Mumbai to all that: Sachin Tendulkar’s last match grips India

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The look in the taxi driver’s eyes when he hears the words “Wankhede Stadium”. The earnest plea of the man delivering the tickets as he leaves you his number – just in case a seat is going empty.

It is impossible to explain just how much Sachin Tendulkar means to India – but the desperation and envy evident in those not going to his 200th, and final, test match tells so much. So there is something terribly sad about the inevitable blocks of empty seats inside a sold-out stadium where lucky people have failed to show up. Yet the noise of the crowd is overwhelming.

Young children from nearby schools jostle playfully with guards at the stadium gates, shouting Tendulkar’s name as if there weren’t multiple wire fences and hoards of security between them and their idol. Small figures crowd the rooftops of nearby buildings holding up binoculars, prompting uncomfortable comparisons with snipers.

As the public begin texting their messages in to the stadium screens and the banners come out, the worship begins. Guards can confiscate all the coins and toys they like, but it’s uncanny how much an empty water bottle can sound like a beating drum when bashed against a metal barrier at just the right angle.

In a country where corruption and scandal have tarnished politicians, celebrities and sportsmen alike, Sachin Tendulkar stands out for his clean chit – and for excelling in one of the few sports where India is respected globally.

As the sun burns through Mumbai’s morning pollution, parched fans roar at every turn. Those with one-day tickets cheering equally loudly when their own starting batsmen get out, in the hope that they will catch a glimpse of number four, Tendulkar, at the crease.

When he walks down the stairs, it’s mayhem. But until he makes his first twenty runs there are rogue figures in the heaving crowd that remain silent, arms folded, with tension.

The day’s play ended with Tendulkar’s tally at 38 runs. In a way, whatever happens next is irrelevant. However many runs he makes, however many catches he drops, grown men will sob and traffic will gasp to a halt as “Paaji” completes his last innings this weekend.

Related reading:
If only all national heroes were as clear-cut as Tendulkar, FT
Indian cricket’s Sachin Tendulkar calls stumps on stellar career, FT
Sorrow and relief at a hero’s farewell, FT

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