Imagine this scene.
As you step out of Churchgate station, a chant resonates in the air.
You walk closer to Wankhede Stadium, the volume of the chants increases, as does your heartbeat. It gives you an adrenaline rush like none other. Cricket lovers throng in long queues outside every stand, with the tricolour painted on their cheeks. Some even wave the national flag. They are here to see one person bat. They are here to see Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar bat.
This was the scene at every match that the Little Master has played at Wankhede Stadium. It is his home ground and he was born to rule the kingdom called the ‘Wankhede Stadium’. I have been truly blessed to have witnessed our Tendlya on multiple occasions at the same venue. Wankhede being the Mecca of Indian Cricket and Sachin being the God, it is unimaginable to enter the stadium with only fond memories of him, especially after this stadium was a part of his career’s last test match.
I saw Tendulkar play in 2011. It was the third test match between India and the West Indies. Sachin was on the verge of creating history. Hitting those elegant cover drives and straight drives to Ravi Rampaul’s bowling, his trademark back foot punches and upper cuts to Fidel Edwards’ bowling, cutting like an axe behind point to Bishoo’s bowling, he was just six runs short of his 100th hundred. Once again, Wankhede came alive with the roar of 40,000 voices. In came Ravi Rampaul, with another short of a length ball and Sachin went for yet another upper cut. My heart almost stopped beating as I stared at the third man boundary. And as I was about to jump in joy, I saw Darren Sammy jump with joy instead at the first slip and Rampaul taunt the crowds at the Vinoo Mankad Stand with their jubilous celebration. Yet another nervous 90s failure and there was pin drop silence in the stadium. One could even hear the waves hitting the shore across the street. I was in complete disbelief and just hoped that all this was a nightmare. But I gathered myself to salute the Little Master as he staggered back to the pavilion.
For me, as a fan, there are two most iconic moments in Sachin’s career. One was when the greatest batsman in the world finally lifted the World Cup trophy in 2011. After playing in six World Cup tournaments and 22 years, he was finally on the side that lifted the cup. One can only imagine how emotional and precious this moment would have been for the Master.
The second was the Little Master’s 200th Test match. With India leading 1-0 against the West Indies at Wankhede, this match was going to be momentous. Tickets were very difficult to get and fans were restless to get a chance to witness history being made. I bought my ticket in black because I did not want to miss the moment that would go down in history.
I grabbed my seat in the Sachin Tendulkar stand as crowds filled into the stadium. MS Dhoni won the toss, and to everyone’s disappointment, India chose to bowl first. Yes, we all wanted to see Sachin bat twice, and see him bat as soon as possible. The Indian team stepped on to the ground, and there was an air of anxiety, delight, and emotions that enveloped the stadium. The Ambanis and Bollywood celebrities made their presence felt. The presence of Ramakant Achrekar, Sachin’s elder brother Ajit, and his family made the experience even more surreal. For the first time in his 24-year-long career, Sachin’s mother had come to watch his play live.
The West Indies were bowled out for 182 in 55 overs in the first innings. And that’s when the opening batsmen for India, Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay, came on to the pitch. The wickets for Dhawan and Vijay fell one after the other and then it was time for the Little Master to arrive. Amidst thunderous cheering, the King marched in, right from the pavilion to the 22-yard strip through the West Indian guard of honor. For those few minutes, my heart skipped a few heartbeats.
Sachin Tendulkar scored a classic 50, and for the first time, he raised his bat towards his mother and not towards the sky as a dedication to his father. On Day 2, the number of people at the stadium increased as fans hoped to witness Sachin’s century in his 200th Test match. But alas! Sachin was dismissed by Narsingh Deonarine and it was Darren Sammy once again at first slip. As Sachin walked off the field, it was hard to believe that this was his last match. His fans would never see him bat again. India went on to win the match, but I didn’t want the match to end.
As Team India escorted Sachin out of the ground with complete respect, reality sank in. The historic match concluded with Sachin’s memorable speech,l and trust me, they were the most genuine words I’ve ever heard.
“All good things come to an end, ‘Sach’ is life.”
On December 8, India started playing against England for their fourth Test match at Wankhede Stadium. For the first time in years, Sachin will not be a part of this match. Wankhede without Sachin Tendulkar is like a body without a soul. I will truly miss that enthusiasm in the stands and enjoying the game whilst sitting under the hoarding “Sachin Tendulkar Stand”. After the fall of the second Indian wicket, there won’t be a volcanic eruption of sorts among the crowds. And when Virat Kohli walks on to the field, it will be nothing like the 5’5″ Master with his Adidas bat, adjusting his pads and thanking his father, one more time, before taking the guard. The chhota dhamaka ruling a crowd of 40,000 will be a legend here on. And the entire stadium won’t ever come to a standstill at the fall of any other wicket.
Miss you, Sachin!