The website selling tickets for Sachin Tendulkar’s last test match at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai recorded more than 19 million hits within its first hour of ticket sales — and only 5,000 tickets were available to the public. That’s the kind of pulling power the world’s greatest cricketer has.
The anticipation surrounding Tendulkar’s retirement — from a 24-year career in which he has scored more than 34,000 runs – reached fever pitch in India on Thursday. The Little Master, as he’s affectionately known, got ready to play his last test match on a day that was as much a celebration of a great batsman as a poignant meditation on the vacuum he will leave behind.
India has produced many great cricketers — Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Rahul Dravid and more recently M.S. Dhoni, the Indian skipper — but Tendulkar’s world-beating success has been a source of intense pride for many Indians, and one the nation is finding hard to let go of. When he announced his retirement, it was as if the world had ended. The Indian Express headlined the news with the words “The Void.” The Hindustan Times wrote “There will never be another you.” Amul, India’s top dairy product company and famous for commercials that draw upon the most talked about topic in the country, paid tribute to Tendulkar with an ad that simply read “India retires hurt.”
The hysteria surrounding Tendulkar’s last test is such that nobody has noticed that is also a major milestone in the career of West Indies batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who will be playing his 150th test. Not that the 39-year-old left-hander minds. “We have watched him over the years. It is always a joy to look at him bat even though he is batting against us,” Chanderpaul told the BBC. “There is so much you can learn from a legend like him.” West Indian cricket great Brian Lara, one of Tendulkar’s great rivals, told the Daily Mirror that ““When you talk of basketball, you have to mention Michael Jordan. When you speak about cricket, I’d speak of Tendulkar.”
When the match is over, a nation will have to be content with its memories — and there’s a song for those, special to Tendulkar. From childhood, he loved “Lehron Ki Tarah Yaadein” (Memories Like Waves), from the soundtrack of a movie called Nishaan. Writing in the Guardian, Dileep Premachandran, the editor-in-chief of Wisden India, said “As he graces a cricket field for the last time, and millions of Indians find memories of his career cascading over them, it could just be the theme for a nation.”