Sport on TV: A great spectacle puts everyone else in the shade


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The Independent Online

Some say the Sky is falling in after BT Sport's hijacking of the Champions' League broadcasting rights. Yet without the satellite platform we might not have seen Sachin Tendulkar's 200th and final Test match (Sky Sports 2, Thursday). They have been faithfully delivering cricket from all corners of the old empire since early 1990, coinciding with all but three months of the Little Master's remarkable 24-year career.

Not all of it has involved England either, far from it. Sky Sports' pundits have got up in the small hours to keep Charles Colvile company and pontificate about Yuvraj Singh and Dale Steyn and even Mpumelelo Mbangwa without batting a heavy eyelid. Cricket-aholics have drunk their fills and spills, and this is their champagne moment.

Certainly in the studio Dominic Cork looked like he was about to pop, while Rob Key seemed fit to burst too – but then he always does. Everyone was rather tripping over themselves as the clock counted down from 200 in the appropriately named Wankhede Stadium. Colvile asked cryptically: "How on earth are we ever going to expect to see anything different, or the same, from Sachin when we consider life in the future?" Over on the local broadcaster Star, Harsha Bhogle intoned mystifyingly: "On a misty Mumbai morning it's all drawing to a close. The sun is setting on one of Mumbai's favourite sons." By this time Key must have wondering if he was meeting himself going to bed.

It was a good job they were counting down from 200 because Tendulkar had to rush back up the long flight of steps to the dressing-room to retrieve the special cap he had just been presented with. It's a dash that many England players have made in the past, though for a different reason. No need to hurry; the West Indies opener Chris Gayle is so laid-back that he hadn't reached the crease by the time the countdown expired.

Tendulkar is probably as close as a sportsman can get to being a god – Sir David Beckham please note, you've got nothing on Sachin and his billion or so worshippers (see below) – and it seemed that some higher power was writing the script: Gayle hit the first ball of the match straight to Tendulkar at square leg; a huge cheer went up. He threw it to his team-mate and his shades fell to the ground; another huge cheer. Has anyone ever received such a rapturous reception when their glasses fell off?

Four hours later, the little big man came out to bat and was roared to the crease. It was an extraordinary moment. He was accorded a guard of honour and even the two umpires joined in. One of them, Nigel Llong, had erroneously given him out in the previous game; this time he was no doubt keeping his index finger firmly in his pocket. Otherwise an entire city would have burned. But it made clapping a bit difficult.

Colvile had recalled John Arlott's commentary on the last innings of Don Bradman. After he had been applauded all the way to the wicket and given three cheers by England, Arlott mused: 0"I wonder how you see the ball at all." The Don, of course, got a duck, thereby missing out on the four runs he needed to end up with an average of exactly 100.

Sachin, meanwhile, took a wild heave at his third ball and squirted it down to deep square leg. It might have been the ugliest shot this most elegant of batsmen had ever played. A moment of madness, but he was up and running. A billion people signed with relief; the resulting wind would have put out the biggest of fires.

Tendulkar was in imperious mood, as it happened. And even when his partner scored a run there was loud acclaim as it meant their man was back on strike. He looked certain to get a century but it was not to be. He is obviously not the only god. When he was out, for a second the deathly quiet was deafening. The tumult returned as he trudged back to the pavilion. And the rest was silence.