The euphoria of the golden trophy in his hand, the nightmares of the gorilla on his back, the unease of the routing in the motherland of cricket, a denigrating tour down under, the ignominy due to the gates of impending retirement that opened three consecutive times, nothing seemed to perturb or ruffle the master. He was his usual self, citing the love of the game he still reminisces, the motivation his blue cap injects and nevertheless the hunger for runs. The answers oozed confidence, convinced even the worst of pessimists his bat would do the talking again.
Not the best of speakers, the little he has conversed with the media over the years has usually fed some thoughts to the minds of a million. Before his first tour to the Carribean where he was touted to face the deadly West Indian pace trio, barely 17, the boy said he was ready for the challenge. Though his mouth spelled little, his eyes said it all. His eyes conveyed he was game for the challenge. The enthusiasm in his eyes, the nonchalant words, the impudence of his body language spoke volumes that day. The intreped nature of this man has had in his words is something that has awestruck me over the years. The fortitude with which this man has mouthed his words, like the time he asked Dilip Vengsarkar, the then captain for a chance to open the innings. He came out all guns blazing and the rest, they say, is history. This is a testimony to the belief he had in himself. He knew himself better than anyone did.
Every time he failed, his detractors were quick to call for his head. The experts pounced on his every failure, the media never ceased to sensationalise his gaffes, emotions always reached a hyperbole when it came to him. Having been at the receiving end of all the rancour hurled at him by scribes, never have his answers hinted upon parting with the game. He never showed signs of hanging up his boots. Plagued by the most threatening injuries a sportsman could have, his grit and earnestness kept him going. That obstinacy got him out of exile and kept him on top of the game. His answers – and more importantly – those eyes not only instilled confidence in him, it gave a million supporters a mountain of hope.
Hope: something that keeps us going, a feeling that has kept us attached to everything, that which has enthralled us to the sport over the years.
A couple of days ago, he went on air saying he would reassess his stand on retirement when he played again this November. This certainly spells bad omens. The slightest of doubts over his motivational levels have crept into his mind and this would take a toll on him. This would deteriorate his game. The confidence that has brought him this far, the confidence that has kept him on the podium for more than two decades is now vanishing into the blue. The grit, the fortitude, the tenacity in his words have gone astray now. The eyes that had certitude now have uncertainty. The mettle in his words now have cowardice. The foot that might have moved due to the mettle of his heart might now succumb to the dubiousness of the mind. The eyes that saw the ball with audacity now see it with meekness.
After the disastrous away tours, the three consecutive shattering of the woodwork, the frustrating pursue of his 100th ton, when every corner of the country voiced their views about him giving way to youngsters, I vouched for him. I vouched for the bat to do its talking. I vouched for the cover drives to be as audacious as ever, the straight drives to be as scintillating has ever, the flicks to be as cheeky as ever, but now at the first signs of meekness, I retract.
Never has the master sounded positive about retirement. He has thwarted every thought of retirement shot at him. He has thrived on the love that he had for the game. Now that it seems to have dried up, he shouldn’t reassess, but retire from his position.
Has the love really dried up?
Speaking of love, the love for cricket will live on in him eternally. His first and last thoughts will always be cricket and vice versa. Until cricket dies, until the world ends, until the death of the last cricket fan, he will be loved. The romance is eternal. Moving on is impossible. The only difference will be that he has aged and the love can no more be physical. Love, they say, is much strongly felt than expressed. The romance will last long. etched in our hearts, inscribed on the walls of a million homes.
An epitome of Cricket.
The bottom line is that as the confidence and determination start to decelerate, he must retire. His strongest attribute over the years, his confidence, has hit an all time low and it is time to hang up the boots.
Even as I type this, I can’t help the lump that forms in my throat and my moistening eyes.