I always wanted to write this, but stuttered each time I thought about it. For this is something which is not to be written, read or imagined. This is something which is to be experienced. This is the ultimate experience. This is the first experience in the North Stand at Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai with Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar walking out to bat. If you have not experienced this, you have not lived your life.
It was a mild, foggy February morning in Mumbai, not too different from others. Mumbaikars were in the usual haste that morning. Local trains to Churchgate were packed as always. But today, they were a little more crowded than everyday. There were 30 odd thousand people in a hurry to reach Churchgate station and take the 3 minute walk to Wankhede stadium. India were playing South Africa in the first test of the series.
The decision to forego a day of academic enlightenment to watch a test match was an easy one to make. Finding company was not too difficult either, The trip from the northern reaches of the city to the stadium for our group of three cricket fanatics was a long one and the match was underway as we reached. Scrambling to locate the right gate for entry, we had overheard someone say India were batting. Oh my God!! Those were the days when Indian opening batsmen were more of sacrificial lambs than an actual spot in the team. 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. Thankfully, India had lost only one wicket when we reached. The stadium was full and noisy, with the notorious North Stand making the most noise as always. Just as we were settling in our seats, Allan 'White Lightning' Donald snuck one through the defences of Rahul 'The Wall' Dravid and clattered the off stump.
From the time the off stump was disturbed as Dravid started walking back to the pavilion, you could heard a pin drop in the stadium. The stage was all set. And then it began. As Dravid was halfway to the pavilion, there was a smattering of applause. 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 short frame, the MRF blade, the blue helmet, the trademark look at the heavens while walking out. The stadium erupted. This was what they were here for.
As the thousands of 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…"Saaaacaaccchiiinnnnnn......Sachin!!!". Everyone seemed to be in a state of trance. Forgetting everyone and everything else in their life, each and every person in the stadium was chanting his name. It was a decibel level I had never experienced before. It was like the people of the city were making their claim known, this is Mumbai and this is Sachin Tendulkar! As Sachin took guard and Donald started his run, it went quiet again. I can’t prove it, but am fairly sure all the 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 everyone breathed again.
Sachin scored 97 that day, an innings full of drives, cuts and pulls. He was the lone warrior battling, like most times, in an otherwise miserable Indian batting performance. The fact that he missed his century was an anti-climax, but it did not matter. Even if he had got out that first ball from Donald, it wouldn't have mattered. He would have got as grand an ovation as he got when he came in, no matter what. India went on to lose the match over the next couple of days. But on the way back home that evening, I experienced a joy like never before. Like I said before, something you cannot describe, but can only experience. And that's what Sachin has been doing since 1989- bringing joy to the lives of every ordinary Indian.