Can there be a better swansong?
To them, this stadium is more than a battleground, it is a physical representation of their dreams, their struggles, their aspirations of wearing national colours someday. It becomes a monument of the realisation of that dream, a witness to their achievements.
For Sachin Tendulkar, the Wankhede Stadium - most likely now to host his 200th and final Test match - is all that and more. Because, while most of us heard of the teenager’s talent when he was picked for the 1989 tour to Pakistan, it was a year earlier at his homeground that Sachin established his pedigree.
India were to play New Zealand in a Test match at Wankhede in 1988 when Dilip Vengsarkar, the skipper, asked Kapil Dev, Chetan Sharma, Arshad Ayub and Maninder Singh to bowl to a 15-year-old Sachin in the nets. Soon, interviews were lined up. Sachin was in the news. Sachin had arrived.
Just a few days later, he was included in the Mumbai playing XI, at the Wankhede, and he struck an unbeaten 100 on debut, helping his team to first innings points in a drawn game against Gujarat. Eleven months later, Wankhede was witness to another Sachin special, on his Irani Trophy debut this time, where he made an unbeaten 145-ball 103 against a Delhi attack comprising of Atul Wassan, Sanjeev Sharma, Madan Lal and Maninder Singh. That too in the second innings, when only two other Rest of India batsmen managed double figures.
Soon after, Sachin was drafted into the Indian team, travelled to Pakistan, battled Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Aaqib Javed, Waqar Younis and Abdul Qadir, travelled to England and scored his first Test ton to save the Manchester Test, travelled to Australia, hit 148* at Sydney, confounded the pundits with 114 on the bouncy Perth wicket and scored another century, this time in South Africa, against Allan Donald, Brian McMillan and Craig Mathews before returning to the Wankhede.
He did not set the ground on fire, scoring a patient 78, supporting Vinod Kambli, as India went on to beat England by an innings and 15 runs. He has gone on to play nine more matches at the Wankhede, for a total of 847 runs in 18 innings at 47.05, a dip from his career figures but not bad on a consistency front considering he scored just one century here.
That century came against Sri Lanka in his third Test in 1997, as he struck 148 off 244 balls with 20 boundaries and three sixes, an innings that will go down as his best here in Test whites, unless he decides to do something special on his swansong.
For long periods since then, Wankhede turned indifferent to her favourite son, at least as far as Test cricket went. Sachin consistently got starts but failed to convert them into big ones; the most agonising of them coming against the West Indies in 2011, when he fell just six runs short of what would have been his 100th hundred.
And in those brief moments of insanity, the Wankhede - a small but noisy section of it - turned against Sachin. After being dismissed for four off 15, he was booed as he walked back in the game that made him the most-capped Indian Test player. Isn't it kind of ironic that this is probably the only ground in the world Sachin has been booed at?
But what fell short in Tests was amply made up for in coloured clothes as teammates lifted Sachin on their shoulders for a lap of honour at the Wankhede after India won the 2011 World Cup.
Tendulkar will be hoisted onto the shoulders for a final lap of honour next month. The Wankhede will rise, with moist eyes, to cheer Sachin a final time. A 15-year-old had created a buzz here that echoed around the world for 25 years and a 40-year-old will relive it all one final time.
Can there be a better swansong?
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