To Sachin: The man we all hope to be

The year of 1998 in the subcontinent was the year of nuclear competition. India and Pakistan engaged in nuclear tests to prove their doomsday capabilities. Tensions skyrocketed amid global concerns of a nuclear holocaust.

In 1999, the competition moved to the arena of Cricket. Pakistan toured India for Test Match series after 9 years. Interest (and security) reached an unprecedented high

It was a pretty even affair. Pakistan batted first and scored 238 while India made 254. In their second innings, Pakistan scored marginally better to set India a competitive target of 271.

Sachin, during his epic innings

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You knew the significance of the match. You walked in near the end of third day, India losing 2 wickets for a score of 6. You had a duck (0 runs) in the previous innings.

You could see Wasim & Waqar swing and swerve the ball at incredible pace. You could see Rahul Dravid struggle putting bat to ball. You knew the pitch was cracking. You knew Saqlain was itching to spin a web around you.

But when you walked onto the pitch, none of that mattered.

You had the weight of a billion hopes, but who else to carry them but you? You knew if you keeled, the game was over. What do you do? You hit Wasim & Waqar for boundaries. You end the day at 20, India needing 231 more with 8 wickets in hand.

And yet, we all knew, it was about just 1 wicket. Yours.

Chennai knew that you would win the the game next day. Over 45,000 people overflowed M.A. Chidambaram stadium to see you at what you do best.

You started the day with a steadfast determination to win. You made sure the sightscreen was perfectly placed. You knew if there was one person who could battle the supremely difficult conditions, it was you. And you knew if there was one person who could outsmart Pakistan’s outstanding bowling, it was you.

How do you start the day? Facing the first ball of the day, you glance Wasim for a boundary.

You could see Pakistan exploiting the favourable morning conditions. You could see the struggle on Dravid’s face. You saw him fall to Wasim’s canny bowling. You saw him scratch for 10 runs in nearly 2 hours.

And we could see the determination in your eyes.

You saw Azharuddin and Ganguly scratch around. You saw them succumb to umpiring howlers. But you were batting like a dream. You were on another plane. By lunch, India was 86/5, of which you had scored 44.

You faced a supremely uphill task. The bowling was tight and classy, constantly asking questions. You stuck in there in middle, weathering the storm. You feared running out of partners. And then you found an ally in Mongia.

Mongia and you hung around, looking to preserve wickets. The runs slowed down, to became a trickle. But as long as you were there, we knew we’ll win.

And then your back betrayed you.

You were at 83, India needing 119 more runs. You rocked back to pull Saqlain for a boundary and your back started hurting. In one split second, you had a billion people’s heart in their mouth. We bit nails, sang prayers, hoping you were alright.

In hindsight it’s not surprising your back gave way — it singlehandedly carried the weight of over a billion hopes and expectations, for so many years.

And yet you soldiered on. You knew you had to close the match quickly. Your body was betraying you. Two balls later you charge down to Saqlain, only to see Moin Khan drop the edge and fluff subsequent stumping.

You survived two chances. We survived two mini heart attacks.

And how do you react? You send the last two balls of the over for boundaries. You were on a one-man mission to beat Pakistan. One man representing a billion. Against it’s mortal enemy. Against all odds. Against your own body. And we knew you’d win.

Cos for us, it was not just a test match. It was War.

And then Mongia fell to an ugly swipe at 52. You now had to bat with tailenders. You still needed to conjure another 53 runs. And we believe in your magic.

You battled on. You were in a hurry to finish the match. You were cutting furiously, pulling imperiously and driving silkily, as if mind and body are two separate entities. You just needed 17 runs to win.

The light at the end of the tunnel was near. We all could see it.

And then the unthinkable happened. You misread a doosra from Saqlain. Your leading edge was pouched by Wasim. You perished.

You had singlehanded dragged India for nearly 5 hours — 276 minutes. The finish line was in sight. Just 17 more runs were required. Surely the last 4 batsmen could manage that. And then Pakistan went for the kill.

They won by 12 runs.

You were crying in the dressing room. The physical agony of your back pain. The mental trauma of that momentary indiscretion. The emotional torture of a script going tragically wrong.

You were awarded the Man of the Match award. You were in an ice-bath, nursing the pain — physical, emotional, mental. You were too wounded to attend the presentation and accept the award. Somehow, it just didn't seem right. And who could blame you? You were the lone warrior. Your friends deserted you. Your body betrayed you. You were destined to vanquish our greatest rivals.

And yet, when asked what’s your biggest regret, you didn’t mention the dismissal. You’re sagacious to appreciate that winning and losing is part of the game. And so are dismissals.

Instead, you regretted not accepting the Man of the Match award.

You said you had disrespected the game by not attending the post-match presentation. No matter your personal anguish, you said that you should have accepted the award. You said that no individual is above the game.

Well, when you play an innings like that, it’s easy to forget.

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