(This story is from The Quint’s archives and is being republished to mark Sachin Tendulkar’s birthday)
Scene: India lose to Australia in the final of the 2003 World Cup final. The team flies back in economy class from Johannesburg to Mumbai, as all business class seats are booked. Sachin is harassed by fans on the eight-hour flight.
Had Buddha, the symbol of serenity and cool composure, seen Sachin Tendulkar’s extraordinary performance on the flight back, he would have been immensely pleased. The Lord may not have clapped – that apparently was not his style – but a minor nod of head would have conveyed the approval for Tendulkar's monumental patience.
The circumstances were extremely trying. Here he was, a day after a crushing defeat in the final against Australia made worse by a forgettable batting effort, surrounded by disappointed cricket fans, all of whom had paid huge money to make the trip to South Africa.
In the economy section of the flight, Tendulkar was seated on 38B, bang in the middle of a noisy mob with only Harbhajan Singh, Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan providing some protection. His misery began even before the seat belt sign was switched on; efforts to put head down and hide was defeated by fans/passengers who sensed a golden opportunity to click a photo and get something signed.
For the next three hours, Tendulkar did precisely this even through dinner. He would push some food into his mouth with his left hand, then drop the fork to sign something, then resume eating. Strangers patted him on the back, put their arms around him, grabbed his hand – did everything short of tearing him to bits.
Not for a moment did he show the slightest hint of irritation. No autograph was refused, no request for a photograph turned down. On the flight, Tendulkar was a caged celebrity on display – he had no escape, no cover, nowhere to go.
Stressed out after a draining tournament, Tendulkar needed rest and anonymity but instead he had to endure this. Yet, such was his composure that he greeted everyone politely and did what was asked of him with grace and humility.
With everyone moving towards Tendulkar, armed with miniature bats and shirts to sign, normal activity on the aircraft went for a toss. Air hostesses had a tough time coping with this unusual turbulence, they could barely take a step without colliding with passengers who should have been sitting with seat belts on. However, some airline staff enjoyed the chaos.
Normal flights are boring, uneventful, routine. At least there is raunaq today!An air hostess
With Sachin providing live entertainment, the in-flight film was ignored by passengers. Once the film ended and the screens flickered dead, coffee and liqueur were served and the lights dimmed as passengers prepared for sleep.
Virender Sehwag slept, undisturbed by the gadar around him. Dinesh Mongia read Lance Amrstrong’s story about battling cancer. Sanjay Bangar tried valiantly to calm his two-year-old son Aryan. Parthiv Patel worried about his class 12 exam in Ahmedabad two days away.
Through all this, Tendulkar was still busy signing autographs half asleep, looking into cameras one last time for one more fan. Seeing this, seated two rows to his left, said a concerned Anil Kumble, “Just imagine what would have happened had we won the Cup!”
After landing in Mumbai when I congratulated Tendulkar for his extraordinary patience his response stunned me. “Kya fayda? Patience wicket par honi chahiye thi,” referring to his dismissal in the final.
(Amrit Mathur is a senior journalist, former GM of the BCCI and Manager of the Indian Cricket Team. He can be reached at @AmritMathur1)