Cricket: Farewell Sachin, the son of a nation

Cricket: Farewell Sachin, the son of a nation
Fans showing off their posters of Sachin Tendulkar on Thursday as they queued to watch the last Test match of the Indian cricketer's career in Mumbai.

There is rarely a long public farewell for the gifted but now arthritic pianist. Rarely an extended nation-wide nostalgia as the grand writer's pen runs out of literary ink. Not because we don't care but because there are no finish lines to their crafts.

Only the athlete always arrives at a use-by date, his body frayed, his talent withered, and with him we often know when goodbye is coming.

Of all the send-offs in life, it is in sport - so suffused with drama anyway - where citizens express a collective emotion towards a fellow citizen. It is precisely what India is doing right now. Life hasn't halted in this turbulent nation, yet there is mourning, reflection, hyperbole over one man. If it is exaggerated, so was Sachin Tendulkar's talent.

Tendulkar - who is playing his final and 200th Test match in Mumbai - did not help alleviate poverty, save a drowning man or find a cure for disease. He is not the essential hero. Yet in the loose usage of the word often attached to sports stars, he was hero as achiever.

Only an athlete, he became an Indian obsession. A sporting hero like India had not seen before nor may see again. One day there will be a finer batsman than him, a batsman we have not heard of yet or who has not been born. But as a phenomenon he was unique.

Heroes are often people of a particular time. They fit a space. They fill a need. They own a special skill and yet are kissed by circumstance. It is as if history is waiting for them. And perhaps India was for Tendulkar.

This type of boy-hero in 2013 is not as uncommon as he was in 1989. This type of enduring athlete, who lasts for 24 years, may not come again in an altering world of Twenty20. This type of sportsman, who connects a disparate nation - unify is too strong a word - may not be easily found. This type of icon, who was almost untouchable - dropping him from the team was strangely viewed as a sin - may not be allowed again.

Tendulkar filled a vacuum for the sports hero in a nation that was not quite athletic. Musicians, India had, and actors, writers, thinkers, artists. But not a sportsman who appeared on the cover of Time magazine.

He was something to boast about. He was, in a changing India, a symbol of reassurance because he did not seem to change. Through every upheaval of a growing nation, he was still there. Tendulkar was batting, he was scoring a century, the world was fine.

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