Day 3 of the Mumbai test, post-tea session. Sehwag and India’s in-form number 3, Pujara, had just been dismissed in successive overs. The deficit of 49 then, was looking like 150 and Tendulkar was probably in for his last international hit at Wankhede, on the back of a 13 and an 8 in the series. It was 8 quick runs before Monty skidded one in and beat Tendulkar for pace. Series stats: 2 matches, 3 innings, 29 runs.
About 9000 kilometers down south, another modern-day legend had a similar script to enact! Day 3 of the Adelaide test, post-tea session. The effervescent Warner and Rob Quiney had been sent back to the pavilion in the space of 3 deliveries. Australia were effectively 239 for 2, comfortably placed but had to prevent the opening of the flood-gates for South Africa. After 16 disciplined runs, Ponting managed to drag a back of length Steyn delivery onto his stumps. Series stats: 2 matches, 3 innings, 20 runs.
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to predict the consequences of these performances; and expectantly, print and TV media space has been occupied with this subject, with reference to elements like dropping, retirement, analysis and stats. For 2 batsmen who have dominated modern-day batting like very few others in the history, this has been a period to forget; and for some strange reason, there is a strong resemblance to the timelines of these two names in the recent past. Here are a couple of numbers that emphasize this statement:
Last 2 years (tests only)
The 2 in the 100s column too has a similarity – both have come in one series, against one opponent! Ponting is approaching his 38th birthday and Tendulkar is 39 years and 7 month old; trying to suggest that the age factor and its relation to form also have relevance.
Australian cricketing set-up is perceived to work completely different to the way the BCCI operates, yet in these cases the two systems appear to trace a common path! Australia’s coach has been quoted saying that the Australian team wants Ponting for the Ashes next year, and hopes that Ponting will bounce back. In India, the official board statement squashes any talk regarding Tendulkar’s retirement and those associated with the team say that he is in a wonderful space, and just needs a start. Being primarily an Indian fan, I would like to present a perspective on Sachin; with all the analogy above, I presume that a ‘similar’ logic would fit in for Ponting as well!
Criticism, the elaborate version of it and Tendulkar’s form isn’t new if you have been following Indian cricket over the last 23 years. There are different kinds of criticism – one which pop up once in a while, one from a section of fans who feel pained about seeing their favorite player fail often, but you know it is really very serious when the ardent fans start worrying about the scores! Big runs are not coming, the methods of dismissals are becoming more than mere aberrations and all this is getting too frequent to suppress critical reviews.
The selectors need to sit down with Tendulkar as early as possible and brief him about their long-term plans. If they want to see him on the flight to South Africa next year, he must told accordingly and conversely Tendulkar should also makes his future ambitions clear to them, if not publicly. Tendulkar has spent more time playing international cricket in his life than otherwise, and hence you shouldn’t really expect him to take the call (of retirement) himself.
There are reasons to Tendulkar’s dip in form over the last year or so – the pressure of the 100th hundred, the pressure after Dravid and Laxman’s retirements and the pressure of not scoring! About 6 years ago, the Endulkar saga came up and many believed that Tendulkar was over then. Things changed for the better, but does he have enough in the tank to script a similar story yet again? It is indeed painful to see the likes of Sachin and Ponting fail so consistently, but to suggest retirement right now would be an over-reaction to the entire story. Surely both of them have to find a way to start scoring runs immediately or this outcry is likely to gather further momentum. The odds are stacked, the numbers aren’t encouraging, the form has been going in one direction only and there is that opportunity to prove the cliché – form is temporary but class is permanent!