I woke up this morning a little confused. I had spent a busy night out at an event on Fleet Street, the erstwhile beating heart of British media. Yet, I knew I had done something wrong. Something I missed.
Then it came at me like a bouncer – I had missed Sachin’s last innings! I quickly found my way out of bed and powered on my laptop. It took more time than it usually did. The universe was prolonging my agony. A sign of its displeasure.
Google helped me find the right links and I pressed play. The memories came rushing back to me..
One. Two. Three. No…Repeat!
Something wasn’t right. My front foot was pointing toward long off, when it should have been facing cover.
“Arjun! You need to practice more! How can you expect to play a cover drive if you’re not balanced! You don’t concentrate enough! How many times…,” the coach shouted on. He was being harsh on me. Certainly a little over the top, considering I was nine years old and had been ‘shadow-practicing’ under the sun for two hours. But, it was okay. I knew He would have been through the same. He was resilient.
After a long hard toil at Swanton’s Cricket Club in my native town of Kochi, I returned home tired but excited. It was the finals of the Sharjah Cup and India were playing Australia. I had begged and pleaded with Mom to let me watch the match. She said “No!” to my many cries, but the clincher was this, “But it’s Sachin’s birthday ma!! Please!!”
I had never stayed up past 9 PM, but this time it happened. I would be allowed to watch the match because of Him. ‘Thank you Sachin’ was my little prayer of appreciation at the time. It was well past my bed time and Australia had amassed a mammoth 272. A near impossible total to beat those days, especially when you were facing the indomitable Australians. But, we had Him. What He did that night changed Indian cricket forever.
When He was given out, I was in tears. How could that be Out!? Even Tony Greig said that wasn’t Out!
I wanted to strangle the umpire! I joined in with the age old Indian tradition of cursing the official’s family. Yet, He walked away without a fuss. He knew he was given Out unfairly but he did not protest. He was humble. He was always so humble.What a hero!
His Last Innings
He was in full swing. For every shot that he played, a new tear burst through my eyes. The straight drive, the front-foot defence, the back-foot defence, the late cut, the paddle sweep, the leave… I was a bubbling nine year old again. For one brief moment, I almost felt like I betrayed Him for not following through with my dream of becoming a cricketer. Then it happened..
One. Two. Three. Four! This time there was no tear. A truly beautiful cover drive. The ball had only been struck seconds before but it was safely nestled in the hands of a ballboy beyond the boundary line. The kid was awash with glee. ‘Thank you Sachin’, I almost felt him say and just like that another story had begun. That’s what He was about – Inspiration.
Not long after, he was gone. Caught in the slips for 74. I was not disappointed. The whole world wanted a hundred from him on his final test match. Not me. I just wanted one last cover drive.