LONDON – In For Love of the Game, Billy Chapel, played by Kevin Costner, stands on the pitcher's mound and the play announcer says: "You get the feeling that Billy Chapel isn't pitching against left-handers, he isn't pitching against pinch-hitters, he isn't pitching against the Yankees. He's pitching against time.
"He's pitching against the future, against age, and even when you think about his career, against ending. And tonight I think he might be able to use that aching old arm one more time to push the sun back up in the sky and give us one more day of summer."
For 68 minutes on Friday morning at the Wankhede Stadium, Sachin Tendulkar reached back to the halcyon years, playing the kind of innings that the adoring thousands in the stands will never forget.
Watched by his mother, face as impassive as her son's, and his wife, her mood fluctuating with every imperious stroke and each play-and-miss, he made his way to 74 before he was cramped for room when trying to cut a delivery from West Indies' Narsingh Deonarine. The ball flew head-high to first slip, where Darren Sammy took an outstanding reflex catch.
After several seconds of sepulchral silence, the crowd rose. The ovation carried on long after Tendulkar was back in the dressing room, having stopped briefly to raise his bat in acknowledgement of support that has never been less than fervent in the 24 years that he has played for India.
Then, Virat Kohli smacked the first ball he faced for four to suggest that Tendulkar's departure wouldn't send Indian cricket into a funk.
But while he was out there, thousands who had been queueing since 7am soaked up every second. A feisty cut and nifty sweep off Shane Shillingford set off Brownian motion in the stands, and when a perfect off-drive off Tino Best took him to the 68th half-century of his career, the stand that bears Tendulkar's name became an impromptu mosh pit.
Arjun, his son, had prevailed on the authorities to let him be one of the ball boys, a task the illustrious father had performed at this very venue during the 1987 World Cup.
And as he watched eagerly, the highlight of the morning was the joust between his old man and Best, pace bowler turned vaudeville villain. Tendulkar played one majestic back-foot punch through the covers, but was also, twice, late on the upper-cut over the slips.
The first time, Best ran off in the direction of point, convinced he had his man. Richard Kettleborough, the umpire who used to bowl to Tendulkar in the nets when he was Yorkshire's first overseas professional (1992), was not remotely interested.
On the second occasion, Best doubled up, visibly dejected. As he crossed him mid-pitch at the end of the over, Tendulkar playfully punched him on the shoulder. Twice. Best smiled.
There was then a gorgeous on-drive off Shannon Gabriel before what, for the crowd, was the unkindest cut of all.
But for Tendulkar, perhaps the greatest satisfaction would have come from the performances of three men who grew up wanting to be him. Cheteshwar Pujara carried on to collect his fifth Test century, while Kohli stroked a fluent 57. Both are only 25.
Rohit Sharma, the Mumbai boy who is a year older, made a century on debut in Kolkata last week. He was on 44 when R Ashwin, the last recognised batsman, was dismissed. He farmed the strike expertly and went on to make an unbeaten 111 off just 127 balls.
The Little Master may not bat again, but Indian cricket's future is safe in his proteges' hands. – The Guardian