Taking guard again and setting hearts aflutter

When Sachin Tendulkar pads up, it’s like watching a happy movie. Adrenaline, endorphins all prance within. Here’s a fan’s perspective on the Little Master getting back to action with the Cricket All-Stars Series in the land of baseball.

Sachin Tendulkar bids farewell to the fans at the Wankhede Stadium after his 200th and final Test, against the West Indies, in November 2013. The Little Master's retirement was a heartbreak for many of his fans.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

‘When Sachin Tendulkar plays all else is irrelevant.’ These are words from an ad that I much loved as a child. To me that one line beautifully summed up what it meant to watch him play. It took precedence over everything — maths tuition, practice for athletic meets, appointments with the dentist, sleepovers, even my birthday party (erm, guests were once kept waiting because I just had to wait until he finished). You see, I am superstitious like that — can’t budge when he is batting. ODIs, Test matches, T20s, even exhibition games — I sat still through them all. My neck felt stiff, feet turned tingly and protested, but there I was, unmoved with steely resolve, much like the man in the middle of the field. Sometimes when he did get out cheaply despite me being statue-like, I would blame my seating arrangement, or anybody around me who dared speak while the little man batted. That’s why, more often than not, I watched him play sitting alone in my room in my “lucky” spot. It’s saved me many arguments. I am largely of a cheerful demeanour but anybody who runs down Sachin Tendulkar sees me channelling my inner Cruella de Vil (thankfully, my fashion sense isn’t as atrocious).

And so, life was full of such altercations, drama and a sense of joy and victory (all the time he proved his critics wrong) as long as he played. Then came the inevitable retirement. Hello heartbreak, followed by dramatic Facebook and Twitter updates. I timed my knee surgery such that I could be in the recuperating room watching the Test match rather than sitting at work, typing mindlessly.

Deeply sedated, I watched groggy-eyed as he painstakingly scored those runs against a lacklustre West Indies. All advances of anaesthesia-induced sleep were stoically fought off. It was the national icon’s last match; every split second of it had to be watched and assimilated. Long after he wiped his tears and walked off the Wankhede pitch, making his multitudes of fans break down, another worry plagued my mind. Will I ever get to see him again? The commercials and his appearances at social events took care of that…but watching him on the field in jersey number 10? Could that please happen again? For once, the universe paid attention to me (though I suspect it’s also his gazillions of fans) and here we are watching the All Stars cricket series. It’s time to rejoice, time to cancel appointments. That’s alright, even Amitabh Bachchan admittedly delayed shoots to watch Sachin bat.

 

So what is it like to watch the man in action? Experts can answer that with a bunch of impressive statistics and analysis. I am neither a sports writer nor an expert; just one among his legions of layman fans, so I’ll steer clear of the technicalities.

When Sachin pads up, to me it’s like watching a happy movie. Adrenaline, endorphins all prance within. A page on Facebook titled ‘Happiness Is.’ has sketches of a flurry of things that make people happy. To some it’s “Having the world’s best friends”, “Kisses from grandma”, “Handbag sale”, and to the supporters of Master Blaster, it’s “When Sachin looks up after a century”, “Watching him lift the World Cup”, or “Watching Tendlya go after Shoaib Akhtar”. Did you know there are posters for sale, which read, “Happiness is watching Sachin play a pull shot”. They sell out as quickly as MAC’s Relentlessly Red lipstick.

Like many other fans, I am not sure what I enjoy more: his peerless strokes — that trademark straight drive, gutsy upper cut, cheeky paddle sweep, the occasional helicopter shot (for the record, he perfected it long before Dhoni attempted it), the way he gets onto his toes, the way he gallops down the pitch for a lofted shot — or his mannerisms like ruffling his hair, scratching his head, twitching his nose, shaking his wrist to adjust his bangle, his expression of despair, occasional anger and joy.

My job is to describe what I see, taste and hear, in words. It’s funny that I can write about food, fashion and music with ease, but it’s challenging to explain what it is like to watch Sachin play, even though that’s something I’ve done far longer than writing.

Watching him walk to the crease stirs up a mix of emotions… similar to being in an intense but undefined relationship. Never know when it’ll end but as long as it lasts there are butterflies in the tummy, tingling in the toes and that silly grin plastered across my face.

There’s camaraderie as some of the most revered names from the world of cricket convene in the land of baseball, trying to push new boundaries, and acclimatise to unfamiliar surroundings...there are also the old duels subtly unfurling. Too bad Sachin and Shoaib are in the same team.

Two years away from the rigours of the sport show on Sachin, who is a tad chubbier now with the hint of a threatening double chin. His batting may appear a touch rusty but when the master unleashes perfectly timed shots he makes them look as easy as Marco Pierre White finely slicing onions.

Meanwhile for fans, it’s return of the days of numb feet, pounding hearts, touch wood and Tendulkar jerseys.