. He was there as a journalist who writes columns in newspapers inside and outside India. Sachin also might have recognized the presence of his ardent fan in the press gallery, that he stood still in the the crease indeed for a long duration facing 144 balls. He was dismissed scoring 88 runs. After the match I managed to see him and get his autograph, waiting outside the players’ dressing room.
“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”. I realize the power of these words by Paulo Coelho. The incidents from the beginning of my career were those satisfying his words from The Alchemist. I got opportunities to cover Sachin’s matches again and again. But I had to wait three more years to fulfil the dream of an interview with him. In 2004, the Australian team, under the captaincy of Adam Gilchrist, reached India for a tournament. The second test was held in Chennai. The Indian captain was Sourav Ganguly. Even though Sachin had been suffering from intense pain of Tennis elbow, he reached Chennai wishing to play. So did I wishing to interview him. “This time Viswanath will surely get to interview him” – the then secretary of BCCI, S K Nair ensured me. S K rang me up in the previous day saying that Sachin was all set to return to Bombay due to immense pain and we had to meet him in the Taj Hotel that night itself. It was with the book I have written about Sachin I reached Taj Hotel to meet him. We (SK, I and photographer B Chandrakumar) entered his room as it was decided by SK already. Even though he was in the grief of not being able to play, he wholeheartedly sat beside me for the interview. The Sachin fan inside me was walking on air because, one of my biggest dreams came true that night. After the interview I handed him over the book which had been written by me about him. SK had mentioned about it to him earlier. Sachin went through its pages with the greatest interest that one could have while going through a book written in a language that he can’t understand. “I can’t read Malayalam. But Anjali (his wife) has a Malayali Friend and for sure I will get to know what is written in it with her help”. He comforted his fan by saying this. Some words that Sachin said in between the interview touched my mind. When I asked what he had to say to the youngsters as an advice he replied, “Listen to your elders. Make corrections according to their advices”. This shows the greatness of Sachin as a person and a successful player.
Afterwards, when going for any match of India, my main agenda was to see Sachin. It must be about Sachin I have written most of the articles. Every month, I used to try my best to convince OR to select Sachin’s photo as the cover of Sports Masika. In 2013, when I heard the news about Sachin’s retirement, I rang Mathrubhumi’s Sports editor Raviyettan (P K Raveendran) all of a sudden. I requested him to send me for the retirement match which is about to take place in the Wankhede Stadium. “Who else other than you for that”, Raviyettan said with a grin. I reached Mumbai three days prior to the match. Mathrubhumi photographer Muralikrishnan, Mathrubhumi News channel’s senior news editor Abi T Abraham (He was one among the persons who paved me the way to sports journalism), cameraman S J Sinu (He is now a Malayalam film director) accompanied me. The very next day on arrival, we visited the Sahithya Sahavas Colony in East Bandra where Sachin was born and brought up. Sachin spent his childhood in an apartment in the fourth floor of a building named Ushakaal. Sachin’s elder brother Ajit Tendulkar, who is a chronic bachelor, lives there right now. While a television team, who came in search of Sachin’s family house, interviewing Sachin’s old friends, Ajit has come down and drove his BMW swiftly passing everybody who stood there .Ajit resembles a hermit with his long hair and beard. “He is a Sanyasi itself, his life is so”, said Amal Bhatt who is a neighbour and coeval of Ajit. Ajit was the one who had imparted Sachin with the basic lessons of cricket and lead him to the coaching center of Ramakant Achrekar.
Sachin’s retirement was becoming one of the biggest ever events held in the entire Mumbai city. That was what we could see there. Those days Mumbai spoke only about Sachin. Since the first day of the test, people came flooding into the Wankhede stadium. The whole stadium had been chanting “Sachin… Sachin”. I was in immense melancholy that the chanting that I had been hearing since I started covering cricket matches is not going to be heard anymore after that test match.
Even his last innings professed Sachin’s unconditional love and respect towards the game. Sachin played highly sophisticated shots in that innings. Magnificently had he scored a boundary through point in back foot against Shillingford’s ball. In the very next ball, a paddle sweep that he played only when he was in superb form. He was dismissed scoring 68th half century of his career, giving hope to a century. Off spinner Deonarine’s (Devnarayan) ball was outside the off stump. Sachin tried for a cut. But the ball elevated, bouncing on the pitch, beyond the anticipation. West Indies captain Darren Sammy delivered a beautiful catch for the dismissal of Sachin. The Whole Wankhede Stadium became silent at that moment.
Then goes Sachin back to the pavilion, once again lifting the bat with tricolor, in the air. He turned back before crossing the boundary line. We could see his eyes immersed in the grief of leaving the ground, mindful that there is no comeback again. While climbing the steps of the pavilion, he knew that he is never going to dismount those steps anymore. That bitter truth might have broken his heart. That test was concluded in the fourth day. On 16th of November 11:47 am, West Indies batsman Shannon Gabriel’s mid stump was uprooted by India’s pace bowler Muhammed Shami. Sachin Tendulkar lifted a stump bouncing from the fine leg to the wicket. A dream-like journey which was started twenty four years and one day ago, ends here. The audience who had come flooding to the ground made way for the ‘God of Cricket’ standing both on the sides. They moved forward when their ‘Sachin Paji’ took each step. Famous cricket commentator Harsha Bogle qualified it as “Moving Guard of Honor”. Sachin bid adieu to his admirers all over the world by lifting the stump upward, which was uprooted from the ground where his memories throb. The people like Sunil Gavaskar and Dileep Vengsarkar, who played a huge role in galvanizing the school boy Sachin into a legendary cricket player, were there in the stadium. His bosom friends like VVS Lakshman and Rahul Dravid were also present there to watch their Master Blaster playing his last match.
Sachin’s reply, to the emotional farewell, penetrated to the heart of the audience. He was stubborn that he should miss no one to whom he should pay his gratitude. He came with the names written in a paper so that he would miss nobody. Family, first coach Ramakant Achrekar, friends, supporters, doctors who had treated him, medias, fans… Everyone like that. Long indeed his speech was, without missing anybody who stood by his side. It was such a cozy feeling even though thoughts about his farewell was piercing my heart. The farewell speech is proof that he had got the eloquence of his father, who was a poet. Once the speech was over, his teammates neared him again. Then what we could see was the recreation of the scene that we had seen after the victory of the world cup, in the same stadium. Captain Dhoni and vice captain Kohli were those who lifted him first. A journey around the stadium, sitting on the shoulders of his dear teammates. His wife Anjali, and his children Sara and Arjun accompanied them. After all these, Sachin walked slowly to the center of the ground. He took a handful of soil from Wankhede’s wicket and touched his forehead. Wankhede witnessed most of his important breakthroughs. Little master’s eyes got wet then. Nobody in the gallery could hold their tears when Sachin walked through the pavilion wiping his tears. Before the tears dried up, that news had come with happy tears. Yes, he is awarded with the Highest civilian honor, Bharat Ratna. Sooner become Mumbai’s face got cheerful. Mobile phone screens flashed with this exceedingly joyous news. It’s been the first time in the history, a sports star receives prestigious Bharat Ratna award. The timely endowment awarded to the 24 years long meditation-like career. As a Sachin fan, I am gifted to watch his farewell ceremony sitting with Sachin’s family in the president’s box. Sachin’s mother, Rajani Tendulkar’s eyes were bleeding with tears. Ajit was trying to hold back tears by biting his lips. Another brother Nithin wiped his tears, lifting his sunglasses. Their own Sachu speaks with quavering voice, in front of their eyes. How couldn’t that emotional voice make them weep. Rajini was sitting in a chair, and Nithin and Ajit sat besides her. Sachin’s dearest aunt was also there with them. Sara, who was sitting a bit away with Anjali, comes off and on in order to seek the wellness of her dadi. Rajini’s strained face calms down only when she sees Sara.
Ajit and Nithin stood up and clapped when India won the match. Anjali and Sara headed to the ground to accompany Sachin. Brian Lara, sho was sitting in the front row, shows Sara to the former West Indies captain Lloyd Clive. Sara waved her hand to both of them and rushed with her mother. Tears rolled from Rajani’s eyes when Sachin mentioned his father in his farewell speech. Even Ajit, who seldom shows any emotion, couldn’t help holding back his tears. Former Indian Wicket Keeper Kiran More came from the back row and embraced Ajit. Nithin, who was a Maratha poet like their father Ramesh, smiled with eyes filled with tears.
When I visited Rio de Janeiro to report the 2016 Olympics for Mathrubhumi, Sachin was present there. He was a busy bee there, rushing from one stadium to another, pepping the Indian stars up. He was walking with crutches, because of the wound on his leg. When I went to the stadium to cover the tennis mixed doubles of Mirza – Rohan Bopanna, Sachin had been sitting in the gallery. I sat next to Sachin to watch the game. When I asked him about the potential of Sania – Rohan team, he answered with great authenticity. He was very much bothered about the advantages and drawbacks of the competitors of the Indian team. People rushed to click photos with Sachin after the match. He pointed Leander Paes who was standing next to him and said “Here is the real legend of the Indian sports, take photos with him. I am his big fan”. – That is Sachin. Before returning from the stadium, The Hindu’s Principal Correspondent Kamesh clicked me standing with the two legends of Indian sports world. Thanks to Kamesh.
Now, Sachin is not in the 22 yards. But my passion towards Sachin ends never. Let me share a happiness. The article that I had written about Sachin’s last test in Sports Masika is included in the +2 Malayalam text book with the title Wankhedeyude Hrudayathdippukal. Both of my children studied my article in their classes. What else should a Sachin fan have for such an eternal bliss !