Tendulkar begins final stretch

All eyes on the master batsman as champs Mumbai take on Haryana at Lahli

Tendulkar begins final stretch

The drive through the clamorous and congested Rohtak looked endless until it broke into a long stretch of quietude and paddy fields. The brick houses, the odd straying cattle, and grinding noise of tractors unfolded the hitherto little known village of Lahli.

It is here the great Sachin Tendulkar will be taking his first step towards his retirement from Test cricket -- appearing in a Ranji Trophy match for defending champions Mumbai against Haryana, starting from Sunday.

It was still early in the morning but crowd at the Chaudhary Bansi Lal Stadium was already swelling despite the intimidating presence of a stream of khaki-clad police officials. Excitement was unmistakable and passers by peered through car windows hoping to catch a glimpse of the master.

For Lahli, the presence of Tendulkar was no less than a festive occasion. Inside the stadium, work progressed at a frenetic pace. The smell of fresh paint and woodwork wafted through the air. Adjacent to the Mumbai dressing room, an entire wall was painted in a riot of colours depicting various moments of Tendulkar’s illustrious 24 –year-old career. It seemed every corner of the stadium awaited the master’s arrival.

A hustle of footsteps, craned necks and fluttering cameras ended the wait. Tendulkar, clad in yellow and blue team jersey entered the stadium in a disciplined queue -- a short frame accompanied by a cavalcade of black-dressed officials. There was joy for the waiting fans as Tendulkar waved to the large group of eager fans.

The whole of Saturday his presence dictated the pace and movement at the stadium. There were constant updates on Tendulkar, whether he was padding up at nets or batting or bowling or fielding. The scores of police officials appointed for security, too, struggled to suppress the fan within them and soon were out with their mobile phones to catch him in action.

Away from the mania, Haryana practiced almost unnoticed. The contest, they understood, was all about Tendulkar. Ajay Jadeja, former India player and one-time teammate of Tendulkar, is making a comeback to domestic cricket at 42 while leading the side. He was all praise for his former team-mate but saw it as a wonderful opportunity for his boys to play against someone like Tendulkar.

He insisted his wards were professional and eager to make a match of it on a traditionally seamer-friendly track. Jadeja preferred to remember Haryana’s victory in the 1991 Ranji Trophy final over Mumbai, which also included Tendulkar, at the Wankhede Stadium. Jadeja was a part of that team, which would be felicitated on Sunday.

It would be first time since that 1991 final Tendulkar would be playing against Haryana. Captain Zaheer Khan admitted the team was having mixed feelings of seeing the master play his last tie for Mumbai. But Tendulkar had told the team to only focus on the match. It might come easy for the professionals but not for the fans, who would turn out to see the phenomenon called Sachin Tendulkar in action -- knowing that final moments of Tendulkar’s professional career begin here.

The teams:  Mumbai: Zaheer Khan (Capt), Abhishek Nayar, Sachin Tendulkar, Wasim Jaffer, Ajinkya Rahane, Kaustab Pawar, Hiken Shah, Aditya Tare, Dhawal Kulkarni, Iqbal Abdulla, Vishal Dabholkar,Sufiyan Shaikh, Siddhesh Lad, Javed Khan, Balwinder Sandhu (Junior).

Haryana: Ajay Jadeja (Capt), Rahul Dewan, Abhimanyu Khod, Sunny Singh, Nitin Saini, Sachin Rana, Rahul Dalal, Joginder Sharma, Jayant Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Harshal Patel, Ashish Hooda, Mohit Sharma, Sanjay Badhwar, Sandeep Singh and Avi Barot.
Umpires: K Bharatan and Shahvir Tarapore; Third umpire: Nikhil Parwardhan; Match Referee: Sanjay Rahul.

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