Not out on 38 overnight at the end of the first day, Sachin Tendulkar set the Wankhede alight with some breathtaking shots first thing in the morning on Day 2. A trademark straight drive for four to bring up his fifty, the “Sachin, Sachin” chants were going through the roof in the near-packed stadium. Can he get that elusive hundred in his last innings? That was the only question doing the rounds. He couldn’t. But what he did was no less. Vintage batsmanship to finish off, he had given his fans something they will cherish forever. The walk back to the pavilion for one final time, the turnaround to absorb the applause, the tears that flowed the next day and that incredible farewell speech, Sachin could not have finished off any better.
In fact, as he started the last walk of his life to the pavilion, having been dismissed for a well-made 74, time for many of us had come to a standstill. For nearly all of us, the runs scored were of little consequence; 74 or 54, Tendulkar was already the declared champion, and each and every one of us across the country wanted to hold on to the memories he had left us with. Each time he climbed one more step on his way to disappearing inside the safe haven of the Wankhede dressing room, a lump formed in a million throats worldwide. This was again the case when he was out there in the middle of his farewell speech. The address was all Tendulkar because it was heartfelt—and spontaneous. From making eye contact with Anjali to thanking her for her support and thanking everyone who had played a part in his career, the greatest batsman of his time had all his fans glued on to him. From being a great champion to being decreed immortal, to finally being labelled the greatest—every accolade possible was shared by us all on social media.
This is one loyalty that will never be taken away from us. More powerful than nationalism, this is what makes modern sport the global marketers’ dream. Brand Tendulkar, despite the failure to score a hundred in his last innings, was at its most powerful. The final 74 had, in fact, added a tinge of mortality to his immortality. He, too, could fail. He was human. Bradman had scored a duck in his last innings. Maradona finished second best to Germany with Andreas Brehme netting the penalty in 1994 and Federer and Phelps have both lost on occasions. Bolt, too, finished third in the final individual race of his life. And Tendulkar scored 74. But just like the others mentioned here, he too will go down in history as the greatest. At least, we, legion of fans worldwide, will say so. And this community will forever remain a constant.
His farewell speech, a spontaneous one from the heart, will rank as one of the best farewell speeches delivered by a sports icon. Not many could have imagined Sachin was capable of such word play and rendition, which spanned a good 20 plus minutes. Meeting Sourav on the way out, greeting Rahul and Laxman when they were shown on screen and bidding a final goodbye to his fans from inside the team bus, it was as if the gods had scripted the perfect swansong for the best ever batsman of all time.
I did have the opportunity of meeting Sachin in the evening on the day it all came to an end. By then he was Bharat Ratna, the ultimate recognition he could have asked for and the first ever Indian sportsperson to have been given the honour. It was in his 19th floor room at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai and the legend was all relaxed while all around him were getting emotional.
Ajit Tendulkar, his brother and more, was with me when we met up in his room at 7pm or so in the evening. Sachin presented me with a box of dark chocolates, signed the match ticket with the words “Bharat Ratna” to mark the end of what had been an incredible journey. Amidst all the emotional outpouring around him, he was still playing the perfect host.