Sachin: The Opiate

A nation of damp eyes greeted the arguably biggest watershed moment  in Indian sports when the mic replaced the bat in Sachin Tendulkar’s hands on 16th November, 2013. Can we cope with this late goodbye, wonders Shamya Dasgupta…



 The medals don’t mean anything and the glory doesn’t last. It’s all about your happiness.

– Jackie Joyner- Kersee



I wonder if those words wouldn’t sit better on Sachin Tendulkar or his fans.

Indeed, Tendulkar’s retirement was as much about all of us as it was about him. Some things just become a habit. Why else would those Facebook redesigns annoy us so much? There are things you should be able to do without having to think about it too much, like watching cricket and expecting Tendulkar to score a few runs. We need not always do these things well, mind you, but just to do them; we need the familiar, to just reassuringly be there.

We’ve made Tendulkar a habit, the way Milan – and all of Italy – would have made Paolo Maldini a habit. We feel about Tendulkar what the Old Trafford faithful would have felt about Alex Ferguson or, maybe more about, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. And oh yes, Indian cricket and Tendulkar.

We all knew the end was nigh. If anything, it came a couple of years late. I was not alone in willing him to take his last bow – after the World Cup win, after the hundredth international hundred. I felt that the selectors were in the unenviable position of not being able to force his hand, and said as much. He was too big. Bigger than the selectors, perhaps even the BCCI. A few critics said he is staying in the game for more personal glory; some– and I am not among them – even suggested, off the record, that he stayed for more money.

I have no idea why he played on. My instinct tells me that he just wanted to play as long as he could. The man hadn’t done much else from the time he was a little boy and he just didn’t know why, or how, he could stop doing it. There might just have been a couple of more challenges he wanted to throw at himself. Also, if you think about it, there weren’t readymade No. 4 batsmen arriving on a conveyor belt.

All the same, it was hard to stomach getting bowled so often. It didn’t make sense. Like it wouldn’t have made sense if Felix Savon went to the Olympics and came back empty handed.

Ferguson left United after 27 years in charge. He left because he had done everything he felt he could do at the club and because, at 70, he wanted to do other things with his life, primarily adding to his collection of vintage wines and reading.

Tendulkar said, a day after walking away, “I think my body requires a rest. It isn’t able to consistently take the load any more. I think this is right time to leave.”

Giggs still hasn’t found the ‘right time’ for himself, while Scholes thought he had found it but then realised he was wrong. Some people quit too early – Bjorn Borg is an example – while some refuse to go away. But that’s sport. Not a corporate job with a fixed retirement age.

Common sense suggests that one should go out with a bang. Tendulkar was all set for a sub-par exit. But, as Muhammad Ali once said, “It’s the lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges; I believe in myself.” Tendulkar believed in himself. The 74 he scored in his final innings, after getting a rough umpiring decision in his previous outing, wasn’t the best he has ever played, but it was a fairly good bang.

But then again, the bang afterwards, with mic replacing bat, was even better. Not one person watching – at the ground, many more on TV and some more online –could have held on to a single grudge against this man, this legend.

We know he is out of the picture; they have stopped supplying us with the coke. But have we kicked the habit? What if some of the stuff comes by? What about when India plays South Africa in Johannesburg from December 18 and at some stage, the second Indian wicket falls? That’s when the emptiness deep inside will really register. That’s when we will know if the habit’s gone or not.

Shamya Dasgupta is Senior Editor at Wisden India and the author of 'Bhiwani Junction - The untold story of Boxing in India'.

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