The thread that binds Wankhede’s World Cup history – Hindustan Times

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It has been a decade since Sachin Tendulkar ended his glorious career at the Wankhede Stadium, carried on the shoulders of his teammates into retirement. But there is no taking Tendulkar out of his den. There’s already a stand named after him, and now a life-size statue has been installed.
It was almost a decade ago – November 17, 2013 – but feels like yesterday that grown-up men stood moist-eyed as Tendulkar bid farewell to his 24-year career with a ‘My life between 22 years’ speech. As a revamped Wankhede readies to add another chapter to its World Cup history on Saturday, Tendulkar is very much a common thread in its evolution.
The Tendulkar stand came up while he was still playing and he will be present at the unveiling of his statue. Erected between stands named after him and Vijay Merchant, it depicts Tendulkar holding the pose after playing a lofted shot over the bowler’s head. Few could loft a fast bowler with poise like he did in his pomp.
“The idea is that the younger generation should not forget the past. With a Sachin statue in place, they can dream to follow in his footsteps,” Ajinkya Naik, MCA secretary, said.
There’s more of Tendulkar in Mumbai cricket. The association’s (MCA) clubhouse in the suburbs is named after him. Tendulkar grew in the game hitting hundreds at the Wankhede – he scored a century on Ranji Trophy debut at his home ground. During the 1987 World Cup semi-final between England and India – co-hosts with Pakistan and trying to retain the title — Tendulkar was close to the action, serving as a ball boy.
Nine years later, India hosted its second World Cup – with Pakistan and Sri Lanka — and Mumbai fans got their first taste of cricket under the floodlights. “It was a totally different experience. That’s where the game changed,” says former Mumbai skipper Milind Rege, who was there as a spectator in 1996. “I had seen floodlit cricket in Australia before. But for most at the stadium that day, as the lights slowly came on, they watched with fascination.” Tendulkar had the Australian bowlers at his mercy until he was stumped on 90 off a wide delivery by Mark Waugh bowling his occasional off-spin. India lost the game, although they went on to reach the semi-finals.
Tendulkar and India, try as much as they did, could not put their act together at ODI World Cups. Until 2011, his fifth World cup, when India next got a chance to throw a victory party on home soil. At 37, it was Tendulkar’s last chance. The final was to be played at the Wankhede. But would the stadium be ready?
“The whole stadium was dug up and we had to finish the work in 21 months or so,” said Rege, the tournament manager. Although Sharad Pawar was the president of the International Cricket Council (ICC) as well as the Mumbai association, the work deadlines were strict and were listed on a sheet of paper.
The ground finally became ready and Indian cricket kept its April 2 date with destiny. MS Dhoni’s Cup-winning six in the final against Sri Lanka will be immortalised come Saturday at those seats in the MCA pavilion where the ball landed. Tendulkar’s heir apparent Virat Kohli would carry the cricket icon on his shoulders as the India team took a thanksgiving round of the stadium with the trophy.
Twelve years on, it’s World Cup time again. The worn outfield has been relaid, the dressing room and hospitality boxes made more luxurious, the turnstiles upgraded and greater spectator comfort promised. “MCA has put its best foot forward to make the Wankhede Stadium worthy of the glory that it strongly has and deserves,” said MCA president Amol Kale.
Wankhede’s capacity of 33,000 dwarfs it compared to the country’s biggest stadiums, but its storied history (Mumbai has produced many India captains and the team has won 41 Ranji titles) ensures the right cricket fabric and a knowledgeable support base. And Tendulkar is as big as it gets in the game.
Rasesh Mandani loves a straight drive. He has been covering cricket, the governance and business side of sport for close to two decades. He writes and video blogs for HT.


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