Eden awaits a fairytale Sachin swansong

Kolkata, Nov 3 (IANS) It has watched him weave magic both with the bat and the ball, and reach one milestone after another. And now the historic Eden Gardens, one of the world's most splendid cricketing venues, has one last wish: to witness one of the games' greatest, Sachin Tendulkar, script a memorable swan song innings.

The stage is set for Tendulkar to take guard in the 22 yards of the hallowed stadium for one last time in the India-West Indies Test beginning Nov 6. It ends a 22-year colourful association marked by ecstasy, unmatched adulation, controversies, and a few heartbreaks.

From becoming the highest run getter, to surpassing 5,000 and 10,000 Test runs, Eden has seen Tendulkar's mastery with the willow. But the Mumbaikar also lived up to his tag as 'man with the golden arm', by shining with the ball on multiple occasions.

A staggering 1,358 runs - highest by any individual - have come of Tendulkar's blade in 13 ODIs and 12 Test matches at the ground. He cracked half-centuries in his first outings in both forms of the game, helping India win the two matches.

India's first World Cup winning skipper Kapil Dev, Tendulkar's teammate in his maiden game at the Eden against Sri Lanka in the 1991 Asia Cup final, hoped for a great knock from the maestro.

"I'm very happy to see his enormous success. I was there when he first played here and hope to see him in action this time from the galleries," said Dev as he plans to come down to the city to watch Tendulkar in action.

Eden had watched in awe when Tendulkar authored a sublime 176 against the West Indies in 2002 that enabled India to earn a draw, while he powered the side to the 1993 Hero Cup Final with his bowling exploits.

Turning his arms in the 50th over, the little master conceded just three runs to halt South Africa's march.

Ex-India batsman Pravin Amre still vividly remembers the over.

"A deafening sound erupted each time Sachin ran to the bowling crease as he took India closer to victory with every delivery. The situation, the atmosphere, it can only be experienced," Amre told IANS.

In the final, Tendulkar had another big hurrah when he castled the great Brian Lara.

While everyone remembers V.V.S. Laxman's epic 281 against the mighty Australians in 2001, what went unnoticed is Tendulkar's three crucial wickets in the second innings which paved the way for India's fairytale comeback after an ignominous follow-on.

But his Eden sojourns have also seen a few controversies, with Tendulkar inadvertently becoming a catalyst for the crowd's ugly behaviour.

The 1996 World Cup India-Sri Lanka semi final was marred by the spectators' riotous behaviour which did not allow the game to be finished. The islanders were declared winner.

Chasing an attainable target of 252, Tendulkar's wicket after a royal 65 on a crumbling pitch, triggered a collapse, as seven wickets fell for 22 runs, fuelling the crowd fury. No play was possible after the fall of the eighth wicket in the 35th over.

Three years later, another crowd trouble led to an unprecedented sight at the Eden - a India-Pakistan Test match being completed in near silence after police cleared the galleries to quell violent protests over Tendulkar's strange dismissal.

Attempting a third run, Tendulkar collided with Pakistan pacer Shoaib Akhtar as the throw from the deep hit the stumps, with the batsman short of his ground. Immediately, the stands erupted over the Pakistan players "not showing sportsman spirit".

Tendulkar's repeated disapproval of the Eden sight screen height also created a mild furore, as his demand to raise the height further was frowned upon by the CAB bosses, who did not want to lose some seats.

"He often complained saying the bowler's hand at times went above the sight screen. Despite the reluctance, the height was finally increased by covering the seats behind the sight screen. It was possible only because it was Sachin," former CAB joint secretary Samar Pal told IANS.

Aside from the controversies, there were a few disappointments. Tendulkar's below 48 Test average - he has scored 862 runs from 12 Tests - and only three tons (one of them in One Dayer) is a shade below his best. He also lost the only Test he captained India at the Eden (against South Africa, 1996).

But as fans hope for a big knock from Tendulkar in his 199th and penultimate Test, Amre feels the man who has carried a billion hopes on his shoulders should be allowed to enjoy his farewell series.

"The heart wants a big knock from him. But let's not burden him with expectations. Allow him to enjoy his farewell series," added Amre.

(Anurag Dey can be contacted at deyvil@gmail.com)

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