For twenty four years, God roamed the earth.
He played Cricket. He crossed seven seas, visited seven continents, and mesmerised the citizens of the world with his magic wand in the form of a Cricket bat.
And today, God has decided to retire his magic wand, and walk into sequestration, leaving the vacuity behind that only the
real almighty can fill.
I did not know that God existed in this form till sometime in April 1994, to be exact, the date was April 15th. I had just finished my Sixth grade then, and I had no particular interest in Cricket. Those days, the staple news paper diet was fulfilled by Khaleej Times, and being an above average student at school, I was very particular about reading the paper every day. It was there that I came to know that the United Arab Emirates was participating in some Cricket tournament in Sharjah.
My interest and knowledge of Cricket was limited to the name Kapil Dev, and nothing else. Seriously, I did not even know that my home country had won a world cup around 11 years ago, and they were a team that played good Cricket. My point of interest was that the UAE was playing and that some guy called Sultan Zarawani was the captain. I did not even know the basic rules of Cricket.
So back to April 15, 1994. It was a Friday, weekend. Since there was no school, I woke up late to find father sitting in front of TV. Those were the days when there was no cable, and satellite had not penetrated our TV yet. So the only thing worth watching was the Dubai TV, which had occasional flashes of English and Bollywood in it. Dad was watching Sharjah TV for a change. It was a dull, boring channel that showed Arabic, mostly religious programmes. What did he have to see in it now? I noticed he was watching Cricket.
I found nothing interesting in it as I did not know what an over, a six or a four was. I remembered the headline in Khaleej Times that bellowed about some “Clash of the Titans” – a match between India and Pakistan. Since UAE team was my only interest as a kid at that time, I did not read much into it. But the seriousness with which dad was watching it, I felt it was important.
From my father’s face, I could make out that India was not in a good position in the match. But, what necessarily caught my attention on TV was that there was one guy on the screen who was fighting it out.
That was the first time I noticed the phenomenon called Sachin Tendulkar on screen. And it was here that I saw him bearing a big burden on his shoulders, when most of the team looked out of sorts. I could see, India lose a match against Pakistan on Friday at Sharjah. India made 219 runs, and God scored 73 out of the total. It was the first full Cricket match that I saw.
Even though the match was over, the chants of “Sachin Sachin” that was doing the rounds in the crowd, and that I had heard over the TV speakers, had some magic in them. Next day, in school, I kept my ears open. All the boys had words, only about God. How his graceful innings could not take us to a win, and how most of them are following Cricket only to see him bat.
So, I decided, to learn the ABCD of Cricket, and see what makes people watch magic flowing from a Cricket bat. By next week, April 22, it was the final. India versus Pakistan again, and by that time, I had garnered minimum working knowledge about Cricket. And this time, I was ready in front of the TV. All the good things that people were saying about a certain “best batsman in the world” made me wake up early on a holiday, and sit in front of the TV.
Alas, there are also times when even the best can falter. In the finals, India was washed away, scoring just 211 against Pakistan’s 250, a huge score in those days. God just scored 24 runs, and Australasia Cup was theirs.
What stuck to me on this day was Dad’s comment after that match – “Again, we lost a match to them on a Friday at Sharjah. In this part of the world, their God is stronger than ours!”
Since that day, I began following Cricket like never before. Satellite television had captured the screens at home, and Cricket was shown live on Star Sports and ESPN from around the globe. I never missed a match, most of them were watched live, if not, the highlights.
The World Cup of 1996 happened soon, and I also managed to go to the stadium and watch my first match as a spectator.
By the time it was 1998, I was a master in my own right, with regards to the Cricket world. I had my own views on most matters and I started playing well too.
Another April. It was when my Tenth Standard exams had just finished. Star Sports had just converted itself to a pay channel, and there was no Cricket on TV for the non-paying public. The next tournament was about to begin in Sharjah, and this time it was without the participation of Pakistan, for the first time. Not seeing the matches on Star Sports definitely dampened my spirits, but I was not quite bothered. I still followed Cricket, but the push for board exams and the related pressures, had put sports in the backburner.
On April 22, late evening, I was watching the regular staple of TV serials on Asianet. It was the same time India was playing Australia at the nearby stadium. Australia has already qualified for the finals, and India was fighting the run rate to see if they can reach the final spot. Then, something happened that just happened just twice or thrice during the entire time of my life I had spent in UAE – the power went off. A sandstorm had hit Sharjah, and all of a sudden, for the next 25 minutes, it was just dust and dust and dust, all around. Looking out of our flat’s window, I could not see beyond ten centimetres.
Soon, power was back, and life was back to normal. What I did not know at that time was that God was at work at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, playing the great Sandstorm innings, which would capture the imagination of every Cricketing fan around the world for years to come.
I heard of the sandstorm innings through the newspapers the next day. And in school, it was such a huge phenomenon that all were waiting for the finals – to see what God would no next. Thanks to Star Sports not being free any more, I had no choice but to get tickets for the finals and watch it live there. With great persuasion, I managed to ask Dad to buy tickets. Alas, there was huge demand for it. Like us, most of the people around had not yet started to pay for Star Sports, and watching the match at stadium, and that too when God is in top form was the only option.
I managed to get tickets just when it was about to be sold out at one of the exclusive sellers, and it was like, I was king. I went to the stadium early for the match, on 24th April 1998, and what I could see was that there were 24000 people along with me to cheer “Sachin Sachin”. Well, that was the moment I realised the true power of what this God stood for. It was his 25th birthday, and the whole stadium was singing “Happy birthday to you”. Imagine – 24000 different voices singing together for the master! It is a moment like never before, never after, and never again.
God played the perfect innings.
A perfect day at office, he took over from where he left off at the sandstorm innings, and took India to a wonderful victory. Every Dirham spent on the ticket was worth it, and memories of the fours and sixes lasting a lifetime. Those were the most precious moments I cherish about the Cricket God.
Even though he has played many more innings that lingers in the memory, in all forms of Cricket, these are the two instances that defined my love for Sachin and Cricket – matches in 1994 and 1998. Four years apart, but both changed the way I looked, felt and loved Cricket.
Years have passed; the fatigue created by the Indian Premier League over the seasons passed by mad misplaced a lot of my interest in watching Cricket live on TV. But as long as God played on, it was not lost forever.
Now, after 200 test matches and 24 years, when the God of Cricket decides to hand his boots, it will definitely change the way I look at Cricket. Thank you Sachin! You were, you are and you will be the best batsman to ever grace the Cricket field. It’s truly, the end of an era.