This post inspired by Subash’s post over on the Cricket Couch.
In less than three hours, Sachin Tendulkar will walk out to play his 194th, and quite possibly last, Test match for India.
I am not saying he should or should not retire, or that he will or will not retire, that decision lies solely with him, for he and he alone knows if there are runs left in his bat, and he has earned the right to make the decision himself, but the point remains: come Monday evening, he could very well be walking off the pitch wearing the Indian whites for the very last time.
Only 39 years old, and it feels as though I am writing his obituary.
And that’s the thing about athletes, they achieve so much when they are still so young – the average Olympian is only 26 years old, for instance – and because of the way the body breaks down as we all age, they are forced to hang it all up just as the rest of us are starting to hit our strides.
For most people, our 20s can be a little aimless. We are unsure of our skin, this world and our place in it; but by our thirties, we know what makes us happy, we have decent incomes, we have people around us that we love. In a lot of ways, for regular folks, life doesn’t really begin until our 30s.
The opposite is true for professional athletes.
After spending their entire lives, 30+ years, doing just one thing, and doing it better than 99% of the people on planet earth, they are forced to walk away from it forever.
That must scare the living crap out of them. It must feel like dying.
It’s identity theft, but instead of your bank account number, they steal your soul. Reach down and scrape it out and leave it on the bathroom floor.
I cannot imagine the level of emptiness athletes must feel when a new season rolls around and they are home with the kids, and the walls, and the quiet.
Am I being overdramatic? Of course I am, to some degree, but it is not uncommon for athletes to respond to the aforementioned blackness with drugs, spousal abuse, and other anti-social behaviors.
I look at Olympians on the medal stand and I think to myself: Christ, peaking at 19, how bloody depressing is that?
Honestly, of course, they are not peaking, they will go on to have kids and earn Doctorates, but I cannot help but think that those tears we all see gold medalists shed as their anthems blare are not tears of joy, but tears of sadness, tears of ending.
Sachin, of course, will be okay. He has two children to hang out with, he has his millions of dollars, and he will probably go into coaching, or announcing, or maybe serve on a board or work for the ICC or start a business or just do nothing at all: take naps in the afternoon, and look back on a marvelous career.
All I am saying is that the cliff he is looking over and contemplating is not separating playing cricket from not playing cricket, it is separating life from death. If he jumps, a part of him dies – a very, very large part of him – and it dies forever. Therefore I honestly cannot begin to imagine the thoughts that must be in his head right now; though all of us have noticed the lack of twinkle in his eye, as if a darkness rests back there, tormenting him.
I do know that the above will be in my head as I watch this Test.
I don’t talk a lot about Sachin on this blog, though I really could not tell you why. But just for the sake of my non-cricket-fan readers (and it turns out there are a few): Sachin Tendulkar is the greatest cricketer who ever lived. Full stop.
Cricket was already popular in India of course when he made his debut in 1989, but in the 23 years since, the game has gone from past time to obsession for one billion Indians, and countless more cricket fans the world over, no matter their allegiance.
He has 15,643 Test runs, the most all time, and over 2,000 more than the second most all time.
He has 51 Test centuries, the most all time.
He has 100 centuries in all formats, the most all time by a country mile.
He has 34,079 runs in all formats. No one else has 33,000, 32,000, 31,000, 30,000, 29,000, or 28,000; the closest is Ponting with 27,483.
He is a revolutionary, an iconoclast, and the game as we all know it does not exist in its current format without Sachin.
He is Michael Jordan. He is Roger Federer. He is Tiger Woods. He is Pele. Babe Ruth, Wayne Gretzky, Jesse Owens.
But more. Picture any of those guys, but picture them carrying the weight of the whole of India on their backs, yet still able to perform at the highest level for 23 years.
I don’t talk a lot about Sachin Tendulkar on this blog, but I am going to miss him when he is gone. This game we love will not be the same ever again. But the hole he is going to leave in this sport and in our hearts will pale in comparison to the hole he will carry in him for the rest of his life after his cricketing days are over.