More words are being written about Sachin Tendulkar's retirement than perhaps any other cricketer in history. As most cricket fans know all his batting feats at the top of their minds anyway, many eulogies are focussing on the impact he has had on India outside of the numbers he has racked up on the field. Here is my take on why India loves him so much.
Cricketing heroes have always had superstar status in India, rivaling most top Bollywood celebrities. Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev had demi-god status during their heyday. MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli are the new age super celebs. This begs the question, how (and more importantly why) has India's love for Sachin been different than any other cricketer. While his great feats on the field, his longevity in the game and his gentlemanly nature are major contributors, there are some other more subtle aspects to Sachin that, I feel, are also a part of the reason why Indians love him like no other.
Throughout it's history, the Indian cricket team's strength had always been it's batting. While we always had good batsmen who made loads of runs periodically, the lineup was mostly brittle and crumbled under pressure against good bowling attacks and overseas. When Sachin took international cricket by storm in the early 90's, he became India's most consistent batsman after Gavaskar. And while Gavaskar had mostly helped India draw Test matches with his big hundreds, Sachin was helping India win ODI games (and occasionally Test matches as well). Throughout the 90's, Sachin used to be India's sole hope of winning tough games against good teams. Sachin gone, game gone. Heartbeats across the nation used to rise when Sachin came into bat. Everyone knew that one false shot from his bat will result in India's loss. Every Indian fan who followed Indian cricket in the 90's is witness to the extreme nervousness that used to run through their veins when Sachin came out to bat. It was as if the whole nation was batting with him. The whole nation rejoiced when he hit a four or six as if every one of us hit it. And all of us lost hope when he got out. We have had many great batsman in India after 2000, who have single handedly won India countless games. But in all their cases, we knew that they were not our only hope. If Sehwag got out, Yuvraj would come in. If Kohli got out, Dhoni would come in. But in the 90's, Sachin was India and India was Sachin. This connected Indian fans emotionally to his batting like never before.
Perhaps another subtle reason was his personality and demeanor. Tendulkar has always looked younger than his age. When he started at the age of 16, he looked like a 12 year old. His boyish charm endeared him to women and elderly people who may not have followed his cricketing exploits closely. Everyone in India felt like he is a kid from their extended family. Even today, he looks much younger than 40. And to top it all off, his personality is quintessentially Indian. He is a mild mannered person in every sense (not as aggressive as Ganguly, abrasive as Kohli, articulate as Dravid, astute as Dhoni - everything apart from his batting is mild), trying to stay clear of any controversy (sometimes even at the expense of not taking a stand on issues that matter like match fixing, DRS, IPL fiascos etc.), with limited leadership qualities (with limited success as Captain of India and Mumbai Indians). Perhaps all these traits that are common to most Indians make us feel that he is one of us, and not someone different.
While we all know that Sachin is as special as it gets in terms of cricketing ability, we feel he is one of us as a person. He is like someone from our family who has made it big. We feel he belongs to us, like no other public figure. That's why we love him so much.