It won’t sink in yet, even if you’ve known it’s been coming for a while. It won’t sink in because, right now, you’re still grappling with such mundane questions as to whether he left it too late, whether he spoilt his legacy by stretching his career pass sell-by date, or why he let his Test average drop to just over half a Bradman.
It won’t sink in yet because of how long it’s been stretched out – from the moment India won the 2011 World Cup, and a nation willed him to “retire on a high”, to Thursday afternoon, when a Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) press release announced the inevitable in two paragraphs.
It won’t sink in yet because you’re probably convincing yourself it doesn’t matter anymore; for you, Sachin was done two years ago.
You had seen it coming, after all. You saw it in the year-long wait for his 100th hundred – the longest Sachin Tendulkar had gone between three-figure scores in 20 years of trying. He tried everything at the time: some innings he approached with the fearlessness of a teenager, swatting, slashing, slicing at each delivery that came his way; at other times, he left everything, even juicy half-volleys, alone with what can only be described as Mumbai khadoos-ness.
As you waited, watching knock after knock believing this was going to be the one, it grew increasingly clear the epic was nearing its end. Even the way he finally got there was a dreadful anti-climax: a man who effortlessly carried the hopes of a nation for two decades, weighed down by the pressures of a meaningless, manufactured landmark.
You saw it coming as he tried, and failed, to conquer England and Australia in eight successive Tests. There were few little gems, mini-masterpieces, sprinkled over the depressing landscape – a smooth-as-silk 91 in a lost cause at The Oval, an oh-so-promising 80 in Sydney.
But he just couldn’t conquer the big-inning demons, and that’s when you knew he was done.
After all, Sachin had gone through bad patches before, but he’d always found a way out – most magnificently at Sydney in 2004. Having got out playing airy cover drives a few times, Sachin surgically cut the off-side out of his batting vocabulary – suppressing all he had learnt over 15 years, disobeying every instinctive grain in his body, allowing half-volleys and half-trackers through to the ’keeper, on his way to 241.
You thought of that innings as he fought now to go past 60 and 70 over eight unbearably long Tests, and you knew the end was close. You were prepared.
And if any confirmation was needed, you got it when he announced his retirement from one-day cricket – right before a series against Pakistan!
Take a deep breath here, and think of Sachin versus Pakistan: a 16-year-old battling on having been bloodied by a bouncer, and later on that tour cutting Abdul Qadir and his leg-spinning ego into millions of tiny little pieces; in Chennai, battling a rotten back to take India to the brink of victory; in Multan, stranded on 194 not out; at the Centurion, slashing Shoaib over point.
What better stage to take the final bow? What are you hanging around for?
You saw other signs. You knew the end was closer than ever when Nathan Lyon – Nathan Lyon! – had him in all sorts of trouble this year (remember when Sachin used to chew up off-spinners for fun?).
You gave up when the three-figure scores dried up. There was a time in the 90s when you could bet on only two things with certainty when Indian teams travelled overseas: one, they’d get walloped, and two, you’d get to see at least one Sachin century. You stayed up late and woke up early so you wouldn’t miss those. Now he had gone three series without a ton.
This wasn’t the Sachin you grew up with, and by logical extension, this unrecognizable Sachin’s retirement didn’t count.
You’re right, it’s been coming for a while. However, while you might convince yourself you’re fine, it’s only because the news hasn’t really sunk in yet.
This retirement will adamantly continue to not sink in as we tick off days in the calendar, counting down to November 14; it will continue to not sink in even though every conversation over drinks will end up as arguments over which of Sachin’s 100 centuries was the most memorable; in fact, it won’t even sink in when he walks off the field after his 200th Test.
It’ll sink in when India play South Africa. It’ll sink in when the second wicket falls and Sachin doesn’t walk out to bat. It’ll sink in when, instead of a familiar roar when the number 4 walks in, we’ll hear an unnatural silence.
Because that is the essence of Sachin, the stuff you want to bottle and preserve – the buzz as you watched him walk to the middle, the jangling nerves as he took guard, the audible “uff” in the stands as he leant regally into another straight drive.
Convince yourself otherwise, but you – we – will only truly know what a Sachin-shaped vacuum feels like when we’re finally in it.