Four were needed from 11 balls when Kulasekara bowled a length ball to the Indian captain. Dhoni saw it early and flailed his arms. He met the ball on the up and swung with all his might. As the ball flew skywards and over the long-on boundary; the captain stayed rooted in his follow-through, watching its descent, before it was lost among the spectators. Within moments, he was hugged by Yuvraj. India had conquered the world.
The players in the middle were soon joined by their teammates. Yuvraj and Harbhajan broke down and so did many others, on the field, in the stands, in the media box and in front of TV screens, in homes and restaurants and theatres, across the country. Outside the Wankhede, fans halted their cars in the middle of Marine Drive, Mumbai's best-known thoroughfare. They alighted and clambered on the bonnets and roofs of their own vehicles, as well as those belonging to others, to dance away to glory; there were traffic jams there and elsewhere in the country, but no one cared.
On the turf of the Wankhede, the Indian players surrounded their preceptor. A couple of them hoisted him on their shoulders and did a lap of the ground, surrounded by their teammates. Sachin Tendulkar has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years. It was time we carried him. - Virat Kohli (after the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 Final)
As he acknowledged the deafening cheers of his home crowd, from atop the shoulders of his colleagues, Sachin may well have reflected on how and when it had all begun. It was only a few kilometres away, at the Shivaji Park, where his brother had introduced him to Achrekar in the summer of 1984; hardly a kilometre away from the Wankhede was the Azad Maidan, where he had been involved in that memorable partnership of 664; it was at the Brabourne Stadium, a five-minute walk from the Wankhede, where he had scored a triple hundred in an inter-school final and then excelled for the CCI in the Kanga League against men twice his age; it was at the Wankhede where a certain S.M. Gavaskar had first noticed him and earmarked him as a special talent. His aggregate of 482 from nine World Cup games was the second-highest in the tournament. Only Tillakaratne Dilshan was ahead of him with an aggregate of 500.
We had an excellent outfit in 2011. We strategized, practised hard and most importantly, translated all that into performance on the field. Our performances kept getting better as the tournament progressed and peaked at precisely the right time. What we felt when the captain hit the winning six in the final was indescribable. I was touched when members of the team 'dedicated' the win to me. These are moments I will never ever forget. - Sachin Tendulkar, World Champions, BCCI, 2011.
For Sachin, as for the others, the World Cup win was the pinnacle of his career. It was a triumph he had set up, not only with his superlative batting in the league stage, but also with everything that he had accomplished since the 1990s. The likes of Ganguly, Dravid, Kumble, Laxman and Srinath had also motivated the 1990s' generation, but Sachin's impact was by far the greatest. He would have liked to have made a more substantial contribution to the victory in the summit clash, but then, what had happened was in a way, quite appropriate. His younger colleagues had completed what he had initiated several years previously.
After the World Cup win, Sachin had an opportunity to draw the curtains on an extraordinary cricketing career on as memorable a note as one could possibly imagine. He had scaled most of the peaks that every cricketer beheld and dreamt of conquering at the start of his career. His team had first scaled the summit in Tests by topping the ICC rankings and had now pocketed the biggest prize in limited-overs cricket. Coincidentally, both those peaks had been conquered in Mumbai, his birthplace and home, where he had seen his first cricketing dreams and begun his quest to realize them. It was a classic case of fact being grander than fiction. Even the most creative screenwriter could not have possibly done better than that.
Despite battling a succession of injuries and niggles, the frequency of which had increased of late, he had been in the form of his life in the previous four seasons. But then, sport was inherently fickle in nature. Combating a bad patch in one's late thirties was not quite the same as doing so in one's late twenties. Three weeks after the triumph, Sachin turned 38. This was the age at which Sunil Gavaskar had hung up his boots; Vivian Richards, Sachin's other hero, had quit at 39. Sachin had of course played a lot more international cricket than both his idols.
Batting-wise, both the legends had been in excellent nick when they chose to abdicate. Gavaskar had scored his maiden ODI hundred in just over 80 deliveries, in what was his penultimate game for India, and Richards had scored a 50 in each of his last five Tests against England in 1991. Their retirements did upset many people, but both believed that it was better to go when people would ask 'Why' rather than 'Why not'.
It seemed the right time for Sachin to go. Of course, the final decision would have to be his.
He chose to continue.
Excerpted with permission of Rupa Publications India from Hero: A Biography of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar by Devendra Prabhudesai. Available in bookstores and online.