I was at the Sydney Cricket Ground in January 2004 when Steve Waugh played his final Test. It was the last match in a four-Test series and Waugh, the Australia captain, had only to walk out of the pavilion or touch the peak of his baggy green cap or pick up the ball and throw it back to the wicketkeeper for the stadium to erupt in applause.
The Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, where Sachin Tendulkar will play his final Test from 14 November, seats 12,500 fewer spectators than the Sydney Cricket Ground. But expect the din to be louder, more relentless and laden as much with hysteria as with a sense of – to borrow from the commentator and former Australian cricketer Matthew Hayden – a nation’s frantic appeal to one man for one more miracle.
The reverberations will be felt across the country. They are already being felt – and not just in terms of the cricket. In the wealthy but murky corridors of Indian cricket administration, no one will say if Tendulkar – like Waugh – was told that he should make this his final Test and retire rather than risk being dropped (in Tendulkar’s case, from the forthcoming series against South Africa).
The Indian cricket board has long had no love for Test cricket (other than in the brief period when India was ranked number one in that format of the game), preferring instead the far more popular Twenty20 and even 50-overs-a-side formats. Yet this was an opportunity to create a grand stage for a grand farewell. This was a chance to make money from a Test match against a lowly opposition. This was, perhaps, the opportunity to get the Tendulkar retirement issue out of the way, as well.
So the West Indies series was conjured up. The tour to South Africa was pushed back. Tendulkar duly announced his retirement. It was decided that the final Test would be played in Mumbai, Tendulkar’s home ground. If there was a quid pro quo, no one was breathing a word about it.
The Wankhede Stadium is expected to be full – now a rare occurrence for a Test match in India. More than ticket sales, however, the big money comes from advertisers on television. Indian papers have reported that ads for a ten-second TV spot are likely to be sold at a premium of 200 to 300 per cent.
The hospitality industry is ready to exploit the event in every way it can, with bars and restaurants rolling out special offers and menus and showing the match on big screens.
It is not just about the money. This will be a game that everyone will want to remember. That is a reflection of what Tendulkar means to India.
A special postage stamp will be issued for his final Test. A commemorative coin will be used for the toss. There will be Tendulkar masks for spectators. In Kolkata, the venue of his 199th Test, a tableau commemorating the high points of Tendulkar’s career will travel across the city.
The cricketer is reported to have requested 500 tickets for friends and relatives for the Wankhede Test. He has also asked for the construction of a special ramp for his wheelchair-bound mother, who has never seen him play in a stadium before.
The noise surrounding his final Test will grow and grow in the coming weeks. The match will mark the end of the career of India’s greatest sporting legend. It will also be the last chance for everyone to make as much as they can out of Indian cricket’s first global brand and wealthiest sportsperson.
Soumya Bhattacharya is editor of the Hindustan Times (Mumbai) and the author of “Why India Can Never Do Without Cricket” (Peakpublish, £9.99)