"Sachinnnnnn! Sachin"

You can almost hear it. You can imagine an entire stadium chanting it. You can still feel the goosebumps. You can still picture the little man walking out, looking up at the heavens, turning that bat in his hand, steadily walking to the pitch and then doing that iconic knee-bend & helmet tug.

I can never forget that tinge of nervousness, the anxiety, every time he came out to bat. I could never understand why I cared so much for a person who doesn't even know me. But then I watched him play, I saw him go in and out of form, I witnessed him taking the heat, I heard people criticise him. 

And yet, he played on. 

 

It was selfless brilliance. He did not always score centuries, but even a 40-run knock would include a few shots that were worth watching an entire match for. That straight drive was next to orgasmic and that upper cut was as smooth as hot knife through butter. 

But he didn't have to do it. No one forced him to. In fact, countless people somehow turned into experts and started predicting that it was time for him to go, several years before he actually retired. 

He somehow ignored all of that. It is unimaginable to think what he must have gone through during those tough times. And we will forever be grateful that he stuck around for so long. Only after he retired did we somehow realise that we would give anything to see him play again. 

He became god for a reason. He turned the sport into a religion.

 

He knew when it was time for him to go. Though so many of us begged him to stay. But that would have been cheating. He never gave less than 100% every time he stepped on the field. His body gave him the signs and he walked away respectfully.

We all remember the day he bid goodbye. Not because of his tear-jerking speech, not because an entire stadium was emotional, but because up until that day, cricket had meant Sachin for us. There's a reason that so many of us stopped watching the sport altogether. 

It's not that it wasn't worth watching after he left, it just wasn't going to be the same. And it really isn't.

 

He had his lows as well. There were times when he did not perform. Sometimes luck, mostly injuries. But there were people always after him. I guess his greatness was unbelievable to them. They had to find a flaw.

There were complaints that he overshadowed the team. Some even said that whenever Sachin scored a century, we mostly lost. It was ridiculous. So what would you have him do? Get out on a duck and then whine about his poor form? It was like he just couldn't satisfy them no matter what he did. 

And yet, he did it anyway.

 

I still don't know how he handled it all - the pressure, the constant criticism. But that's not for me to ponder over. The fact remains that he did it. He could have walked away, but he carried an entire nation's hopes every single time he walked out to bat. He played every single ball knowing that if he messed up, it would break a billion hearts. But he had the guts to do it. The little man had the courage to stand tall. Like I said, he could have walked away. But he didn't.

That is when I realised why I cared about him. He did not know me by name, but he was aware of my existence. I was part of the billion people he played for. My dreams were part of the billion dreams he carried. I was one of those who cheered the falling of India's second wicket in Tests. For over two decades, he played for me, he played for you, he played for an entire country. He made our childhood better. He made billions of people come together. He made a billion dreams come true. 

It is true. Whenever he played well, we slept well. Because that is when we dreamt up our dreams. And for 24 years, no one was better at making dreams come true than Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.