At the entrance to Eden Gardens,a police officer was seen capturing many moods of Sachin Tendulkar on his mobile phone. The Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) has decked up the stadium facade and interior with Tendulkars posters and cut-outs. Asked about this detour from his duty,the officer blushed. These are for my children, he said. At the end of the day we all are his fans, he tried to explain.
It was still about an hour to go for Tendulkar and his team mates to arrive at Eden for a practice session on Monday morning. But the fans had already started to gather so the officer had to return to his duty.
It was 11am when the Little Master came out of the dressing room and walked towards the nets. Just two more Tests and hed be walking into a golden sunset. But typical of the man,he practised with the enthusiasm of a new-comer.
He started off with some stretching exercises and then had a full net session against the pacers and spinners. The virgin pitch here might hold some mystery. It was relaid at the end of the last season and will be used for the first time for his 199th Test. Theres an apprehension about whether it will play spoilsport and mar the farewell party.
Twenty-three years and so many memories…The ups and downs,highs and occasional lows.
Tendulkar first played at Eden on January 4,1991. It was the Asia Cup final and he was just a 17-year-old then. That was the start of the love affair,which grew stronger and stronger with every passing year.
Sachin always belied his age. Even at 17,he had the maturity of a 27-year-old. I havent seen a better human being, Sharadindu Mukherjee,former India off-spinner who was Tendulkars team mate in that game,told The Indian Express.
He played club cricket for East Bengal in the P Sen Trophy here,took India to the Hero Cup final with a mesmerising last over against South Africa,walked along the boundary ropes to pacify the crowd when they went berserk following his run out in a Test against Pakistan in 1999.
His first Test century at the home of Indian cricket came in 2002 when he scripted a sublime 176 against Carl Hoopers West Indies to save the Test for India.
But by the Tendulkaresque standards,his performance at this ground is below his career average of 53-plus. He has scored 862 runs from 12 Tests here at an average of 47-odd. He also has just two centuries at this ground. But this time,as he prepares for his 199th Test,runs and centuries have become inconsequential. Its now about allowing him to enjoy his cricket at the twilight of his exceptionally illustrious career.
When Tendulkar arrived in Kolkata Monday night,CAB joint-secretary Bablu Ganguly and treasurer Biswarup Dey welcomed him with 199 roses and flowers that had been offered to Goddess Kali at the Dakhineshwar temple. They also brought a saree,which had been offered to the deity. Tendulkar was overwhelmed. Please ensure the flowers dont break and send them to my hotel, he told us, Ganguly said.
A Matthew Hayden quote hangs loosely at the dressing room entrance – Ive seen god. He come out to bat for India at No 4.
The god is on the last leg of his momentous journey.
The city of joy is ready to give him a memorable send-off.