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My Tendulkar Experience

November 3, 2013

I like writing my Tendulkar posts on days when he doesn’t score too many. That’s when there is a lull in the torrent of posts about him. This one is about the one time I experienced a Tendulkar innings from about 100 yards from the action. Sure I’d like to have been at Perth on his maiden tour of Australia, but the only time I decided to brave the inhospitable conditions of watching a live match in India, was to watch him. The occasion, the first test match of the South Africa series, in February 2000 at the Wankhede in Mumbai.

When a friend unexpectedly got passes, the decision to forgo a day of academic enlightenment to watch a test match was an easy one to make.The trip from the northern reaches of the city to the stadium was an unexpectedly long one and match was underway as we reached. Scrambling to locate the right gate for entry, we noticed the lack of crowd noise, having learnt that we were batting, we feared the worst. Those were still the days when the Indian batting was prone to abject collapses against pace bowling and the first day of a series against an attack comprising Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Jacques Kallis and Lance Klusener was a disaster waiting to happen from an Indian spectator’s perspective. Having entered the seating areas, we heaved a sigh of relief after a bit of rubber-necking told us that the Indians had lost just the one wicket. In the pre-Sehwag/Gambhir era, our openers didn’t really count, so it was ok. Dravid and Laxman were at the crease and keeping things largely unexciting by leaving as many as they could. With my first (and only) experience of a live game, I was amazed by a couple of things; from our position at a wide long the keeper and slips stood to Allan Donald, almost 70% of the way to the boundary! and, it was loud! or so I thought then…

The general noise levels stopped in their tracks, when ‘White Lightning’ snuck one through the defence of ‘The Wall’ and clattered the off-stump. From the time the off stump was disturbed as Dravid started walking back to the pavilion amidst the whooping celebrations of the springboks, it was like the 45,000 strong crowd had been frozen in its tracks. As Dravid reached no mans land (beyond mid-off but not quite long-off), there was a smattering of applause. And then it began. It sounded a low rumble, like a bunch of super-bees had descended on the stadium. Then a definite rhythm was audible in the rumble. The chant grew louder as Dravid reached the boundary. The volume rising at an exponential rate. The whole stadium was in a frenzy. And then it happened. Mumbai’s favourite son emerged from the pavilion. The molded polyurethane pads, the short squat stature, the MRF blade. The stadium erupted. Compared to this, it had been quiet a moment ago! A decibel level I have never experienced. As 45,000 pairs of eyes followed him to the crease, each pair of lungs seemed to want to outdo the next. As if to eradicate any doubt about the cynosure of mass hysteria, the chant went…"Saaaachin….Sachin!!!" It was like the people of the city were making their claim known, this is Mumbai! and this is Sachin Tendulkar! The deafening chant followed him to the crease. He looked up, then took guard. Just before Donald started his run, it went quiet again. I can’t prove it, but am fairly sure 45,000 breaths were held. The delivery pitched on a good length and was met on the back foot, with a straight bat. The reassuring thud of bat on ball went around the stadium, and all breathed again. I was just in awe of an individual who was able to go about his business with a semblance of normalcy in that environment.

He went on to make a masterful 97 that day, complete with drives, cuts and pulls. His dismissal 3 short of another century might seem like an anti-climax. But it was as if to round-out the performance. He had lived up to his expectation, just about, and was given a loud round of applause mixed with relief. India were still behind the eight-ball, but he’d scored runs and so it wasn’t so bad. It was only on my way home that I became aware of the hoarseness in my throat.

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