Happy Birthday Sachin!!
“It’s his birthday today and he has not let his fans down”, said Ravi Shastri. On 24th April 1998. Sharjah. But when did he ever let his fans down. Not many cricketers have the privilege of people remembering their birthdays. Sachin’s birthday too would have been like any other day, had India not been playing against Australia that night. He had just turned 25. An age when a whole lot of people are not able to figure out where they are heading in their lives, Tendulkar was carrying the burden of the nation on his shoulders.
The Desert-Storm had come and gone two nights before, 143, against the same opposition. There were murmurs in the Australian dressing room that Tendulkar had played the best innings of the tournament and a repeat of such a knock is of a low possibility. Not knowing that Sachin had other plans for them. One of the most iconic images of the birthday match was Shane Warne swatting away mosquitoes, just after and just like his first delivery to Sachin was swatted away over long-on. Tom Moody, Michael Kasprowicz, Mark Waugh, Damien Fleming – All were treated with same disdain by the Little Man. There are many ‘Most’s’ and ‘Highest’s’ Tendulkar has achieved in his 24 year long career, but if you ask Sachin fans to recall their favourite Sachin moment and the numbers 143 and 134 will be the first ones to pop up in their heads. 98 against Pakistan might give a close run to these knocks but the sheer joy of Sachin single handedly taking his team to victory in Sharjah cannot be matched by other memorable knocks he played in his career. The fact that the final was played on his birthday and the result was in India’s favour, made this date immortal amongst the Indian fans.
It’s been 17 years since, and without fail, every year, it brings back the fondest of memories. Those days when Cable-Tv was getting big in India, when it all depended on the cable operators whether to telecast ESPN or Star Sports, when scoring a century in ODIs used to be a big deal, when 270 was a score which meant the game was half yours. Sachin’s career can be broken down into two eras – Pre and Post 1998. Never was the impact same after that. And this is not to say that there was less consistency but the sheer domination of 1998 could never be seen again. I remember reading the special edition of Outlook in December that year – it was dedicated to Sachin and it read ‘In an year of Gloom, One Man brought us cheer’. No other line could have suited more. When elections were happening far too frequently, PMs were changing more often than the wicket-keepers in the Indian team, the only source of joy was watching Sachin bat. It remained the same even 15 years later, when he finally decided to leave the game in the hands of the next generation.
For people who grew up watching Sachin, 90s was a memorable decade. And it’s just amazing that how every fan of his has almost same stories to share with each other. Switching the TV off after Sachin’s dismissal, our mothers telling us to get back to work once his batting was over, numerous superstitions one used to follow when Tendulkar was batting, our dads saying – why are you wasting time watching cricket when you can’t become like him, picking up fights with anybody who said anything against Sachin, getting depressed over a missed century and while the books were open in front of you, the mind was fixated over what might have been the result of the game had Sachin not played that shot.
No other cricketer, past or present has that kind of impact over the viewers. The likes of Kohli, Dhawan, Raina, Rohit, however much talented as they are, can never ever enjoy the following which Sachin had. Their centuries are applauded and dismissals are frowned upon. But that’s where it ends. Nobody ever brought together a nation as much as Sachin. For when team victories were rare, we found ourselves celebrating individual brilliance of this man. Like McGrath once said “nowhere else do they want their team’s wicket to fall only to see a particular batsman play”, such was the impact. Dravid said, “my wicket was always met with the loudest cheer because the next batsman used to be Sachin”.
If ever Pied Piper was to be given a form of a human being, nobody other than Tendulkar could be better to essay the role. In years from now, a whole lot of other superstars will come to stamp their authority on the game but never would they be able to match the aura of Sachin. His numbers might get conquered, his records might get broken, but there has always been more to Sachin than just mere numbers. A lot of us say that 90s was the best decade ever – now we know why it was the best – because we had the privilege of watching the most glorious years of one man. Thank you Sachin, for all the wonderful memories that you gave us to last our lifetime. Happy Birthday Sachin!!