Harsha Bhogle: You were a great habit, Sachin Tendulkar

Harshabhogle
Dear Sachin

I guess this means the countdown has begun. It couldn't be easy for you since cricket has been your life, your solitary love outside of your family. I know there are cars and music and sea-food and, as I recently realised, a glass of wine, but a bat was what you were meant to hold and it is with that that you mesmerised a nation and a sport.

I wondered if you could have given up Test cricket and stayed on in one-day internationals until you told me it takes a lot out of you and you were never one to give less than a hundred per cent anyway.

I guess your body finally won. It had been giving you signals, that permanently cracked bone in your toe, the struggle to get out of bed when the back played up, that elbow....ah, that's a different story altogether, but you always over-ruled it.

It must have sulked but you forced more out of it than anyone else. It was bound to serve notice one day. I mean, you will be forty soon, people get reading glasses at forty!

But you leave behind an aspect of cricket that you defined. There will be comparisons with other greats in Test cricket and you will be a chapter in its history but with the one-dayer, you are its history in a sense, certainly in India where you have played in more than half the games (463 out of 809). India had played a mere 165 games before you started and it is a measure of the impact you have had that there were only 17 centuries scored by then. India made a century every 9.70 games. After you started that number comes down dramatically to one every 3.52 games. And since that first century in Colombo it comes down even further to one every 3.23 games. And to think that you started with two ducks! Now, of course the kids keep notching them up, this young fellow Kohli for example who plays with your intensity but whose vocabulary I guess you would still struggle with!

Looking back I can't image it took you 69 games to hit a hundred. But then you were floating around in the batting order, spending too much time not being in the thick of it all. I can see why you were so desperate to open the batting at Auckland that day in 1994; why, when you told me the story of how you pleaded with Ajit Wadekar and Azharuddin to give you one opportunity, you sounded like you were still pleading! But I guess you had a history of wanting to be in battle, like that misty night in Kolkata (it was Calcutta in your youth wasn't it?) when you took the ball in the 50th over with just six to defend and delivered a win.

Numbers, before & after

It seems impossible to imagine that you averaged a mere 30.84 till that day in Auckland and you dawdled along at a strike rate of 74. Since then you average 47 at a strike rate of 87, it was a marriage that was meant to be. And I remember that afternoon in Colombo when you approached your first hundred. It had to be Australia and you were in sublime touch but you so wanted that first one. You made 110 in 130 balls but oh, you agonised over those last 15 runs before you got to the century. In a sense it was like that with the last one too, wasn't it? It was in those moments only that you were a bit like us, that you wanted something so badly you let it affect your game. But between those two, you were always so much fun, in that belligerent, ruthless, adolescent first phase, in your second rather more mature and calculated existence and of course in that joyous last. What fun that was! The 163 at Christchurch, the 175 at Hyderabad, that 200 at Gwalior, the 120 at Bengaluru, the 111 at Nagpur. If it hadn't been for that devilish 100th would you have continued playing the same way? That 100th hurt you didn't it, as it did all of us and I guess we didn't help you by not letting you forget. When the big occasion came you always played it like another game even though you knew it was a big day, like those two classics in the CB series final in 2008, or of course those unbelievable nights in Sharjah in 1998. But this 100th took away four or five more.

2007 World cup low

I know how disappointed you were after that World Cup of 2007. You weren't batting in your favourite position, you were unhappy (if you could ever be unhappy in the game that you revered and tended to like a servant) and without quite saying it you hinted at the fact that you might have had enough. But the dawn always follows the darkest hour. After the age of 34, in a young man's game, you averaged 48.36.

Even by the standards you set yourself, that was unbelievable (in spite of all those nineties when almost inevitably, I seemed to be on air !). And most of those came without your regular partner. While Sourav was around you averaged almost 50 at a strike rate of 89. The mind still wanders off when it thinks about the two of you coming out at the start of a one-day international. (I watched one of those partnerships the other nights..only the commercial breaks looked like stopping you two!)

By now you were playing the lap shots more than the booming drives down the ground. It puzzled me and made many nervous. "I want to play down the ground too," you told me, "that is why I am playing the paddle shot. As soon as they put a fielder there, I'll play the big drive!" You were playing with the field the way your great friend Brian Lara did when he was on top of his game.

But beyond the numbers some memories remain. I couldn't believe you going after Glenn McGrath in Nairobi. I must have watched that clip fifty times but understood it more when you told me you wanted to get him angry, that on a moist wicket his line and length routine would have won them the game. That pull shot is as fresh in memory as that first cover drive off Wasim Akram in the World Cup of 2003 when you took strike because you thought the great man would have too many tricks for Sehwag! I remember that World Cup well, especially an unheralded innings in Harare that helped beat a sticky Zimababwe and put the campaign back on track. And your decision to keep the player of the tournament award in your restaurant because you would much rather have had the smaller winners' medal. It told me how much that meant to you and when I saw the tears on your face that night in Mumbai, I instantly knew why.

I'd only once seen you in tears and that was at a World Cup too. You were practising in Bristol. You were just back from your father's funeral and were wearing the most peculiar dark glasses. There was none of the usual style to them, remember, they were big enough to cover half your face. You agreed to my request to speak to the media and briefly took them off while you were arranging your kit bag. I was taken aback, your eyes were swollen. You must have been in another world but you were as courteous as ever. It was only Kenya the next day but I can see why you rate that hundred.

There are so many more. I was only a young cricket writer when I started watching you play so there will be many. And that is also why so many of us will miss you. Somebody said to me he didn't want you to quit because it would mean his childhood was over. It isn't just them. Just as the child in you never grew up so too did many grizzled old men become children when they saw you in blue. You were a great habit, Sachin.

So you are done with the blue then. But the whites remain. That is our first image of you; the curly hair, the confident look, the front foot stride.....all in white. I hope you have fun in them. You don't need to try too hard to prove a point to us because when you have fun we do too.

Cheers. You did well for us. And you gave life and strength to our game.

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