Tendulkar’s final hurrah at Kolkata

An on-the-spot report from Chennai

Kolkata: You don’t have to have read the newspapers. You don’t have to have seen the television channels. But the moment you step out of the Dum Dum airport here, you can feel it in the wispy wintry air. You can sense it at every crooked nook and crowded corner. It is attendant over every adda session here. That, sirs, is how bad pollution is in Kolkata.

But if you draw aside the curtain of pollution, Kolkata is today richly rife with cricket, more specifically, Sachin Tendulkar, as the ‘little master’ gets ready for what is to be his penultimate Test match in a stellar career of remarkable accomplishments, probably blotted only by the fact that he could never really — especially in comparison to his illustrious contemporaries Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting — find a right-fitting abdomen guard and hence had to ungainly adjust it almost before every ball.

Ahead of the historic Test match against West Indies tomorrow, all roads in this exciting and easily excitable city not surprisingly leads to — as they say — traffic jams, which if you overcome, can lead to the cavernous Eden Gardens, a splendid sporting theatre that had been host to myriad cricketing dramas, none more poignant than in the World Cup semi-finals in 1996 when Vinod Kambli was left crying inconsolably like, well, a small child who was forced to take the stairs while his friend had already taken the elevator.

Tendulkar’s own association with Eden Gardens is no less historical, and it is at this very venue that the ‘Little Master’ — I get goose pimples merely writing about it even after over a decade — watched from the dressing room V V S Laxman and Rahul Dravid play that tour de force against Australia in 2001. Otherwise, Tendulkar’s performance in Tests at this ground has been a bit up and down with two centuries and 872 runs at an average of little under 48.

(In ODIs, of course, it is here Tendulkar bowled that magical last over against South Africa — in the Hero Cup semi-final in November 1993 — when they had to get six off it. Brian McMillan and Allan Donald, at the crease, managed only three and that monstrous ‘choke’ is what many believe still powers all the tubelights at the Eden Gardens).

This morning, all eyes and all cameras were on the great man, and every one wanted to know what he had mind, but since he was not scheduled to speak to the media, most of the press people made do by talking to the second most important person in Indian cricket, L P Sahi.

No seriously, ‘quotes on Sachin’ and ‘my encounters with Sachin’ have grown to a small-scale industry with every player and journalist, even if his actual experience with Tendulkar is limited to drinking Boost when young, churning out news stories using that trope. Almost all these special Tendulkar stories are unique for the fact none of them carries even a single morsel of new information or insight.

Anyway, considering the momentousness of the occasion tomorrow, the Cricket Association Of Bengal (CAB) has risen up to the challenge and almost made a complete mess of it.

Left to itself, the CAB would have even offered 199 commemorative runs to Tendulkar’s score before he even enters the field, so that he needed to knock off just a single to get a memorable double hundred in his 199th Test.  The CAB didn’t do it because it was possibly told that it could not make rules on the way. Who does it think itself to be, the BCCI or W G Grace?

To mark the occasion tomorrow, the CAB has minted a special coin, which the two captains will go to toss with. This obviously raises the larger question: Who is the Governor of the RBI, Raghuram Rajan or the CAB president?

Anyway, with the cynosure completely on Tendulkar and his epoch, there is not much information on the West Indies team. As the team’s captain, whoever he is, rightly said, ‘we are not overawed by the occasion. All our players are looking forward to the challenge of playing India in a Test in which even if we were to turn up nude we would probably still miss the next day’s headline’.

Meanwhile, our statistician Rajesh Menon has done some number-crunching and come up with interesting records that can fall during this Test match:

  • Sachin Tendulkar will be the first player to play 199 Test matches. The previous record of having played maximum number of Tests has been with Tendulkar himself, who had played earlier turned up in 198 Tests.
  • If Tendulkar scores a century, he will be the first player in the entire history of international cricket to have scored a century in his 199th Test.
  • If India wins the Test match, it will be its first ever victory in a match that features a player who is playing his 199th Test.
  • Eden Gardens is the first cricket ground in the world that will play host to a player in his 199th match.
  • And for West Indies, Shivnarine Chanderpaul will be playing his 150th Test. This is the first time a player will be playing his 150th Test when another is playing his 199th Test.