Colour leaves his life
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Light blue top, navy blue bottom. Sharjah, 1998 and a sand storm. A crisis, a century and a loss. India, both country and cricket team, came to terms with its dependency on one man. "We lost the match, but it feels like a win," Mohd Azharuddin would say. It would hold true right through his quest to define 50-over cricket.
That definition was born in the 90s, with Tendulkar's blue standing out from the pile as he single-handedly battled the forces – from fiery oppositions to a non-performing set of team-mates to nature's wrath. By the end of the century, India would never shift out of this colour-spectrum ever again, right until the time he walked back to the dressing room for the last time in March this year. But this journey that outlasted time was a colourful one – literally and figuratively.
In the blue he built a team, brands and cola jingles. But before that, with the rest of the colours on the rainbow scale, Tendulkar first painted the portrait of a soon-to-be cricketing deity.
When he first appeared as a 16-year old in a buttoned white shirt at Gujranwala, one-day cricket wasn't quite what it is now. Yes, Packer had ushered colour into the game. But apart from an odd World Series, it was yet to catch a fire. It did for many Indians, when Tendulkar wore the flaming yellow kit and became an India opener for the very first time.
Auckland 1992, Tendulkar's 67th inning. The willow blazed like the yellow tee during his 49-ball 82. A destroyer was born. A legend soon would be. In 1994, the yellow glittered as India arrived in Colombo in a golden cream jersey. The wunderboy struck his first ever ODI hundred, against an Aussie side draped in blue. Both the colour and results between these two sides soon reversed. But not Tendulkar's knack of accumulating big ones.
As Bangalore, Calcutta, Bombay and Madras changed to Bengaluru, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai, and as one outrageous print on the India shirt changed to another (from bursting firecrackers to pinstripes), Tendulkar remained the only constant.
If you thought that Tendulkar only accumulated runs in inconsequential matches, then you weren't a fan of the World Cups. The ink blue came first, 1992 Australia. But Tendulkar seemed to prefer the homemade garments at the 1996 edition. As violet, cyan, magenta and indigo found its way around the midriff, Tendulkar feasted impartially — from Kenya's green to Lanka's blue.
The team colours stabilised by the mid 2000s and so did Tendulkar. With a tri-colour smear replacing the oddities in the front, Tendulkar helped the flag flutter in South Africa 2003 with pride. But only when the blue bled deeper did Tendulkar give the sponsors a reason to stop creating new jersey designs in 2011. A star, his one and only, had been stitched above the BCCI crest.
Mumbai never saw Tendulkar in colours again. Now, the rest of the world won't. But in the process of lording over a format, he had also hand-held his team through its evolutionary stages – jersey colour or otherwise. One-dayers will be paler without him. Quite like the hazy Sharjah frame, minus the blue figure.