The day Sachin Tendulkar bid farewell
A diehard’s desperate attempt to attend his sporting hero’s final press conference
“You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take”. This quote by the greatest ice hockey player of them all, Wayne Gretzky, is often used in sporting parlance and sometimes in general life situations where one has to take risks to achieve success. In other words, you can’t be afraid of failure and you need to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves to achieve something.
This was running through my head back in October 2013 when news filtered out that Sachin Tendulkar was going to retire from all international cricket after a hastily arranged 2-Test series against the West Indies in November. I grew up hearing about the exploits of Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev from my brothers, but it was Tendulkar—only three years older than me—and his arrival on the international scene that had me hooked to the sport.
It was soon after his desert storm innings in Sharjah in 1998—Tendulkar’s annus mirabilis—that I left India to pursue higher education in the US. After a hiatus of four years, thanks to Internet streaming, cricket watching was back on the top of my priority list. Tendulkar had some ups and downs, loss of form and time through injuries, but he had once again become an integral part of my waking hours. One knew that the end was always near, but once the cricket board announcement came through of Tendulkar calling it a day after playing his 200th Test, it was set in stone. I knew I needed to be there at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai when the final goodbyes were said.
My wife and I were already in the middle of planning, budgeting and incrementally saving for a trip around the cricket world, and an unplanned jaunt from the US would only make it harder. But when I told my wife about Tendulkar’s impending retirement, she fully supported the idea. I had some work trips scheduled for the second week in November, but once my mind was made up, I informed my boss that I needed to make a short journey to India for “personal reasons.” I was being one hundred percent honest.
There was still the issue of procuring match tickets. I had sounded out all my friends and acquaintances, cricketing and otherwise. There were vague assurances and non-guarantees. I tried through the NRI quota, the ticket window at Wankhede, tried to get it from scalpers, but no dice. I began to fear my 8,000 mile journey would be futile when finally, on the eve of the Test match, a friend from my cricket playing days at the university got in touch and told me to meet him outside the Garware gate at 8am. Phew!
It was madness outside the ground with people trying to score tickets and fans gathered to see the team bus pull in. I recognized the face of Rohit Brijnath among the journalists lining up to enter the ground. I introduced myself to him, and after a brief chat he made his way in and I continued waiting for my friend, who showed up just in time for me to be in the seats for the first ball of Tendulkar’s final Test.
The next two-and-a-half days were a rollercoaster of emotions. I had booked my airline tickets so I could stay on till the 4th day of the Test, but the match finished within three days. On the extra day I had to kill, I was looking for things to do when the editor of a cricket publication called me to the Trident Hotel for a chat, to hear about my “Tendulkar experience”. He presented me a special issue the publisher had put together for the Little Master’s retirement and over the course of our conversation, he mentioned that there was a special post-retirement press conference later that afternoon in one of the top floors of the same hotel, but it was open only for accredited media.
I had to be there when Sachin addressed the media. I just didn’t know how. For the next couple of hours, I called and messaged every media person I knew who was in Mumbai for the Test match. Since I wasn’t accredited, no one was ready to take me along, and I soon realized the unfairness of my expectation.
I placed myself on a seat facing the elevators that camera crews and media persons were using to go up to the press conference. Every time a camera crew entered the elevator, the numbers on top of the elevators would stop moving at 28. I was hoping I would see a familiar face that would take pity on me, but as 4pm approached I had the sinking feeling that I wasn’t going to make it. In a moment of madness or perhaps, inspiration, I jostled in to the elevator the next time a crew of eight got in.
As the doors opened on the 28th floor, I walked amongst the camera crew—of whom I knew none—and tried to sort out the modalities of the security check up. All media personnel were required to sign in at a table manned by security personnel. As the camera crew stopped to present their credentials and sign in, I pretended that I had spotted someone familiar, waved at no one in particular and kept on walking past the security desk. With the security personnel busy with the camera crew, I slipped right into the conference room.
It wasn’t a room, really, but a large hall with seating for nearly 500 people. The chairs were neatly arranged and covered in white cloth. There was a collection of TV cameras, about three dozen of them, in the back of the hall. There was a long dais and a large screen with the Sachin Tendulkar logo projected on it. Almost all the seats in one side of the hall were taken, and so quietly I walked to the back rows across the aisle, took a seat and tried to be inconspicuous. With heart pounding, I pretended to read the special Sachin Tendulkar issue I was given earlier, avoiding eye contact with anyone in the hall.
“Hey Subash! What are you doing here?” rang out a booming voice from the front, sending my stomach to my toes. I thought my jig was up and mentally prepared for getting myself kicked out. Dragging out the moments, I slowly lifted my head and looked in the direction of the voice that had spotted me. It was Brijnath. He was waving me over to the front of the hall, and gingerly I made my way to him. “Why are you sitting all the way back there? Sit with us,” he said. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and sat next to him.
I finally mustered enough courage to look around. I recognized faces from television and names from the print and electronic media world. Perhaps Brijnath suspected I wasn’t accredited, but he made me feel a part of the proceedings as he introduced me to the press people seated around us. “Have you met my friend Subash?” I am forever grateful to him for that kind gesture.
The event organizer began providing instructions of how the press conference was to be conducted but once Tendulkar took centre stage, all hell broke loose. Those who saw it live on television know the circus it turned into. Most of the print media were disappointed with the proceedings and refrained from asking any questions. I was just soaking up the atmosphere, pinching myself at being so close, barely believing the moment!
Some of the press people that I was introduced to that afternoon would later provide me avenues to contact scores of CouchTalk podcast guests, and even furnish me with press credentials to cover the Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in 2015. Some have become good friends that I would meet again several times during my world trip. All thanks to a brief moment of inspiration. I’m certain of that. One hundred percent.
Subash Jayaraman is an Engineer by training and a cricket writer & podcaster by choice. He hosts a popular cricket podcast Couch Talk on thecricketcouch.com and tweets as @thecricketcouch.