Sachin Tendulkar made an appearance at a cake-cutting function in Kolkata and thanked his fans for the adulation. © Wisden India

Sachin Tendulkar at a cake-cutting function in Kolkata with wife Anjali. © Wisden India

Much of the focus, at least in the minds of fans in Kolkata, has been on Sachin Tendulkar’s 40th birthday, which has coincided with the Pepsi Indian Premier League 2013 match between Kolkata Knight Riders and Tendulkar’s team Mumbai Indians at Eden Gardens on Wednesday (April 24).

The birthday boy, accompanied by Anjali, his wife, made an appearance at a cake-cutting function for a large contingent of mediapersons at the team hotel in Kolkata on Wednesday morning. “I’ve never been so nervous before cutting a cake,” said Tendulkar. “I met Anil Kumble a short while back and he wished me and told me that 40 is just a number, and that’s what I believe too.”

Tendulkar also thanked his fans for the adulation. “I thank people across India and the rest of the world who have been my well-wishers, who have showered me with unconditional love for 23 years now,” said Tendulkar. “There are so many things people have done for me; they have made so many sacrifices. People have even fasted for me when I have been injured. It’s not enough for me to just sit here and thank them. I would have wanted to meet each of them individually, but that’s obviously not possible.”

The excitement among fans in Kolkata has been tremendous leading up to April 24. At the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) premises as well as at the team hotel and elsewhere, it’s been all about Tendulkar. Will there be a pre-birthday party? Will there be a celebration of some sort? What sort of gifts are his teammates planning for him?

A sudden downpour forced Mumbai Indians called off their practice session on Tuesday, much to the disappointment of the fans who had gathered at the Eden Gardens to get a glimpse of the Little Master, who was also forced to miss a charity function organised by the CAB. The children – numbering over a hundred – from the Ramakrishna Mission and Lighthouse for the Blind eventually shared the birthday cake meant to be cut by Tendulkar among themselves.

On Tuesday, Tendulkar not on view at the team hotel either. Kids with autograph books and cameras put in a long, fruitless vigil, while Sudhir Gautam, the very visible Tendulkar fan who is believed to have unlimited access to Tendulkar at most times, was denied a meeting too. “I was given a match ticket by someone else from Mumbai Indians and not the Master Blaster,” complained Gautam before leaving the hotel.

Kumble, meanwhile, said that a win would make for a good gift. “The best present we can give Sachin is by winning the match, just win and nothing else,” said Kumble, the Mumbai Indians mentor. “My congratulations to Sachin. And a welcome to my club – the club of over-40 people.”

Tendulkar is expected to make a formal announcement in connection with Spreading Happiness, a charitable trust that he is a part of and one that aims to provide solar lighting in villages without electricity. The first of those projects, in a village in Nasik in Maharashtra, has already been launched.

All that is left now is for Tendulkar to score a big one on the big day. Mumbai Indians would, like Kumble said, want a win to make the day special for Tendulkar while, from the point of view of fans of Kolkata, a memorable Tendulkar knock would be best enjoyed if it came despite a win for the Knight Riders.