Beginning of the end

Sachin Tendulkar's one-time ODI opening partner Ajay Jadeja awaits a final encounter.

Written by Sandeep Dwivedi | Iahli | Published: October 25, 2013 2:17 am

With an ice-pack strapped to his thigh,Ajay Jadeja takes a dig at modern-day fitness concepts with one of those jokes that have a mirthful and nostalgic “during our days” opening.

Ajay Jadeja,Sachin Tendulkar,Sachin Retires

The enthusiastically delivered punchline — “the only ice we saw in the evening happened to be inside the glass” — is received with a slim,courteous smile by the youngsters in the Haryana Ranji team who stand around him in the middle of the Chaudhary Bansi Lal Stadium in Lahli. In a few days’ time,Sunday to be specific,when the Mumbai team lands here for the opening game of the domestic season,Jadeja will meet,on the same square,an old mate who always appreciated his humour — another man on the wrong side of 40 who made his international debut more than two decades ago.

Sometime in the 90s,Sachin Tendulkar confessed that Jadeja was his favourite opening partner. The reason: Jadeja’s motor mouth,his sharp tongue and an ability to find something amusing all the time.

Those were the days when Tendulkar took the field with not just the burden of a billion expectations but also the weight of none-too-reliable teammates. Jadeja’s jokes made things easier for him. A strange twist of fate means that the cheerful ODI opening partner from the past,now making a domestic comeback after leading Haryana to the Buchi Babu title last month,will be Tendulkar’s chatty fellow traveller on the emotional last leg of a long journey.

Ajay Jadeja,Sachin Tendulkar,Sachin Retires

Tough goodbye

Jadeja says that,like the rest of the cricketing world,it will be a tough goodbye not just for him but for Tendulkar too.

“He will surely miss cricket. It will be tough for him to deal with retirement,” he says. And he brings a bit of maths into the conversation to explain this. Maybe out of habit after spending most of his recent days playing mentor to eager youngsters,he starts with a question that has an easy answer. How old is he? “Forty,” you say.

“He has played 25 years of first class cricket,” Jadeja says. “Before that he played five to six years. So for 75 per cent of his life all he knows is this. Since you hardly remember anything from the first three to four years of your life,it makes it makes 90 per cent. Once you don’t have something you are so used to,you will certainly miss it.”

Lahli Ground,Sachin Tendulkar,Sachin Retires

Jadeja is surprised by the way the Tendulkar chapter is ending. “I never thought that he will know this (retirement) before he actually retires. That is because I always thought that only if something was stopping him,like a physical injury,that he would retire,” he says.

The 42-year-old says that Tendulkar overcame a number of challenges over the years and it always seemed that he would continue to overcome them. “He has always changed his game over a period of time over these 25 years. You take a cassette out from the 90s. His batting is totally different,it changes in 2000 and at present he plays differently,” he says,before adding philosophically,“It is how a human being should be living. There are ages to live and he has lived the game more than anyone else.”

Sachin Tendulkar,Sachin Retires,Ranji Trophy

For Jadeja,Tendulkar’s legacy will be about taking Indian cricket beyond numbers. “In the 80s and 90s,we were not competitive globally or the world champions. He really endorsed that we could be the world’s best. These kids like Virat Kohli are not just aspiring to be in the team but be the best. Earlier it was about getting there. Can you play five Tests,10,20 and 30? It was all about numbers. Tendulkar changed it.”

As Jadeja pays Tendulkar tributes,Haryana Cricket Association’s Anirudh Chaudhary is busy dealing with ticket requests. Before he goes for an endless session of jogging,Jadeja floats his own request since his kids want to be at the game. Like the rest of the nation,the rival camp’s chief isn’t unaffected by the ‘last leg’ hype. Jadeja looks forward to meeting an old mate,and evenings full of laughs and ice cubes in glasses.

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