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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 March 2006, 15:29 GMT
Letter from Mumbai: Is Sachin mortal?

By Nick Byrant
BBC South Asia correspondent, Mumbai

England have clinched their first Test win in India for 21 years. The victory in Mumbai, which leaves the series tied, proved that local idol Sachin Tendulkar was a mere mortal after all.

Sachin Tendulkar
Sachin Tendulkar after being dismissed for 34 on Wednesday

A Test match can be a long time in Indian cricket.

Before the start of play on Saturday morning the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai rang out with rafter-quivering cries of "Saaaaaachin, Sachin, Saaaaaachin, Sachin" as the "Little Master" stepped up to receive a trophy marking his 132nd Test match, the highest number played by any Indian.

The next afternoon, after being dismissed for a desultory one run, his long walk back to what must have seemed like a particularly far pavilion was accompanied by boos from his beloved home crowd.

The turn-around happened with almost manic suddenness. Even the Indian supporters seated in the Sachin Tendulkar Stand were jeering.

From my red-cushioned seat in the pavilion, I first thought the crowd must be directing its ire at Geraint Jones, the England wicketkeeper who had the impudence to catch out Mumbai's favourite son.

Run out sparked riots

It would not, after all, have been the first time his dismissal was met with uproar.

The unimaginable happened on Sunday. Sachin Tendulkar joined the ranks of mortals in the eyes of Indian cricket fans
Sambit Bal
Cricket writer

Most famously play had to be suspended during a Test match in Calcutta in 1999 after Tendulkar was controversially adjudged to be run out and rioting erupted in the Eden Gardens stands.

Then, when the cat-calls continued, the extraordinary reality finally dawned on me: that the hypnotic spell which Sachin has cast over Indian cricket fans since first representing his country as a cherubic-faced 16-year-old had suddenly been broken.

As Sambit Bal, an Indian cricket writer, memorably put it: "The unimaginable happened on Sunday. Sachin Tendulkar joined the ranks of mortals in the eyes of Indian cricket fans."

The front page coverage in the Indian press was reminiscent of how British papers responded to England's first ever home defeat to Australia at the Kensington Oval on 29 August 1882.

"In Affectionate Remembrance of English Cricket" was the headline of a spoof obituary in the Sporting Times. "RIP. N.B. - The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia," said the article.

On Monday evening the breaking news graphics on the pacy 24-hour news channels read like the penultimate chapter of Tendulkar's own cricketing obituary.

Injured shoulder

Just seconds earlier the announcement came that the 32-year-old would miss the one-day international series against England so doctors could carry out much-needed surgery on his injured right shoulder.

Tendulkar receives a trophy
The day had begun well, with Tendulkar being honoured

A man who became a living legend in his early 20s is now, in his early 30s, being written off as a has-been.

When a cable news channel conducted an instant SMS poll on whether the end had come for Sachin, a staggering 48% of respondents punched Yes into their mobile phones.

In days gone by Indian bookmakers refused to set their odds until Tendulkar had left the wicket, such was his impact on the outcome of a game.

Now his arrival at the crease is greeted with hope rather than any great sense of expectation.

In a nation obsessed by statistics Tendulkar has given India the gift of a record-breaking 35 Test centuries and a staggering average of more than 55 runs an innings.

But many believe his recent sequence of 16, 23 19, 14, 23, 28 not out, 4, 1, and 34 offers indisputable arithmetical measurement of his decline.

Sublimely talented

The inevitable has happened: age has dulled the sublime talents of a batsman who the great Sir Donald Bradman regarded as his modern-day incarnation.

Donning my BBC correspondent's hat for just one moment, I suppose I am honour-bound to ask: what does this mean for India?

The Bombay Stock Market seemed in good shape the last time I looked - indeed, the Sensex crashed through the 11,000 barrier the day after Sachin was booed off the field.

Indian cricket fan applauds as Tendulkar takes a wicket
For Indian cricket fans Tendulkar was a god
The Indian tricolour still flies over the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi.

Cows still amble through the streets.

The price of bread remains the same.

Yet cricket is one of the strongest glues that holds this disparate country together and since his Test debut in 1989 Tendulkar has provided much of its adhesive force.

Without question, he is the most unifying figure in the entire country. Arguably, he is the most universally popular Indian since Mahatma Gandhi.

His eventual departure - perhaps after the 2007 World Cup, perhaps even earlier if his injuries persist - will leave a massive void.

So, shame on the fans who behaved so boorishly on Sunday afternoon in Mumbai.

Man and boy Tendulkar has proved himself the greatest Indian cricketer ever to have swung the willow.

For that he deserves the admiration of a grateful nation rather than ill-mannered jeers.

Rarely have the words "It was just not cricket" been so apt.





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