Cricket: Indian batting great Tendulkar exits quietly but in style

An Indian pedestrian walks past a poster of cricketer Sachin Tendulkar in Mumbai on Nov 14, 2013. -- PHOTO: AFP
An Indian pedestrian walks past a poster of cricketer Sachin Tendulkar in Mumbai on Nov 14, 2013. -- PHOTO: AFP

MUMBAI - Farewell came at 10.38am on Friday in a Mumbai ground by the sea and Sachin Tendulkar left the field as quietly as the tide pulls out. To the crease with a bat in an India shirt - an image engraved into a national memory - he will possibly never walk again. As India seizes gradual control of this Test match and he may not be required in the second innings, his batting for India is probably done.

Farewell is never perfectly timed in sport and so he left in his 200th Test on 74, caught at slip, 26 runs from the perfection of a last century. As always Tendulkar had unfinished business. But he left, as he arrived in cricket precisely on this very day, Nov 15, in 1989, with grace. The West Indies did not celebrate too much. He made no fuss.

Farewell is always personal, especially for a man with whom so much of India can trace a life. Through jobs changed, love found, a child taken to school, nations shifted, Tendulkar was for me, as for so much of India, a familiar companion. As he leaves, a little of us goes with him. It always does.

Farewell came at Wankhede Stadium. It is a field where I first met him in early 1989, still not an India player, still only a possibility at 15. It is a field that was the appropriate temple for a last prayer. Here, in the 1990s, net bowlers would quake when he called to say he was coming to practice for they knew four hours of sweat lay before them.

Farewell took its time and rightly it should have. He batted for 118 balls and 151 minutes and he batted so well that for a while farewell was forgotten. Pleasure overrode mourning. He constructed a straight drive. He leant back and cut for four. He pushed down the ground and trotted for a single. This was the proud batsman, extracting his last pieces of greatness. He did not want to limp out into his sunset.

Farewell was inevitable, yet it is somehow always a surprise. Once he would tell people on foreign shores, come to Wankhede, come to my stadium, come hear the roar here, and you will understand something about receptions. But he never told them about farewells and how this one was almost silent.

The ground was muted on his dismissal. Men held their heads. The press box stood. He walked slowly, wiping his face, but they were not tears, just the sweat of a last effort. He turned just before he reached the stairs to the pavilion and acknowledged his stadium. Then he, the batsman, walked gently out of India's cricketing life possibly for the last time.

Virat Kohli, the next man in, hit his first ball for four. The cheer was ragged. But cricket had moved on.