Anyone who has followed Tendulkar's career closely, and many have, would remember the pain of 1996, 1999 and 2003. His very first batting line-up was Shastri, Srikkanth, Azhar, Tendulkar, Kambli, Manjrekar, Kapil and Kiran More. Not the best batting line-up but a combination chosen because of the 1985 B & H cup success. And in his very first world cup appearance Tendulkar went down the way Umar Akmal went down against India in the semi-final. With Shastri occupying so many deliveries, Tendulkar was forced to up the scoring rate and was out caught behind. India never really got going that tournament. The only matches we won in that entire world cup (against Pakistan and Zimbabwe) Tendulkar was the MoM - and a superb 81 against NZ going to waste because of Greatbatch's heroics. No Indian fan really expected India to win the world cup. The team had 3 ex-captains and were generally screwed even before the cup began. But that was the beginning of new India. As the oft-repeated cliche goes. A new economic India was born, The cable TV era began with Star TV coming to India. Liberating us from License Raj and DD. Sachin Tendulkar and A.R. Rahman were introduced to the new India. My generation began to dream.
1996 was to me was the ultimate Tendulkar's World Cup. It was a world cup where we had a real chance. And Tendulkar represented that chance. Anybody who was in college during the time - became part of the Tendulkar generation. He became the reason for watching cricket. And how? In New Zealand, thanks to N.S. Siddhu - who went on to be the worst T.V. commentator ever - we had discovered that Sachin could open and do a Greatbatch. Here was one man who could challenge anybody. The rest were humans. But Sachin was a cricketing god who could tame any team. Even Ambrose went for an economy rate of over 5 an over. McGrath was taken apart in Mumbai. Every single game barring the Pakistan game became a Tendulkar show. He was the highest scorer in the tournament scoring an amazing 523 runs. It was the one man batting line-up with Siddhu, Manjrekar, Azhar, Kambli, Jadeja, Mongia merely acting as props. Unsurprisingly no other Indian was in the top 20 highest scorers list. To put it simply, if Tendulkar failed. Game over. No one would forget the dropped catch in Gwalior by Bravo when Sachin was on 44. That won us the match. The stumping of a wide ball against M. Waugh was stuff of Greek tragedy. In that context - that we reached the semi finals was a super human effort. It showed the distance that one man could carry a average team. In a square turner of a pitch not very un-similar to what Gavaskar played his last innings on. Tendulkar tragically got stumped in the most freakish way possible. Game over. It was probably the saddest moment of my teenage years. No one in my age-group knew how the 1983 felt like. We wanted another one. And we had to wait.
1999. 5AM. A bunch of grad school students in Columbus, Ohio who had installed dish antenna illegally woke up to find out Tendulkar not in the team. Why? It took a while for the commentators to mention his personal tragedy. The only match he wasn't with the team - we managed to lose to Zimbabwe. Damn Sadagopan Ramesh. You may be Thamizh but I will never forgive you for that indiscretion. Even after Jadeja told you not to swing wildly, you did, and you gave away the game. That was the reason we didn't make the semi finals. This was a world cup where we actually had a batting line-up. It was the new generation batting line-up that had the core 3 batsman. This core would go on to redefine the country's cricketing future. Ganguly, Tendulkar, Dravid were that core nucleaus who were teamed with S. Ramesh, Azhar, Jadeja, Robin Singh. It seemed like a decent line-up on paper but the batting machine took a while to start given Sachin's absence and our fate was sealed by the time the first two matches of the world cup were over.
2003 was the world cup of the awesome Tendulkar and the cup of bad captaincy decisions. We started by leaving out Laxman in favor of Dinesh Mongia. No matter what anyone says India's 2003 campaign was a 1-man effort. The only difference between 1996 and 2003 was that it was no more Tendulkar Vs India. It was more of Tendulkar vs the other team with Indians finally learning how to close matches without choking after their best batsman got out. There was finally some value to the 4th, 5th and 6th batsman (there was no value from the other opener and Ganguly). Sachin started with a 80 against Zimbabwe, went on to hand back Caddick a new ass, and hit some incredible 90s against Pak, SL and NZ. 673 runs. A level of maniacal scoring that surpasses any other sporting achievement I have seen. That we reached the finals inspite of Sehwag and Ganguly sucking beyond belief is a testament to the superhuman efforts of 1 man. And then the finals became Tendulkar Vs India. Again. This time we had a colossal moron of a captain who couldn't score crap against any test playing nation. And upon winning the toss and he chose to field. The least this totally useless fellow could have done is at least not cause us pain. To me - we lost the match then. To a few others we lost the match after Zaheer's frst over. To most the match was beyond over by lunch. I wonder why we walked out to bat. Might as well have completed the presentation ceremony at lunch. Only a few retarded morons thought the match was over after Tendulkar got out in the first over. To see him answer questions asked of him the post-match interview after winning the MVP award was heart-wrenching. It was the most painful thing. More painful than Ian Chappell sadistically torturing Lance Klusner when he won the 1999 MVP award.
2007: We deserved to lose. If there is a captain or a coach who thought that Sehwag or Ganguly (or anyone else) are better ODI openers than Sachin Tendulkar - neither of them deserve anything better than a first round exit. I cannot think of a cricketing strategy that has statistically failed more times, more reliably and more painfully than Tendulkar at #4. This suggestion alone is a high confidence indicator that the person suggesting it has no cricketing brains. I was glad that our exit was as shameful as it turned out to be.
And there we were. In the Quarter finals of the world cup 2011 against Australia. India was still undecided about Sachin Vs India. In the two matches against Eng and South Africa - India successfully pulled off a strong resistance to Sachin's efforts to win us the match. This Indian team had the best batting line-up I have ever seen in any team in any world cup. Every single person was capable of changing the match in their own right. So when Sachin was walking back towards the pavilion after getting caught behind to tait - I was thinking - is this the end? Has all the pain come to naught? Will the greatest batsman of my generation not win the world cup. Then Gautham Gambhir my pre-tournament favorite player stepped up his act. Then Yuvraj and then Raina. Finally it looked like this was India Vs the other team (way better than just Sachin Vs the other team). The icing on the cake was him winning the 3rd MoM award in a total of 5 WC clashes against Pakistan. To me beating Pakistan was high up the priority list. That Tendulkar screwed them over thrice in 5 times was a glorious achievement. Pakistan stand comprehensively defeated by India for the past 15 years. That Javed Miandad Six is buried somewhere in Chetan Sharma's retirement fund.
There were several points in the QF, Semis and Finals where I just couldn't bear the tension. This is the best world cup I have seen and featured some of the best matches involving India. Every single match against a test playing nation was closely contested, could have gone either way and was tense as hell. I am glad we won it the way we did. Just disappointed that Sachin didn't hit a 100 in the finals and take us over the line. Ironically his world cup campaign started in 1992 with a caught behind to Stewart and ended with a caught behind to Sangakara. But as a consolation price my 2nd favorite player stepped up his game and made sure all the bets I kept with anyone I knew didn't go to waste. Virat Kohli summed up the entire history of Tendulkar at the post-match interviews with one powerful line. And I can't believe he was this articulate so naturally. No one could have come up with that line even if they were given a day to prepare. And he said it causally - "Sachin has carried the nation on his shoulders for 21 years, it is time we carried him on our shoulders". They did that literally and metaphorically through their performances. It was the happiest day of my life. After almost a decade of cynicism I truly became a believer. Sachin was the only person I watched the game for. If he retired I may not watch cricket at all. He was the filter through which I enjoyed cricket and I am glad there was a happy ending.
P.s: Contrary to what experts are saying - I don't think this win completes Sachin's list of achievements. To me his cupboard is only 50% full. Lack of Test series wins in Australia and South Africa is a failure that frankly must make him feel ashamed of his 21 year old effort. I fully blame him for the 2007 loss in South Africa (which got re-confirmed later in 2010) and 2003 loss in Melbourne. He had his greatest chance to close out the series in India's favor and he failed. I'd be very surprised if Sachin himself viewed those failures any differently. He may repair the Australian record by beating a dead team this winter but I doubt if he'd be able to get a series victory in South Africa before he retires. That is a bigger gap than a world cup win. But thats for another day.