All eyes are on Lahli, a sleepy town near Rohtak, where Sachin Tendulkar is playing his last Ranji Trophy game for Mumbai against Haryana. The tournament propelled him on to the national stage when he hit a hundred, on his debut, against Gujarat in 1988.
One distinctly remembers the build-up before the Ranji Trophy began that year. Sachin was playing for the Cricket Club of India (CCI) in local tournaments in Bombay and had piled tons of runs and had put on an unbroken 664-run record partnership with Vinod Kambli in the Harris Shield. The weekend before the Bombay squad was to be picked, CCI played a match against New Hind Sporting, a strong local team.
As Bombay selectors watched the match at the Brabourne Stadium, Sachin came in to bat at his designated number four spot and attacked the New Hind bowlers, some of who were first-class cricketers, from the first ball.
His wide array of strokeplay was evident that sultry afternoon and he looked all set to notch up a big score.
When he had 40-odd runs under his belt, he was adjudged caught behind while it was apparent to everyone except the umpire that the ball was nowhere near his bat! He walked back, solemnly, to the dressing room and was and was extremely upset that he got a bad one; especially as the selectors were watching the game and were to decide the 15-member Bombay squad in a few days.
There was no remonstration from him until he reached the privacy of the dressing room where he sat motionless, for a few moments, and burst into tears. It took a lot of cajoling from his teammates and seniors, who told him he was a certainty in the Bombay squad and that the selectors were aware he was short-changed.
Sachin had the 'this is not fair' expression on his young, cherubic face.
It is at that point in time that one realised that despite the reputation that Sachin had built, he was still a young kid whose aspirations were just like any teenager.
The selectors picked Sachin in the Bombay squad and, in a week's time, the 15-year old made history by becoming the youngest, first-class centurion on debut in Bombay cricket.
Sachin's 25-year old journey from Wankhede Stadium to Lahli has been more than eventful. A 100 international centuries, more runs in international cricket than any mortal who played cricket; reaching the milestone of 200 Test matches – God willing – is mind boggling.
As he rides into the sunset of a glorious career, Sachin's Mumbai teammates would be more than eager to give a fitting farewell to the Master at Lahli in his last Ranji Trophy game.
They are the unfortunate lot who will not be able to watch the Master when he walks out to play his final Test match at the Wankhede Stadium on November 14. They will be busy locking horns with Delhi, their old rivals, in a Ranji Trophy league fixture slotted on the same day.
(The writer is a former Cricket Club of India captain and Bombay University cricketer)