Friday, 15 November 2013

What's Cricket In India Got To Do With Shrewsbury Today?

Photograph: Babu/Reuters
My Tonight From Shrewsbury is slightly thin on the ground when it comes to sport. It's covered the first ever Shrewsbury marathon [in fact covered it three times], and it's tried to make contact with the town's boxing club, but with no success.  Why then, you might ask yourselves, am I writing a post on cricket - and in India too - when not a single post has been written about cricket, football, swimming, athletics, judo or any number of other sports that happen here in Shrewsbury on a daily basis?

The answer lies in this photograph which I turned up this morning whilst reading the Guardian.  All these people, all these banners, and raised faces, and upturned hands and smiles - they're for one man, Sachin Tendulkar, who started playing cricket for his country back when the Berlin Wall was coming down, and yesterday stepped out for his 664th and final international appearance. 

Sport doesn't do a lot for me, but heroism does, and so does the  striving of the human spirit to leave its mark.  I love human interest stories and, over my Shrewsbury breakfast this morning, I certainly stumbled across a good one.  

Tendulkar's final match is taking place in India, against the West Indies. It started yesterday. As the Indian side, including the great man himself, prepared to enter the Wankhede Stadium, umpires and opponents alike formed into a two-line guard of honour for the forty year-old cricketer and his fellow team-mates.  'After breaking nearly every record in international cricket, scoring more runs and more centuries than any other player, Tendulkar seemed the calmest person in the stadium,' wrote Guardian journalist, Dileep Premachandran, in his news item, 'Adoring fans serenade the Little Master's parting shots'.  

Certainly, at the sight of Tendulkar, the 32,000 capacity stadium went wild.  Banners waved, fans roared and screamed and feet stamped. The West Indies went in to bat first, but it can't have been easy. The stadium roof was ringed by blown-up pictures, one for each of Tendulkar's fifty-one Test centuries.  Every time the great man moved to catch a ball, the sorts of roars broke out that you'd expect from a Cup Final's winning goal. 'We want Sachin' roared the crowd, along with ululations, chants and the boom of fans banging the hoardings in front of them.

Above the proceedings, a giant electronic screen showed messages from around the world. A tweet came up from England cricketer, Joe Root: 'Sachin made his debut before I was born. Then played in my test debut. Thank you Sachin.'

Why am I telling you all this, here on a blog which is all about Shrewsbury? In fact, why am I telling you anyway, when I seem to show so little interest in sport?  It's because reading the article and seeing the photograph with all those upturned faces made me cry.  Even before I read that Sachin Tendulkar's mother received a standing ovation from the crowd on this, the first match of her son's that she'd ever attended,  I had tears in my eyes.

Partly it was the unshowiness of Tendulkar that got to me.  Whilst the whole stadium was in ferment, the man himself remained extraordinarily calm. Partly, too, it was the longing for heroes that we all seem to have deep down inside, be they Nelson Mandela, JFK,  Mother Theresa or, indeed, Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt.  

But, most of all,  it was the quiet doggedness that made me cry.  I felt it the other day when I read about the jockey A.P.McCoy and his 4,000th win. There are people out there who don't just win the short, sharp sprint. They hunker down for the marathon.  They don't shout about what they're achieving either, or seek adulation. They just get on with it.  

In fact, for most of us that's our lives.  They're challenging and hard, full of ups and downs. Some matches we lose and occasionally there are some we win. But, win or lose, we go on doing what we have to.  

I'd like to think there's a bit of Sachin Tendulkar in all of us, even here in Shrewsbury.  A bit of A.P. McCoy too.   Races aren't just won somewhere else. Successes aren't just notched up by cricketing legends. Quietly and unheralded, Shrewsbury people notch up triumphs every day. Maybe no one sees them happening and no crowds come to cheer. But that's not what doing it is all about. Even in this media age with its hunger for heroes, a job seen through to the end can bring its own rewards. 

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