Cricket: India mourns as Little Master's innings ends

By Ian Chadband in Mumbai

For the last time, as they say in India, a billion folk switched on their TVs and switched off their lives when he came to the crease. For the umpteenth and final time, Sachin Tendulkar did not let them down.

Yet once he had gone, dismissed for 74 in his 200th test and deprived of the fairytale century finale that one of sport's most freakish careers truly merited, it was alarmingly eerie quite how quickly India appeared to feel the emptiness without their little master to cheer. Cricketing life may never be quite the same here again.

For once he had turned to all his devotees on the heavy-hearted trudge back to the Wankhede Stadium pavilion and waved his bat high to bid farewell, it felt like they must have turned the power off all over the country.

There was still a test against the West Indies, a very one-sided one, to be finished but no one seemed to quite have the heart for it any more.

The full house of 32,000 which had earlier provided one of the most wonderful, joyous celebrations you could wish to see in sport began to drift away in their thousands.

The Indians duly wrapped up a predictably easy innings and 126-run win last night, dismissing the West Indies for 187, Tendulkar getting in a final couple of overs of spin before the end.

But earlier it seemed so unfair on those big batting talents who have to follow Tendulkar but on a day when three of his supposed heirs - Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli - all subsequently shone so brightly, their performances were carved out in front of rows of abandoned seats.

Dwarkanath Sanzgiri, a veteran journalist who may have been the only man here to have watched the very first of Tendulkar's first-class innings for Bombay in the Ranji Trophy on this ground 25 years ago, looked down and sighed: "It's a sign of life without Sachin. You won't get the kind of crowd again here for a test match that we saw today."

The power of IPL thrills and big, sexy six-hitting is the new instant fix for Indian supporters now. It was not the magic of test cricket that wooed such a fanatical crowd here yesterday but the cult of just one magician.

Against an outclassed, shambolic West Indian side, Kohli dazzled for 57, Pujara struck an assured 113 while Rohit's dream two-ton start to his test career continued with an unbeaten 111, which now leaves him with an average of 288.

The trio are tremendous players. Pujara has the application, Kohli the flair and Rohit the gift, they say. Yet Tendulkar had all three. Their problem, maybe Indian cricket's problem, will be that they cannot be Tendulkar. Yet who can?

"It is not just about scoring many runs, it's about the way you carry yourself on and off the field," said Sanzgiri.

"Parents want their sons to be like Sachin, not just because of his sporting achievements but because of his personality. He may be irreplaceable."

He had started the day unbeaten on 38 - "On 38, with a billion prayers" as the Hindustan Times headline put it - and had shrugged off a couple of close shaves to start looking so commanding on 74 that the century felt almost destined.

Then the 21st century version of Eric Hollies, Bradman's conqueror, popped up in the form of Narsingh Deonarine, an unsung 30-year-old Guyanan spinner they call "Ringo".

A shorter, flatter one tempted Tendulkar to try to flick it past slip, suffice to say not a shot he would have tried in 1988. Its bounce beat him and he edged straight to Darren Sammy.

What followed felt so, so weird. Complete, uncomprehending silence for a few seconds where only a minute earlier there had been complete pandemonium over a gentle Tendulkar push for a single to long-on, almost certainly the very last of the 50,192 runs he has made in his complete senior career.

Then, amid their collective mourning, the crowd interrupted the funeral to offer a cheering, tricolour-waving standing ovation of lump-in-the-throat intensity.

Up in the President's box above the pavilion, his mum Rajni had watched him play for the first and last time and seemed, understandably, quite choked.

Actually, we all ended up bowing to Tendulkar on one of sport's most uplifting days.

Yet the nagging feeling remains that the mourning in Indian cricket may only properly be starting now.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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