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How Sachin made the right call

“God retires from One Day International Cricket.”

“The Mayans were right. An era just ended.”

“Will there ever be another?”

Sachin Tendulkar, the best batsman there will ever be in Tests and ODIs, announced his retirement from One-Day International cricket two days ago. I was heartbroken, and a million things started racing through my mind – never will I get to see him in the blue India jersey again, never will I see his 50th ODI hundred, never again will I say ‘Agar Sachin out ho gaya, to hum haar gaye.’ (If Sachin gets out, we’re goners).

After absorbing the initial hit, I thought about the pressure on Sachin from everyone and how he must have felt seeing penny-a-piece experts debating extensively on his career. Even though no one that I hold in a high cricketing regard ever said that he should retire, nobody likes to see their careers being openly discussed on TV. It had come to the point that people had started saying that he had over-stayed, and he should be dropped.

While wanting to rip the vocal cords out of the mouth of each and every one who said he should retire, one couldn’t help but notice the very visible dip in form. Tendulkar fanatics would argue that it was because his standards were already set too high – but then, if his standards aren’t high, he isn’t Tendulkar. These arguments were further aided and abetted by his age – when you’re 25, a downward-curve in form can be tolerated, but when you’re 39, the upward-curve is much harder to achieve.

Various arguments were put forth as to why Sachin should retire. He was always regarded as a very fine judge of the ball, and for his excellent decision-making (read shot-selection).  Here I present why I think that his announcement of retiring only from ODIs is the best decision he could make.

Argument 1 – He’s occupying a place in the side that could belong to somebody else.

In ODIs and T20s, India plays superbly – we have very good openers, Kohli at No. 3, Yuvraj, Raina, Dhoni as a finisher, good spinners and emerging fast bowlers – we’re very close to being a complete team. This is because this new Indian team is young and energetic, and new young players aspire to win matches with blistering sixes and hat-tricks.

In Test matches however, you need a very different mindset to succeed. You need to stay at the crease, you must apply yourself and have immense patience; that is where a player’s character and true ability comes to light. Consider tennis, for example. Everyone would agree that to beat, say Federer, in a 3-set match is much easier than in a 5-set match. The longer the match, the more the chance of the better player prevailing. I have yet to see a single young player who showed that promise, bar Pujara who played very well in the first and second Tests against England.

People say Sachin doesn’t play well and he should be dropped – if I were a selector, I would tell them to find me a person who would fill his shoes, and if they did, I’d drop him tomorrow. Also, why blame only Sachin? Who amongst Dhoni, Yuvraj, Gambhir and Sehwag has played well recently in Tests?

For the above reasons, I think Sachin’s place in the Test team was never really much of a concern – there wasn’t anybody to replace him. But in the ODI team, I would tend to agree that we have enough young talent that deserves a chance. Hence, Sachin made a very smart move by retiring from ODIs.

Australia v India - Tri-Series Game 7

Argument 2 – He’s getting old.

ODIs are tough physical events, where you need to be completely focused for six hours in which the game moves at a feverish pace and fielding has become as important as batting or bowling. While I still maintain that Sachin’s fielding was the best amongst Sourav, Dravid and VVS, one can argue that the younger player who replaces him will probably save more runs in the field. And Sachin might be a superhuman to any extent, but he has to bear the effects of a long and hard career – he is now not the athlete he was when he was 25.

Tests are much easier on the body, especially on the fielding aspect. If two of your players bat for a long period of time, you have to just sit in the dressing room for long hours. Sachin, even though he is 39, is still tremendously fit and can very easily take the burden of Test matches in my opinion.

Again, Sachin made a very smart move by retiring from ODIs only. In Tests, his slowness is not exposed as much as it is in ODIs. In Tests, if you are a batsman, you can focus on your batting alone. If you score 200 runs and drop a few catches, you’ll still be named man of the match. However, if you run two batsmen out and take three catches while getting a pair when you’re batting, you’ll be dropped.

Argument 3 – His slowness affects the run rate.

In ODIs these days, teams are getting ridiculous run rates for the 50 overs – with 60m boundaries and meaty bats, a total of 300 is almost par for an innings. In such a competitive atmosphere, the phrase ‘getting in’ doesn’t really hold for much, and with Sachin undoubtedly losing some of his reflexes, he needs to find his footing before latching on.

Retiring from ODIs was again the right call simply because in Tests, you need someone who will do exactly the thing above – ‘get in’! Nobody cares about the run rate in Tests! Everyone does care though, about the contribution to the state of the match that a player provides – if he needs to stay in to save a match, he needs to get in. I still don’t agree with players like Sehwag, who say they always play their natural game – you don’t play your natural game, you play the game your team wants you to play; there has never been a better situation-player than Sachin.

The small child inside me still wishes for Sachin to play forever. I will never get tired of witnessing the cover drive, the paddle sweep, the six over third man, the demolishing of the Aussies, the hundreds against Pakistan… there’s much to be missed. But I think that in light of the recent pressure on Sachin, he has made the right call.

P.S. Even though they won’t say it, no one is truly happy about Sachin retiring! Perhaps the only ones happy would be the family members of the player who will now get his chance, but that’s about it. Think about the shoes he’s left behind to be filled… scary!

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