First, wish you a very happy birthday! You turn forty today, and in a few days, I’ll turn 25. You have stepped into middle age, I am now practically middle aged (okay let me stop, the similarities shall end here). So what is so special about a sportsperson turning 40? I think it’s the fact that you are probably one of the few present-day sportspersons who has turned the big four oh and still continue to play the sport at the top level. Well, who are the others? Frankly, I don’t care. I don’t want to know either. Today is your day. So let me concentrate on you.
I still remember the first time I watched you on television. It is seared into my memory. I don’t remember which match, which year. I saw you lifting your bat for some milestone you had achieved (was it a 50, a 100?). However, what I do remember is that you were 22 years old then. It was the infant era of cable television, and our home was the first on the street to have cable TV. I never watched a cricket match before, and there were lots of boys from neighboring houses and our house-owners’ children who huddled into one big group to watch the match. “What’s Sachin’s strike rate?” somebody asked. As I was sitting in front of the TV, and could read the statistics screen , I confidently answered “It’s 22.” Giggles erupted, and a friend whispered to me “Hey dumbo! That’s not his strike rate, that’s his age.”
So it’s been 18 years since I saw you first on TV. Eighteen glorious years spent learning absolutely nothing about the technicalities of cricket but more about the guy who defined the game. You have been conferred with so many epithets, “God of Cricket,” “Master Blaster,” “The Little Master,” and when you went through a slump in form, the same people who hoisted you on a pedestal were lightning quick in tearing you down to the ground. Unfortunately, that’s how fickle minded we “normal” people are.
But you know what I really, like really, admire in you the most? Your tenacity, and the way you conduct yourself in public. Your tenacity, because you never bother, or succumb to the temptation, to respond to double-tongued critics verbally. It was always by creating a new record, reaching a new milestone, going where no human being has never gone before. And that’s how I learned lesson number 1: let your actions do the talking. Of course, I did fumble one, twice (still do), in putting your philosophy to practical use. I’m human after all. And there was also a side-lesson I learned. Let’s put that as 1(a): Never let your critics beat you down, believe in yourself, and your dreams.
And the way you conduct yourself in public. I’ve never heard you badmouth anybody, on the field, or off the field. Playing alongside the so-called “new generation” of cricketers, you must have heard the “F” word a billion times already. But never have you berated an opposition player; stood your ground and stared at an umpire, shaking your head at his bad decision; swore at a bowler after he bowled a bouncer that almost hit you; or used the F word. And for that, I salute you. The present generation thinks swearing is “cool” and that unprovoked verbal and physical aggression is “in”. Well, it is not. And it will never be. Unless of course you choose to use a swear word or throw your bat down and proceed to box an opposition player’s ears for constantly sledging you from his fielding position. And I know, just know, that you never will. So that’s lesson number 2 (the simplest, yet the hardest): Be nice.
You must have noticed that I spoke nothing about your cover drives or your wrist work. I have absolutely no idea what they mean. I only know to cheer each time you enter a stadium and hit a six or a four or take a single. Or even just stand there. So Happy Birthday once again Sachin. I love you, respect you and admire you.
Let the celebrations begin.:)