No matter what anyone might say, I feel our generation was born in the best time possible. Growing up in the 90s, we had our cricket and football games in the streets during hartal, but we also had our Nintendo and Sega gaming consoles where we played Contra, Double Dragon and Mortal Kombat. We grew up to decent cartoons on BTV on the weekends, and then somewhere around 6th grade we also had cable TV and made a big deal out of getting to see the latest music video of our favourite musician on MTV. Kids today who can look up any video they want on YouTube will never understand how clicking through channels to suddenly find your favourite song could make your entire day, nor will they understand the charm of waiting for the latest instalment in your favourite movie series to be available in the Dhaka video stores. Looking back now, it really was a great time to be a teenager. In fact, it was a particularly great time to be a teenager if you were a cricket fan.
Let’s go back a bit. Above all else, the 90s was the decade when the Bangladesh cricket team became a thing to be talked about. We went from “participates in the ICC” to “won the ICC and are headed to the World Cup”. In the World Cup event itself, we won against Pakistan. Just as the 90s ended and the new millennium was ushered in, we became a Test-playing nation. The journey since then has been quite the roller-coaster ride, but I personally feel we are headed in the right direction. When today’s Bangladeshi teenagers think about their favourite batsmen or bowlers, they can name athletes from their own country and be sure that cricket followers around the world will recognise the name.
But there was more to it than the rise of Bangladesh in the world cricket arena. The 90s was a time when legends were born and history was made. We had Mark Taylor, a man who was in the doorsteps of the world record for highest runs in a Test innings, but then backed off because he did not want to cross the highest score by an Australian batsman, held by Sir Don Bradman. The same Mark Taylor once caught a ball, but then immediately admitted that his fingers had touched the ground and therefore the batsman in question was, in fact, not out. This was hard to reconcile with the aggressive, cutthroat image the Australian cricket team had in the world, and yet Mark Taylor was no pushover. He was one of the most successful captains Australia has had, and he showed the world that winning can be done without compromising on sportsmanship.
Who else did we have? We had Brian Charles Lara, the Prince of Trinidad, the only man in cricket history to set the record for highest score in an innings, have it broken, and then break the new record all over again to come back at the top. This was the man, whose innings against Australia kept many of us cricket fans up all night Bangladesh time, wondering if he could survive one of the meanest bowling attacks in the world with no one but Ambrose and Walsh as batting partners. At around 4 am, he did. Lara drove the ball to the boundaries, earning West Indies the win and ensuring a place for himself in history.
The list could become endless. We had Jonty Rhodes, proof that you could become a star and win matches with just your fielding. We had Bob Woolmer, the first cricket coach to analyse opponents on a computer to find their patterns and weaknesses. We had South Africa, possibly one of the most efficient cricket teams the world has ever seen. We had Hansie Cronje, one of the best strategists this game has ever seen, and eventually architect of one of the biggest letdowns in its history as well. Like I said, this list could get very, very long and still run the risk of forgetting someone rather pivotal.
However, it seems to me that looking back now, and maybe for a lot of years to come, the one name that will surface over and over again is that of a short, mild-looking genius who changed the whole game with his genius. A man whose bat with the MRF sticker became iconic, and whose aggression in the field gave Shane Warne, one of the greatest bowlers of the game, nightmares. I speak of the little master from India, a man whom Sir Don Bradman himself recognise as an equal. I speak of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
If Sachin had done nothing else, just his Test debut would have given him a place in history. The year was 1989, and Sachin was just about 16 years old, when he stepped out in his batting gear to face the likes of Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram, fast bowlers who used to strike fear in the hearts of veterans in the game. While he did not score a lot of runs, just the courage with which he negotiated these bowlers, even at one point with blood gushing from his nose, made one thing clear. A star was about to be born. Everyone knew this kid would do wonders, but I doubt if anyone knew what wonders, how often, and with what flare. At the risk of sounding clichéd, I wonder if anyone in that audience that day knew that they had just witnessed the albeit low-profile debut of the greatest cricket legend the world would ever see.
The years went by. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar performed miracles, both quantitatively and qualitatively. His performance records will survive till eternity thanks to digital archives detailing how this man scored more centuries than anyone else in first class cricket, and in this day and age several records of his innings will also be available for anyone wishing to take a look at the work of art that his batting is. However, maybe none of that will capture the magic in the air that cricket fans could discern every time this man stepped out to bat for his nation. Maybe none of that will capture the sore disappointment we, his fans, felt when he got out to a rather ordinary delivery from Henry Olonga in a long-ago-forgotten match against Zimbabwe way back in 1998. I know for sure that nothing will capture the goosebumps we felt the very next match, when he took the same Olonga to the cleaners with one of the fastest hundreds of his career, completely thrashing the Zimbabwean bowling attack in the process.
If it was not clear already, I will come out and say it. I am a hardcore fan of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. In school, my best friend and I used to discuss Tendulkar all day. When he got his hands on a book by an Indian sports journalist that chronicled the entire cricketing career of Sachin at the time, I was jealous. But that jealousy subsided when we both went hunting in Neelkhet for some sports magazine that had done a huge story on our favourite batsman (and did not find it, I should add), or when one of us found a new poster of the little master and got two copies, no exceptions.
I began by saying the 90s was a fun decade. Well, the decade after that wasn’t. College was busy. Growing up was the worst, and one of its most horrible side effects was not having the time to follow cricket, and then eventually losing interest in cricket. Sure, I would still watch the Bangladesh cricket team, but there was no point in denying that the spark was gone. My best friend moved to a different continent, thus taking away my biggest source of cricket news and analysis. I went off to get more education, like the bit I already had was not enough of a problem.
Then I came back to Bangladesh in 2011. The timing coincided with the World Cup, and the venue was the subcontinent. There is one thing about cricket, it drags you in. It dragged me in. I watched every match; I jumped up and down in joy or slouched on the chair alternately. And at the point where it became clear that India has a fighting chance, something, some ages-old memory resurfaced in the form of a little prayer. This man, my favourite batsman, my childhood hero, has achieved everything a mortal can. Except one. Except that he has never held the World Cup. So I said my little prayer, that he gets it this time, possibly his last shot at it.
And he did. India won, and Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar finally held the World Cup in his hands. The last time I had followed a World Cup this closely was in 1999. It was a bad tournament for Sachin. His father had passed away in the middle of the tournament, and he had to miss one match. But then he was back for the very next one, and scored a century. As was his custom, Sachin waved the bat at the audience and then looked up to the sky. Except this time, he looked for a bit longer than usual. Maybe he was hoping to see his father. After all, even the greatest batsman of all time was only a human like the rest of us. I wonder if he thought of his father in 2011 too, hoping that his old man could witness this moment.
Hard as it is for us to believe, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar is merely a mortal. He is subject to the same processes of aging we all are, and I suppose now is as good a time as any for him to hang his batting pads and pack away his bat. Yet a part of me is in denial. A part of me wishes he could go on batting forever, forever a bane for bowlers all over the world. But that cannot happen. Like Brian Lara before him, like the MacGyver TV show, like afternoon naps after a day at school, this relic from my childhood must also come to an end. So I will accept it, knowing that soon there will never again be a time when I can switch on the TV and find my favourite batsman taking bowlers to task. Maybe today’s kids will find their own heroes, but I doubt any will measure up to the little master from India. Best of luck, Sachin, and for what it’s worth, thanks for all the memories!
Hammad Ali is a teacher of Computer Science and Engineering at BRAC University.