“For now, Tendulkar is safe”, “Sachin retained in squad for last two Tests”, read a headline in one of the leading national dailies and a news website respectively, after the selection of Indian team for the third Test at the Eden Gardens against England. The first thought that crossed my mind after reading this was, have we reached at a stage where the selection of Sachin Tendulkar in the Indian team invites cynical headlines? Surely not!!! Here is a man who has been such a joy to watch, and brought smiles to millions of Indian cricket followers across the world over so many years, but a lean patch over the last few tests and the tongues have started wagging against him.
In my 27 years of watching cricket, I have seen and admired Sachin for 23 years and counting. During a major part of his career, he played in a team which knew how to win on home soil but were slaughtered abroad, till India found a formula to win overseas under Sourav Ganguly. And even during those overseas tours in the 1990s, where the result was a foregone conclusion for India, Tendulkar was the only reason we switched on our television sets. He has been a lone warrior for long.
Like the proverbial saying goes, “All good things come to an end”, perhaps the time has come for Sachin to have a reality check and think rationally on where he stands and what more he wants to achieve from this game. By the time India has its next overseas assignment, to South Africa in November 2013, he would be 40 years and 7 odd months old, and with due respect to the modern sports training methods, Sachin won’t have the same reflexes to face the likes of Dale Steyn and co. in their own backyard, which he had when he first toured the Rainbow nation in 1992. Therefore, it’s Sachin who has to decide whether the time is right for him to call it quits after the ongoing England series, or whether he should he play one more home series against Australia in Feb-Mar ’13, thereby denying youngsters a chance to make their test debuts in familiar conditions. It is the great man himself who has to decide whether he wants to take something more from this glorious game or whether he wants to give something back to it.
The biggest difference between the two great allrounders whom I admired while growing up, Imran Khan & Kapil Dev, was the timing of their retirement. While Imran went out on a high, announcing his retirement while holding the World Cup in one hand in 1992 at the MCG, Kapil literally dragged himself till he broke the then record for most number of test wickets held earlier by Sir Richard Hadlee. In the process, promising fast bowlers like Javagal Srinath played quite a few tests lesser than what he ended up playing. Sachin needs to decide for himself whether he wants to do an Imran or a Kapil. He has been a great timer of the cricket ball, and now it remains to be seen whether he gets his timing right while making one of the most important decisions, not only for himself in particular but Indian cricket in general.
For starters though, I wish that Sachin goes on to delight us with a couple of more match-winning hundreds in this series against England. His glorious career will come to an end sooner or later, but I hope that it will be on his own terms. More importantly, I wish he goes on a high, for he deserves it. We don’t know what script is in store for him, but champions like him surely don’t deserve any more cynical headlines and loose talk.
One thing is for sure; cricket will never be the same after Sachin decides to hang up his boots.