By SANDEEP SAHU
Every cricket lover has his or her own favourite Sachin moment from the field. For some, it is the Desert Storm in Sharjah when he clinically took apart Australia in two successive games to win the final for India in 1998. There are those who never tire of talking about the last over that he bowled in the Hero Cup final in Kolkata, which turned the game on its head and handed India a game that looked hopelessly lost till the end of the previous over. There are others who rate the 200 he scored in an ODI – the first man on ‘planet’ to do it, as Ravi Shastri put it so evocatively while commentating – against South Africa in Hyderabad in 2010.
But my most memorable Sachin moment is from the very first series he played – against Pakistan – at a time when he was yet to finish school. The year was 1989. With his chubby face, missing moustache and lack of inches, he looked like an innocent lamb hemmed in on all sides by fiery wolves in the shape of Pakistani players. Waqar Younus was breathing fire as he hurtled down the ball at lightning speed at the Boy from Bombay (Mumbai was still some years away).
“Ouchhh”, I screamed as a Waqar thunderbolt found its way through the visor-less helmet and hit the baby-faced Sachin smack on the nose. It was as if the ball had hit me on the nose. Even on the portable, locally assembled 12” black and white television I was watching the match on, I could clearly see blood oozing out of his nose. The fact that the blood looked a deeper shade of grey rather than red on the B/W TV did nothing to lessen the horror of what had just happened.
But it was what followed the smack on the face that made the incident one of my abiding cricketing memories. Sachin, I clearly remember, neither screamed not slouched to the ground. He just took out his helmet and tried to stop the bleeding with a hanky even as the Pakistanis hovered menacingly around him. Navjot Singh Siddhu came running in from the other end to comfort him. Within seconds, the portly Ali Irani, physio of the team, rushed to the ground and took care of the bloodied nose. In less than five minutes, Sachin, a tape stuck on his split nose, was ready to face Waqar again.
The next ball was slightly outside the off stump and Sachin went down on his knees to square drive the ball to the boundary with exquisite timing. The next ball was just a touch short and Sachin went back to punch it to the point fence – again with splendid timing. There was not a hint of rage or revenge in either of the two strokes. Both of them were perfect, copy book cricketing shots and a treat to the eyes. He did not look back in anger at Waqar and point his bat towards the boundary as most cricketers of the present generation would do. He did not even look at Waqar and went about his business, split nose and all, with a quiet dignity that convinced me here was somebody really, really special. It was only Kapil Dev, who had given the same feeling before – incidentally also on his first series in Pakistan 11 years earlier.
The incident said as much as about the cricketing genius of Sachin as it did about his stoicism and fortitude in the face of adversity. It is the latter quality that has made him the legend that he is today. The bouncers and beamers being thrown at him with increasing regularity in the last two years by his critics – who believed he was past his sell-by date and was in the Indian team on the strength of nothing more than his ‘reputation’ – must have been more painful than that Waqar scorcher at Faisalabad in 1989. But then Sachin has never been one to wear his emotions on his sleeves. Not in 1989. Not in 2013.
That does not, however, mean that he has no emotions. It is noteworthy that in his statement announcing his retirement, he said his ‘heart feels it is time’. He could have easily attributed the decision to the ‘mind’ rather than the ‘heart’ and the news would still have been shattering enough for his legions of fans across the globe. But it would not have given us an insight into a side to Sachin that we thought just did not exist. The fact that he did not betray his emotions – whether on or off the field – for nearly a quarter century did not mean he did not have them. It was just that he believed in keeping them to himself, in not getting swayed by them and in zealously guarding his inner universe – as long as he was playing.
Free from the burden of carrying the hopes of a billion people on his shoulders now, he perhaps felt he could allow us a peep into his hitherto unseen side. To show us that he is not, after all, the robot that some of us thought he was. To prove that while prowess on the field can make one a great cricketer, rare is the cricketing great who also happens to be a great man. In this, he can be compared with the man he has been compared with the most for cricketing skills: Sir Donald Bradman.
As the headline of a tribute to Sachin on a leading news portal aptly said; “There was only one Don Bradman, There will be only one Tendulkar”.