The Benefit Of Worshipping Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar
With the Cricket World Cup in full swing, cricket fever has spread across the country. We too were not spared and wanted to publish an original fiction related to cricket. Ultimate cricket fan and Sachin Tendulkar bhakt, Aziel, delivered and how. In this fiction, he chronicles the tale of a young boy who does his best to emulate Tendulkar, his cricketing God, in an attempt to win over a girl. He succeeds, but his love for cricket never wanes and that comes in the way of their relationship. Set during the early years of Tendulkar’s cricketing journey, this story about a young boy in love will warm your heart.
“Oye, she’s looking at you,” said Anish, my friend, my trusted wingman and above all, my dependable teammate.
“Where is she?” I asked, but Anish was not going to answer me any time soon; he had already broken into his standard mid-pitch monologue about the different ways to approach the innings. My friend was always so serious and this was just a warm-up game before the inter-school tournament that was to begin in a fortnight. However, his words were like dust in the wind. I had seen her. She wore a pretty blue dress with a white belt. Her hair was tied up neatly. Her face was cupped in her hands and her elbows rested on the balcony railing of the girls’ hostel that overlooked the school cricket ground. Her name was Jess.
“OYE!” My friend’s loud call shattered my reverie. The opposition fielders had quizzical looks on their faces and the umpire was smiling, as though he knew why I was lost. I took my position on the crease, hoping that a certain someone’s eyes were on me. My senses were heightened. It was show time. Like a peacock trying to seduce a mate, I broke into a routine I had learned watching cricket on television – I began to mimic Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar’s mannerisms. Even though I was wearing a cap, I went ahead and enacted my hero’s helmet grill adjusting habit and waved my gloves in the air in front of my face, before fidgeting with my abdominal guard. I surveyed the fielders around the ground and allowed myself a glance up at the balcony.
The umpire brought his arm down to his side and the bowler ran to the crease. He was part of the theatre but not the main show. If only he could play to my script and drop the ball two feet from me. I would then unleash the straight drive, Tendulkar style, high elbow, vertical bat, just perfection. Lo and behold, it happened. As if by a higher design, the bowler deposited the parcel exactly where I wanted, with a bow on top. My bat connected and the ball went to the left of the umpire and past the boundary rope. I held the pose, for her.
I will never forget that day. I don’t think I ever batted better in my unfulfilled cricket career. By the time I got out, I had scored 45. I glanced at Jess on the way back to the shaded area where my teammates were sitting. I couldn’t tell whether she was looking at me or past me. But she was looking in my direction, of that I was certain. And, when you’re 13 and in love, even a little is a lot.
If Sachin Tendulkar helped me get the girl’s attention, he also helped me get the girl.
It was the day before the start of the tournament. We were the hosts. “You’re batting at three,” commanded my coach, a plainspoken gentleman who’d looked after the cricket team for over 20 years.
“I am more comfortable opening, sir,” I said, expecting Mr. Prakash to dismiss the suggestion.
“I moved you up from four, be happy. You will be the link between the middle order and the openers.”
“As you wish sir, I was just stating my desire.”
“All right then, but only for the first game. I feel you are more suited to number three. Since you are insisting, go ahead, but remember, you have only this game to prove me wrong.”
“Will give it my best sir.” In truth, I did not want to open. I preferred batting lower down but recently Tendulkar had opened against New Zealand and had been a raging success. I was simply copying my hero.
The first game was against a school that had been our traditional rival for many years. They were the defending champions and boasted a potent bowling attack. There was this one kid in particular who was regarded as a special talent. He was a foot taller than most of us and was the fastest and best bowler in the competition. There were unconfirmed tales that he’d put two of his teammates in hospital. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to open, after all. I looked at Vinay, the boy whose place I had taken in the batting order. He was padded to come in at four. He smiled a grateful smile at me; he had no interest in taking on the beanpole.
Once I reached the middle of the ground with Anish, I looked around, concentrating particularly on the grass terraces that were filled with boys and girls from our school. I looked for Jess. On weekends, she would watch from the hostel balcony, but today was school day; it was more likely she was there in the banks watching us, watching me (hopefully).
The first ball was a blur. I remember it landing on the dark green matting wicket and then it seemed to pick up pace, making a whirring sound as it passed me, chest high, on the way to the keeper. If that had been at me, I thought of the worst. No, you can’t embarrass yourself, not in front of her. Focus boy, focus!
The next ball from the tall fast bowler was similar to the first but straighter, which meant if I did not do something about it, my ribcage was going to be sore for weeks. I had premeditated and set myself in a way that could render me a complete fool if he bowled anything other than something that threatened my upper torso. Like most bowlers had been doing lately, he seemed to acquiesce to my wishes. It was like I knew what he was going to do. Even he knew that I knew; he simply didn’t think much of my skills to change his plans.
The missile had approached perilously close to my body when I swung my bat horizontally and as hard as I could. I felt it connect with the ball. When the impact is right, there is no recoil in the hands and you just know that you’ve hit the cricket ball as sweetly as one can. There are few better feelings when batting. “Shot!” I opened my eyes and there was Anish with his mouth wide open. The bowler had his hands on his hips and looked embarrassed as his teammate picked the ball from beyond the square leg boundary and hurled it back to him.
“That was amazing,” said my friend as we punched gloves, “but now you’ve just made the beast mad. He’ll bowl faster at you.” Anish was right. He did try to knock my head off with the remaining balls of the over but rage ensured his radar was askew and my life intact. I was the second highest scorer for the team – Vinay top-scored – and we won. The coach came over and said I would be opening for the remainder of the tournament.
“Well you seem to be getting everything you want these days, bro,” said Anish as we packed up to go home, his tone more mischievous than usual.
“What do you mean?”
“Someone’s here to see you,” he said, in barely a whisper.
I turned and my world melted. It was Jess walking towards me. My heart started to thump my chest and I felt a cold sweat on my brow. You are 13; you can do this, idiot. Sachin manned up to Imran and Akram when he was just 16. I took a deep breath that must have been obvious to her because I noticed her smiling at me.
“That was a nice game,” she said.
“Thank you,” I replied. I wanted to add Jess after the ‘you’ but my confidence had deserted me.
“And you played so well. It was fun watching you.”
I did not know how to respond to that and just grinned stupidly. She did not seem to mind. “We have a town outing on Saturday,” she said. “Can we can meet up?”
On a muggy August day, three months after we won the inter-school tournament, my mom came home from work with fire in her eyes and a walk that meant business. I was watching a match on television.
“Come inside,” she summoned me to her room. In it, I found both my parents staring at me intensely, especially mom. “I spoke to your class teacher, Mr. Pandey, today,” she began ominously. “How well did you say you prepared for your mid-year exams?”
“Very well, mom, why?” It was a lie and every person in the room knew it.
“No more cricket for you,” Mom yelled, straight to the point. I looked at Dad for some support but none was forthcoming. “Too much Tendulkar and Jess have made you a dull boy –“
“That’s harsh, Mom –“
“Oh, is it? You’ve failed Biology and Geography and have barely managed anything in the others. Your only saving grace was English and Math. If you don’t do your finals properly, you will not be allowed to sit for the Boards. You know that, don’t you?”
Now, mom was not speaking the entire truth. Students in Class Ten were usually eligible for the Boards. Only if they performed really poorly would they be denied a chance, and I was all right. I did not say anything.
“So, agreed then?” Mom wanted a confirmation from me, “No Tendulkar and less Jess till your Boards are done.” I nodded a false promise and snuck out of the room.
December 1994 – April 1995
I passed the Class Ten final exams in November 1994, not with any exceptional performance, but enough to be allowed entry for the Boards. And I did not cut down my dates with Jess. Better still, Dad continued to supply me with two of the country’s best cricket magazines, The Sportstar and Sporstworld. Both publications unfailingly ran something on Sachin Tendulkar every issue. I would spend much of the winters reading them more than I did my academic books.
The room I shared with my elder brother was bizarre. His side of the wall was covered with posters of rock bands, such as Whitesnake, White Lion, Van Halen, and Extreme; mine was filled with posters and cutouts of cricket, mostly batsmen, and a majority of them Sachin Tendulkar. Every once in a while mom would come in, shake her head and walk out, disapproval written large over her face. She tried once or twice to talk to her sons about the virtues of clean walls but we stood firm. Dad never once entered the room. At the most, he would stand at the precipice of the door and look around, more cursorily than with any intent to reprimand.
Jess was the most tortured. There’s not much to talk about when you are that young but she did a far better job of it than I did. She loved wildlife and the Discovery Channel. Thus, some of our dates were quite informative – I got to know that a cheetah is not a big cat because it cannot roar and that it was the crocodile, not the alligator, which had the pointy snout. At other times, she would teach me the benefits of writing short sentences over long ones and how to use the semi-colon.
I do not think she gained quite as much from what I had to tell her. How many 13-year-old girls would find any joy in a 10-minute discourse on why Tendulkar can tackle fast bowlers even better than most Australian and South African batsmen? Or why he was a ‘freak’ and a once-in-a-lifetime genius because a short man with a bottom hand grip was not supposed to play the drive as well as he did.
But Jess was a sweetheart. She would try her best to look interested in what I had to say and even made an effort to learn about the game. When she watched cricket with me, I would ramble like an idiot after every few balls and load her with information and she would just smile and let me talk and pretend to be interested.
Somehow, I did the unthinkable (at least as far as mom was concerned). I got through the Board Exams in March 1995 with good marks. And I had managed this while not cutting down on my meetings with Jess or my obsession with Tendulkar’s batting statistics.
The fascination with Tendulkar would continue for another 18 years. There would be highs and lows, centuries to celebrate and failures to bear, moments of ecstasy and despair, surges of hope and sinking feelings of doubt. I broke up with Jess at the start of the 1996 World Cup –a young girl can only take so much cricket talk – and crossed paths with her again many years later. When Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar gave that retirement speech on November 16, 2013, I watched it with a broken heart and tears in my eyes and my wife Jess’s arm around my shoulder.
Aziel writes because he has thoughts inside him he has to let out. If he doesn’t, there's a chance he will turn into a giant pen. He is also a huge sports fan. When he’s not writing or reading or fixating on some athletic competition, you’ll find him watching YouTube videos on how to make the perfect steak. His other interests include 80s rock music and the Siberian tiger. Aziel cites C.S. Lewis and his first dog, Pupsy, as his writing inspirations. Follow him on Twitter, here.
You can read his pieces, here.