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Reporter’s notebook: Tendulkar, the centre of my cricket universe

Foreign correspondent Samanth Subramanian reflects on possibly being the last person in India to come under the spell of Tendulkar's magic.
Indian cricket fans light fire crackers after the match at Wankhede Stadium to pay tribute to Sachin Tendulkar following his final match. Rajanish Kakade / AP Photo
Indian cricket fans light fire crackers after the match at Wankhede Stadium to pay tribute to Sachin Tendulkar following his final match. Rajanish Kakade / AP Photo

MUMBAI // For a few weeks in the mid-1990s, I was practically unique, one in a billion. My family had just moved back to India after spending years overseas, so I was the only boy in the country who had not heard of Sachin Tendulkar.

This ignorance was swiftly rectified.

Sachin – he is too familiar to call Mr Tendulkar – had already been playing international cricket for six years when I first came across his name. I missed his early days, when he was hailed as a prodigy, but fortunately I latched on to his career just as it truly started to blaze.

In the 1996 World Cup, played on the subcontinent, India was knocked out in the semi-final, but Sachin accumulated runs hungrily, making 523 altogether. That was a record for World Cups, until he broke it himself in 2003.

This is how I was introduced to Sachin as a phenomenon: to the devotion he inspired, to his newfound ubiquity as a mascot for brands, and, most importantly, to the chiselled perfection of his batting.

In a sense, therefore, my cricket-watching career has revolved entirely around Sachin’s cricket-playing career. I’ve never followed an Indian cricket team that did not have Sachin in its ranks. I’ve never participated in a cricketing argument about the best batsman in the world where Sachin was not a – or the – leading contender.

I am not the only such cricket-lover in India either. There are others my age or younger who have known only a Sachin-centric cricket universe.

“What will we do once he retires?” a friend from high school asked me last week, genuinely worried. “How will we react when India is two wickets down and he isn’t the batsman walking in to take guard?”

I didn’t know how to answer. Doubtless we will all get used to the new order of things. Cricket is hardly a matter of life and death, and far more dire situations befall all of us over the course of our lives.

But Sachin’s retirement shuts the door on a phase of our youth. We will watch the game now as more cynical, jaded observers – perhaps because we are older, but also because there isn’t a magician in the middle, promising heroics and hope.

ssubramanian@thenational.ae

Updated: November 16, 2013 04:00 AM

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