Arup Dey traveled more than 800 miles to Kolkata, stood in line from 4 a.m. for a ticket and watched his cricket idol Sachin Tendulkar lose his wicket early in the second-last match of his record 24-year career.
“I’d have loved to see him bat all day, like in the old days,” said Dey, a garment-store owner from Silchar in northeast India. “I’m still happy to be here and I’ve seen him bat, field and take a wicket. For me, he’s like a god.”
With one match to go before Tendulkar, 40, retires from cricket, the country of 1.2 billion people is getting ready to bid farewell to a player whose rise to the top of his sport coincided with India’s economic emergence as one of the BRIC nations. The nation’s economy has expanded six-fold since Tendulkar first broke into the national team at the age of 16.
“Sachin showed India can compete with the best in the world, and beat them,” Madhukar Sabnavis, vice-chairman of Ogilvy & Mather India, said in an interview. “His career mirrored India’s economy, aspiration and confidence. Sachin has been that important part of how we measure India’s growth in the past 20 years.”
A day before his penultimate Test, Tendulkar was gifted a life-size wax statue of himself by a sculptor, while the local cricket association presented him with a silver tree with 199 leaves, signifying the number of Test matches he has played. For the Kolkata match, a specially minted gold coin with an embossed image of him was used for the toss. Ball boys had his picture on their white T-shirts and No. 199 on the back.
The five-day clash with West Indies starting in Mumbai tomorrow will be his 200th long-format game at the same Wankhede Stadium where he retrieved balls on the boundary during a 1987 Cricket World Cup semifinal. The website selling tickets crashed within five minutes of the sale opening.
Nicknamed “Little Master” and “Master Blaster,” the 5-foot-5 Tendulkar enters his final match in his hometown holding almost all of cricket’s major run-getting records, including the most runs and centuries in elite Test and one-day matches. In 2011, he helped India win its first World Cup title since 1983.
Last year, when just one month shy of his 39th birthday, he became the first player to score 100 international centuries.
The year Tendulkar made his debut, India’s gross domestic product was $301 billion. It’s now expanded to $1.8 trillion, making it Asia’s third-biggest economy.
During that time, Tendulkar’s talents and appeal have enabled him to accumulate a net worth of $160 million from endorsements, property and cricket earnings, Singapore-based Wealth-X said in an Oct. 30 report, making him India’s richest sportsman.
His appeal to sponsors may not immediately dim with retirement. Luminous Power Technologies Pvt., a unit of French company Schneider Electric SA, started selling new power backup systems in India this month. Tendulkar endorses Luminous’s products and the company plans to continue the association when he quits, Chief Executive Officer Rakesh Malhotra said Nov. 5.
“How many people do you get who have been on the top of their game for so many years?” Malhotra said in a phone interview. “That goes well with what people expect of us: consistent performance.”
From expectations that he should set up a cricket academy to calls for a greater role in politics, local media has speculated on Tendulkar’s next move. He was sworn in as a member of India’s upper house of parliament 17 months ago after being nominated by the ruling Congress party.
He’s been present two days in the house of elders since his nomination. After vowing to uphold his duties as a lawmaker, he said at the time that cricket would remain his focus and that he would see how he could help “when there is time.”
After the accolades, Indians will look to Tendulkar to give something back, Ogilvy & Mather’s Sabnavis said.
“For 24 years he’s concentrated a hell of a lot on cricket,” he said. “Now I wish he gives something back to society, because this country really needs it. That he gives back to the society that cherished him, this is the one hope I have.”
Tendulkar said cricket has always been his priority.
“All I do is enjoy the game as much as I can,” he told reporters at an Oct. 23 event in Mumbai. “And I’ve played the game to the best of my ability always.”
Tendulkar made his Test debut against Pakistan in November 1989 and registered his first three-figure score the following year against England. In 2008, he passed West Indian batsman Brian Lara as the top scorer in elite five-day matches. Another 153 runs in his finale would lift his record tally to 16,000.
Subhankar Halda and his brother-in-law Biswaraj Roy took the day off from work to watch Tendulkar a final time at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens last week. A half-empty stadium on Nov. 6 greeted the first day of the right-hander’s farewell series as West Indies batted first.
“It’ll fill up tomorrow, when Sachin actually comes in to bat,” said Halda, a chartered accountant, as he glanced around the 67,000-seat stadium. “I’ve come here after 15 years just to see the master bat for a final time.”
The following day, the more than 30,000 people at the stadium cheered their loudest when Tendulkar walked out to the middle. He lasted just 24 balls in making 10 runs, departing to cheers that matched the noise that accompanied his arrival.
“Sachin Tendulkar’s story is quite phenomenal,” former England captain Andrew Strauss said in an Oct. 11 interview in London. “To be as successful as he was, to carry the hopes of a nation on his shoulders every time he batted, is just an absolutely mind-blowing achievement. He deserves to go out and get every accolade he does get.”