Sachin Tendulkar retired from international cricket 10 months ago, in November. To say that his 200th and final Test match at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium was well-attended would be an understatement. Through a detailed account of what it was like in the stadium that day, writer Dilip D’Souza teases out what Tendulkar means to Indian fans in his book Final Test: Exit Sachin Tendulkar, which will be released on 15 October.

A Mumbai-based writer and journalist, D’Souza has previously authored titles like The Curious Case Of Binayak Sen, and Roadrunner: An Indian Quest In America.

In a chapter titled “After The Match/Endgame", D’Souza talks about the moments leading up to Tendulkar’s emotional retirement speech. Edited excerpts:

All eyes are on Tendulkar, as soon as Gabriel is bowled. He throws his hands up in celebration, races to the pitch and hugs everyone there, including the umpires. He grabs a stump, though it’s hard to tell if it’s the same career-ending one. Ravi Shastri appears magically by his side, as if he emerged from the hole where the stump used to be. They shake hands. As if they have practiced it and maybe they have, the Indian players form a running guard of honour for Tendulkar, the last guys racing around to the front to make sure he’s always in it as he walks off the field. He is smiling at the beginning, but halfway off, he bows his head and wipes a tear.

Gabriel heads towards the pavilion as if anonymous, already alone and forgotten, already no more than a footnote. I can see them now, questions from some future cricket quiz: ‘Who took Bradman’s wicket for the last time in his Test career?’ ‘Who was the last wicket to fall in Tendulkar’s Test career?’ Ramdin is some distance behind Gabriel. Their teammates emerge onto the field to congratulate the Indians and the man they played this Test for. The screen tells us: ‘Legends NEVER RETIRE!’ But this one has, now. At the base of the stairs, he turns to wave to the crowd, the stump in one waving hand. Has anyone in the crowd left the stadium? Not on your life! ‘I’m going to tell people all my life,’ I hear a blue-shirted lady say to a companion, ‘that I was here today!’

Fireworks go off. Maybe we can’t see them in the noonday sun, but we hear them. Workers quickly set up the backdrop and stage for the post-match presentation ceremony. Sharad Pawar appears, portly and white-clad as always. It’s too far away to tell for sure who else is there—Pawar is unmistakable—but someone comments scornfully that the presentation party is made up solely of politicians.

And like a magic carpet rising above all this, the applause from the crowd. The cheers, the claps, the whistles. People looking at each other, many with tears in their eyes, believing they are here at a historic moment. Sport is invariably filled with instantly proclaimed historic moments, of course: a rare Indian Test win at Lord’s, or Nadal knocked out of Wimbledon early. Not all such moments stand the test of time. But with the hold he has on Indian hearts and minds, Tendulkar walking away from cricket is a historic occasion pretty much by default.

You can argue endlessly about who is the greatest Indian cricketer—there are cases to be made for more than a few. But about which one is worshipped most widely—worshipped, period—there’s simply no argument.

***

‘THANK YOU SACHIN!’, on the screen for a while, fades to an image of Lara, Chanderpaul, Gayle, and Tendulkar from somewhere in the innards of the Wankhede. The crowd cheers loudly. Lara gives Chanderpaul some kind of memento for playing in 150 Tests (he himself played 131). Then some kind of trophy to Tendulkar. Then two sticks to play that trophy like a xylophone. I’d love to know what this is about, what exactly that trophy is, but my eyesight and the screen resolution combine to make it difficult to discern. Then Bravo joins the group, all of them smiling for the camera. Then, in a surprising near-echo of the blue-shirted woman, the screen switches to ‘I will tell this for life—I was there!’ Maybe she dispatched a text message?

About 15 minutes after he vanishes up the Wankhede stairs, Tendulkar walks down them again. This time, he’s accompanied by his wife Anjali and his children Sara, in red, and Arjun, in cricket whites. Behind him is the Indian team, all of them applauding as the crowd breaks into ‘Sa-chi-i-i-n, Sachin!’

Dilip D’Souza writes the column A Matter Of Numbers for Mint

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