Writing about Sachin Tendulkar is one of the hardest things to do. On one hand, I grew up watching cricket in an age where in most games, Sachin’s batting decided the result. On the other, it has been a painful experience watching him, woefully short of form, scratching about against the likes of Monty Panesar and the Kiwis.
That said, if anyone knows how to work himself out of a bad patch, it is Sachin Tendulkar. For evidence, we need only rewind to Sydney, 2004, where he made that brilliantly attritional 241. Even more encouraging in this regard, is the way he tackled his poor form – by omitting the cover drive throughout that innings.
This brings us to that question – when should Sachin Tendulkar hang up his boots. The answer is actually quite simple. His boots are his own to hang up, so to speak. Nobody can walk up to Sachin Tendulkar (or any player for that matter) and tell him to retire. A player can be dropped, of course. But retirement is a personal choice. This may seem like a technicality, but it is not. If a 37 year old batsman was dropped, went back to the Ranji trophy and rattled off a series of centuries, I would not be completely against him making his way back to the team. This brings us to Sachin Tendulkar.
Like half the cricket fans on twitter seem eager to point out, Sachin Tendulkar is no ordinary batsman. They are absolutely correct. Sachin Tendulkar is a Demigod, plain and simple. Should Sachin Tendulkar be able to pick and choose when to retire? As I said above, retirement is entirely upto him, so yes. Then there’s the unfortunate group of ‘wise’ men – the selectors. You see, Sachin Tendulkar’s job is to worry about his cricket. As much as we fans would love current cricketers to think about the future of the team, it is impractical to expect the same from them. Which is why we have selectors.
Unfortunately for India, the selectors have a history of not planning beyond the next match or the next series. This poses a huge problem. Nobody seems to know what Sachin’s plans are. Is this home season his swansong? Is he planning to stay till South Africa? Is he thinking about the Champions Trophy next year? This is where I have a problem.
I love Sachin. When I was 8 years old, I watched him make mincemeat of Shane Warne. It was my first LIVE cricket experience (that I can remember), and he has played a major part in many such experiences since. I would love to see him torment the Australians at Chepauk one last time. And hence it hurts to say this. If Sachin Tendulkar does not plan on making the trip to South Africa, I believe that the 4th test against England, in Nagpur, should be his last. Here is why.
When Sachin retires, I assume that his spot will be taken by one among Ajinkya Rahane, Manoj Tiwary, Subramanian Badrinath or Rohit Sharma. Not one of these batsmen has ever had more than a couple of games’ exposure. Handing over a spot in the middle order to one of these batsman in South Africa, on bouncy and/or green tracks, against what is in my opinion, the best pace attack in the world, would be a huge mistake. So, if one of these batsmen is to play in South Africa, I hope the selectors have the foresight to blood them against the Aussies. Which means the selectors need to bite the bullet and replace Sachin in the Australian series. On the other hand, if Sachin plans to go to South Africa, I would hope that form is a major criteria in that decision. In that situation, it would be prudent of the selectors to take a call on Sachin’s place at the end of the England series.
Ultimately though, if Sachin wants to play the Australian series and bow out at home, the selectors have one question to answer. Who is more important – Sachin Tendulkar or Team India? If they believe Sachin is above Team India and let him play out a complete swansong, I will cheer wildly for him at Chepauk. But, deep down I will be disappointed. Some part of me wants to believe that in a team sport, the team counts above an individual, even if that individual is Sachin Tendulkar.
If such a situation does present itself, do the selectors have the strength to make the toughest decision in Indian cricket? Do the selectors have the courage to make the tough (and right) call that will infuriate a large chunk of cricket fans in the country? Going by the history of the ‘wise’ men, I’m not holding my breath.