I envy Sachin Tendulkar's team-mates; even more so, his fellow batsmen. If there is one thing I desire more than anything else, it is to be on the opposite end of the pitch when Sachin is batting. To see the front foot drives from up close, the measured flicks, the drilled sweeps, and the upper cuts over the slip cordon that would be considered audacious if played by anyone else. To listen to his take on the sport, for he cannot be wrong. To understand how he makes it look all so simple. Oh, the simplicity, isn't that the beauty of his game?
I remember the first cricket match I ever saw. It was the 1996 Cricket World Cup, and as fate would have it, the first cricketer I ever saw was Sachin Tendulkar. India was playing Kenya and this diminutive man, all of 22 years, scored 127 effortless runs. I fell in love with the game that day. Another vivid memory is watching him live at the stadium in Chennai as India took on Pakistan in 1997. Saeed Anwar, Pakistan's prolific opener, tried his best to quieten the crowd by scoring 194, but all that mattered to me and the numerous other Sachin fans that day was that our man took his wicket. We asked a lot from him, and he rarely let us down. And in the cases when he did, we were in unanimous agreement that it was the umpire's fault. How could the blind fool think that Sachin would knick a ball? Blasphemy.
I don't think it's possible to write an apt tribute to Sachin Tendulkar, for words surely can't be enough. He's been the darling of the Indian masses for years now, and that's saying a lot considering how fickle we cricket fans are. I used to learn in school, while growing up in Chennai, about unity in diversity - the need to bring the people of a diverse nation like India together. The solution was simple, really. Sachin Tendulkar only had to hit a straight drive for four and you would give a bear hug to the person next to you - screw his religion, caste, whatever. The cherubic genius let his bat do all the talking and in that,he taught us the most important lesson - shut up and let your actions speak for you.
He may be 36 now (yes, I refuse to accept that fact too) but he's still going strong. I hardly heard a word of what my English professor was saying about Pushkin a week ago, as I furiously refreshed Cricinfo every two seconds to see if Tendulkar could pull off another miracle. His 175 was in a losing effort, but the game was made richer just by his presence.
For twenty years now, he's worn the Indian colors with the greatest pride. For twenty years now, he's taken it up on himself to lead from the front. And even after twenty years of bearing the burden of his nation's hopes, he plays with the same childlike enthusiasm he displayed as a 16 year old prodigy.