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    I come to celebrate Sachin, not to praise him

    Tom Alter

    What is there left to say about the man?

    Words are now as meaningless as runs on the final, dreary afternoon a of long-drawn Test.

    Instead, let us celebrate -- and there is so much to celebrate!

    Let us keep the celebrations simple and joyful -- let the combined Shivaji Parks of our hearts be not raucous and boastful, but smiling and united.

    He has gifted us with a century of Tests -- let us close our eyes and see him again on that day in late '89, walking out to battle for the first time, ready to face Imran and Wasim and Waqar, dragging his bat behind him like a reluctant schoolbag on its way to the bus-stop; then keep our eyes closed and pray for another century of Tests, for there will never be another like him.

    Sachin Tendulkar Let us celebrate all the mornings he also has gifted us -- the mornings when we wake and know he will bat today; the mornings when tea is especially good and hot, and the air clearer and crisper -- only because we feel blessed inside, waiting to see him play.

    Let us celebrate all the evenings when we gather to discuss him, or simply walk alone, imaginary bat in hand, playing the magical shots in our fantasies that only he can play in reality.

    Let us celebrate his mannerisms -- that peering out from his helmet, still wide-eyed as a schoolboy; that waving of the arm and hand when someone moves near the sightscreen; that bending of the knee and slight hitch of the crotch between shots; that swallowing and then swallowing again, which -- on the screen -- looks so much like minor bouts of indigestion; that scrambling scamper between the wickets; that looking to the heavens -- in memory of his father -- when he reaches another milestone; that sudden, sunburst of a grin when he takes a wicket; that look of disbelief at his bat when he finally gets out.

    Let us celebrate the year 1998, when he conquered -- no, not conquered, but slaughtered -- the Aussies at home and in Sharjah; the knock at the Brabourne for Mumbai, when he won the series before it even started on a day when he was Batman and Superman and Chacha Choudury all in one -- and that night in the desert, when the storm blew and blew and he just played on and on and on. That was the year when he was invincible, and spoiled an entire nation into believing in his invincibility.

    Let us celebrate the earlier years, when he was a mop of hair attached to a cricket bat which swished and swatted in gay abandon; when he realized, against New Zealand, the secret of batting like a hurricane in the first fifteen overs of one-day matches; when he was building up his legend -- not step by step, but leap by leap.

    Let us celebrate -- also -- those moments when the gods decided they must put him in his place, lest he overtake even them in greatness; above all, those two moments against Pakistan in 99 -- the year those gods took away from Sachin -- when he was out on the brink of victory at Chennai, and "pushed out" by Shoaib in Calcutta. Both times Sachin -- who likes nothing more than winning -- had battled with a nobility and a grace that even the Pakistanis were awed by; and both times the gods dismissed him when no one else could. As he walked around Eden Gardens that day -- calming down the crowd who were so upset about his being given out -- the look on his face was a century older than his young body.

    But -- most of all -- let us celebrate two things; cricket, the game which Sachin graces as few others have done in the history of the noble game, and this -- the fourth Test in a wonderful series. No better script could have been written -- even all the ad-film makers, for whom Sachin sells their products and his own soul, could have dreamed up such a perfect moment.

    In the almost obscene irony of the standoff between the ICC and Indian players, this is what must be remembered -- cricket, the game that made it all possible; both the fourth Test, and the standoff.

    What a game it is, this game of cricket -- and let us concentrate on Test cricket, for we are celebrating Sachin's hundreth Test. That is what is so special -- because Test cricket is so special. The challenge, the flow of time and runs, the waxing and waning of light and momentum, the fresh smile of the morning giving way to the sunburnt grimace of the afternoon, then the fading evening kindly offering one more over -- it is a blessed time, and Sachin, as we said, has blessed us with a century of these times.

    And India and England 1-1, with only this fourth Test to play? Indian routed in the first, then courageously saving the second, then crushing the oldest foe in the third? Sourav and Rahul and Sachin all scoring centuries in the same innings -- can Aamir and Shahrukh and Salman all be superstars in the same film? And Sachin answering all his ridiculous, childish, foolish critics with the determined majesty of his bat?

    It is cricket, it is drama, it is art, it is life -- and we will celebrate it together. All of us -- the ICC and all of India and most of the cricketing world.

    Even Jagmohan Dalmiya -- if he takes time off from trying to market it.

    Sachin, if India wins, we will be filled with a joy that passeth understanding; if India wins and you score a century -- well, I know it might just happen, so I will not even try to describe that joy.

    But -- if you do not score a century and India loses -- the celebration will still go on. Just as cricket -- and you -- will, too.

    Sachin -- thanks for so, so much.

    What more can we way?

    Except that the tea tomorrow is going to taste like heaven.

    Tom Alter is one of the leading personas in the film, TV, and theatre world. Born and raised in Mussoorie, Alter is also a writer, commentator and compere.



      

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