I walk into my room in Madras and it’s as I left it in 2006, when I moved to the US for college. There are stickers of him stuck on my desk, newspaper cutouts from his best games kept inside drawers, and Sportstar posters of him on the walls. As I look around my room, I find a placard I’d made comparing him to the Don, a placard I’d carried to the India-Pakistan game that took place in Madras in ’99, yes that game. When I look out of the window, I see the street where my friends and I used to play cricket after school. At the best of times, a tree was the stump, and a big Onyx bin marked the boundary. But even when things were less than ideal, we adapted. Our rules morphed to suit the state of the street. Underarm cricket, overarm cricket, French cricket. Cricket with a rubber ball, cricket with a tennis ball, cricket with a cork ball. Cricket in the thumping rain, cricket in the searing heat, cricket under a streetlight. We tried ‘em all, but there were some things about the game that were not open to interpretation. Things that stayed the same irrespective of the format. Things that we considered sacred, that we followed without question. When it was our time to bat, we may have stood in front of a tree but that didn’t stop us from asking for a leg stump guard. We didn’t have to find the bowler amongst a sea of fans, but that didn’t stop us from squinting. We didn’t wear abdomen guards, but that didn’t stop us from doing the crotch-adjust. We had to share our pitch with motorists, flower sellers and cranky old uncles, but that didn’t stop us from ‘gardening’, halting whoever came in front of us with one quick raise of the hand and then tapping the tar road with our bats. I walk into my room in Madras and it’s as I left it in 2006, but till this morning I could look at the stickers and cutouts and posters and know that while I was no longer that kid playing cricket on the street, he was still going to be around in those bright India blues. Till this morning.
On Sunday, at Chepauk, India will take on Pakistan and that special madness will be missing in the crowd, that unavoidable outpouring of joy and gratitude, that undeniable excitement from knowing that he’s padded up and about to walk on to the field. On Sunday, at Chepauk, India will take on Pakistan but Sachin Tendulkar will not.
Anyone else need a hug?