New Delhi: "Aapne score kyon poocha?", Why did you ask for the score, aggressively and loudly addressed to me, with fists almost bunched up, by the large, well-built, prosperous middle-aged gent sitting behind me, in the plush corporate box at Feroz Shah Kotla Delhi, moments after Sachin Tendulkar got out. Leg before wicket for 76 well-made runs to 'some' Bishoo. This, moments after I had walked into the stadium, breathless, with spouse in tow, and asked loudly, anxiously how much is Sachin on? In Dilli lingo, 'Oye Sachin kitne pe hai?'
Needless to say, my neighbour-in-the-box was not amused. My good self had walked into the box breathless from traipsing up three flights of stairs, after having leapt out of car, after having negotiated bad South Delhi traffic, on a dream off day, all in search of the Sachin tri-ton mystique. And I had committed the cardinal sin, cast an evil eye.
Then it struck me... the Kotla roar I had grown up on - from Kumble's magic ten, to Sachin's 35th ton some years ago - was missing in action. Instead there were muted, sporadic roars, and cheers, and jeers (those last for the bowler who got Sachin, and the Windies in general).
Dupont executive Bharat Sharma and his techie wife clicked pictures on their mobile phone cameras leaning over our third floor balcony, trying to catch the slightly disheartened Sachin, trudging back with bat held usual style, shoulders not slumped but not exactly exuding the familiar confident swagger. 'Saali ..expletive deleted' ball ko abhi neeche rehna thaa, (did that ball have to stay low now), couldn't it have been Laxman,' said a bearded kurta pajama from another corner, loudly, spitting paan.
Soon someone else said, "ok ok ok, now that Sachin's gone, the game can go on".
The liveried butler type flopped down the stairs from the pavilion staircase and inspected our 'corporate box passes' purloined from a connected colleague who couldn't make it. She and her spouse were here on Day 1 when India had actually lost the plot.
Butler and one a track-suited policeman on duty, with strangely positioned revolver in holster, informed us that beer was served in this select pavilion only for IPL and ODI matches, not for Tests. Don't know whether that's true, but it sure is a comment on where the cricket is all headed.
On the pitch, the forever low profile Laxman wristily glided the ones and twos, to help India romp home, in the company of the equally wristy but occasionally bludgeoning Yuvraj (a lofted boundary over mid-on brought back the roars). The traditionally raucous and rowdy Delhi Gate north stand however, went towards expletives concerning the opponents' forefathers; For they had dared to take the wicket of Sachin.
None of this could console my neighbour. As the lunch interval was called with some twenty odd runs to go. (Expletive) "lunch bhee ho gaya, ab game khatam". He looked at me meaningfully; cursed some more with his companion, and cleared out.
We hung back, peered at the players' enclosure, as the people in the stands kept chanting 'Sachin Sachin...' and hoping the hero would give audience. But no, only his avatar to be, Virat came by and was soon mobbed by autograph-seekers.
Perhaps, we should all keep looking at Virat, and leave alone that 'other', Who Shall Not Be Named. Superstition will haunt that hundred of hundreds, to happen when it will. Where it will. Probably Mirpur, Kandy or faraway Bulawayo, somewhere the TV cameras will not be able to ask somebody's maa, Sachin ne sau shatak banaaye, aapko kaisa lagaa?
Because waiting we all are for that day, Sachin Ramesh, make no bones about it.