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Ponting vs Tendulkar: The last battle

2012 has been the year of retirements – enforced or voluntary. Brett Lee, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Andrew Strauss, Mark Boucher and Tatenda Taibu were among the cricketers to have called it a day this year. Kevin Pietersen and Ricky Ponting were the two cricketers to have opted out of the shorter forms of the game to extend their focus on Test cricket. All of them belonged to the same era and their accomplishments for their respective teams cannot be described in a few words. They have been greats; greats who have redefined how cricket was played in their own little ways and have left a legacy that millions can only dream to emulate.

Age in cricket has – or should have – little to do with a cricketer being compelled into retirement; as long as he is generating the required results and is contributing to the team’s success, he is an asset to the team. But the moment he is faced with failures and failures over a long period, interrogations start skulking in and doubts regarding his future are questioned. The toughest period for a cricketer is perhaps the time frame between calls for retirement and retirement itself – because nobody knows better than him if he has anything left to offer to the team and if he decides to stay, it is because he thinks he can still contribute.

Over the years if you have indulged in cricketing debates, the most recurrent one would be about the greatest batsman of all time; that discussion is purely restricted to be between Ricky Ponting and Sachin Tendulkar, with Brian Lara sometimes being mentioned. The prevalence of a perpetual evaluation has always been inclined towards Tendulkar for majority, but some might argue that Ponting’s contributions as a batsman, as a captain and a terrific fielder supersede those of Tendulkar’s, that have been as a batsman alone. However, what unites them at this point in time is the fact that both of them are under the scanner and they share a common question being posed to them: ‘When is the retirement coming?’

In the second Test between India and England in Mumbai, Monty trapped Tendulkar lbw for 8 in the second innings; it was the 10th innings one after the other that he had failed to score more than 28 runs. He has averaged 27.07 in the last 12 months scoring 379 in 8 matches; it gets worse: in his last 10 innings he has scored 153 runs at an average of 15.3. Does he think his numbers are an indication that it is time to step down and give a youngster a go instead? Does the fact that he has arguably been one of the best players in the world warrant a place in the team by default?

As Sunil Gavaskar said, India is an emotional nation and cricket here is very different from cricket in other countries – like in Australia, South Africa, England etc. and in India, the ‘legends’ of the game are esteemed and are given the space and time to decide when to leave gracefully. Is that good for the team? If I might add, were some other ‘legends’ given that right that Tendulkar has, that should have been entitled to too – if that was the case? Is an individual greater than the team itself?

Ponting on the other hand, averages 47.58 – scoring 809 runs in 11 matches in the past 12 months – which is not bad at all. But given that the large chunk of runs came against the Indians, he has been unexceptional after that series. In the current series against the Proteas, he averages 6.66, having scored 20 runs in 3 innings. But Ponting – as we have seen over the years – is a realist and acknowledges there is a problem. From acknowledgement comes development, doesn’t it?

“I’m a realist. I live in the real world and I know that if I’m not getting runs there’s no chance at all (of playing the Ashes),” Australia’s highest ever run-scorer said. “I might not make the summer out so (if that happens) I definitely won’t be in England. But we’ll wait and see what happens at the end of the game. I’ve got no illusions or disillusions about where I’m at or where my cricket’s at.” 

Cricket Australia has time and again proved that they are under no such dogmas contrary to their Indian counterparts. They have had no remorse when they eased out former captains Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting earlier from their ODI teams – irrespective of their contributions to the game and their stature in Australian cricket. For them, the game and team is greater than individuals.

The Indian board has forever held Tendulkar at a higher mantle than any other cricketer in the team, where not only is he warranted a place in the team by default, but chooses the series he wants to be a part of and ones that he doesn’t, apart from of course, the time to call it a day. Does that reflect on professionalism of the religion-like-sport of cricket in India?

For most part of their careers, the two greats were always involved in battles of supremacies; now they are in the quest of who’s going to walk into the sunset first. Who will it be? Ponting or Tendulkar? One way or another, eras are going to end; tears shed; nostalgic memories and  legacies left…  I can see the winds of change and the dawn of a new era. Can you?

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