Time Up Tendulkar... Really?
Besides the myriads of emotions and expressions that Ricky Ponting’s retirement has generated, it has also given a lot of air to the favourite coffee table topic of Indians: Should Tendulkar retire? Many ask for his retirement directly (or should I say command it); some others put it more diplomatically (questions like ‘Doesn’t Sachin have already enough records for him to keep on playing more ?’). The common man pounces at every hint of imperfection in Sachin’s play and the seemingly unavoidable question starts doing the rounds.
The very premise of assuming that old players should retire is the fact that with age reflexes slow down, fitness levels drop and the player is somewhat of a misfit in the long term plans of the team (if they really exist). Ponting’s dismissal to Kallis in the second test match at Adelaide was painful to look at. Not only did he react late to the speed, his position after the dismissal (down on knees) was that of an agonizingly helpless man. Great players always look to bid adieu with their heads high and there’s no doubt that Ponting has timed his exit to that effect.
Tendulkar’s case is a little different though. Anyone following his past innings minutely will realize that he is executing his shots with conviction; that the ball is coming solidly off the bat. Even in Australia, for whatever brief innings he played, he was one of the most enthralling batsman to look at and played some breathtaking shots (including the latest one where he effortlessly lifted bouncing balls over slips with alarming accuracy). Before the start of the current series, Tendulkar hit a brilliant hundred against Railways(137 off 136 balls) in a Ranji trophy match, recovering from a severe stomach bug caused by food poisoning a day before. The Mumbai coach Sulakshan Kulkarni recently said that Tendulkar faced 300 balls an hour in nets (5 balls a minute) and looked quite serious about his cricket. That is quite something. A cricketer preparing in such fashion should surely be devoid neither of will nor of fitness.
Definitely, his runs tally in the past few innings isn’t something to cheer about. However, if that were the basis to ask him to exit then Gambhir and more notably, Dhoni stand ahead in the queue. As for fielding, that he still fields on the third man boundary a lot of the time (shows Sachin has still got one of the best throwing arms in the team) and isn’t afraid to throw himself around affirms he is not even close to being a liability on field. In fact, many younger legs in the team (Zaheer & Ashwin are the most obvious two) look way more elderly on field!
Dravid recently stated that India need him more than ever. With Dravid and Laxman retiring in quick succession, it is only logical that Sachin stays longer, allowing the team a rich source of experience. Yes, there needs to be a plan for his retirement, but that has to be entirely between him and the selectors. A well laid out plan by the way would be a good precedent, as communication gaps between players and selectors/administration have been a long prevalent annoyance in Indian cricket. India’s last four stalwarts to retire (Laxman, Dravid, Ganguly & Kumble) have all done it on instinct and the board has hardly ever shown any willingness to smoothen up the process a little and groom young cricketers well in time. But till the time such a thing happens, Sachin has every right to play cricket with as much freedom as he likes. Also, in my personal view, that time to lay such a plan hasn’t arrived yet.
The world of sports has had examples where players have gone well beyond ages considered optimum to retire at in their respective sports and perform well too. Martina Navratilova – the astonishing ageless tennis player who went on to play till 56 years of age, won 5 Grand Slam titles after reaching 35 and reached good positions in many others. Roger Clemens, the American baseball player (he is a starting pitcher) played prolifically well even after he had reached 40 and impressively, plays even to this day at 50 years of age. Being on the wrong side of the age scale doesn’t always have to be an indication of the player’s end. Sometimes, the will and the longing to play gets the better of the shortcomings induced with age.
Media (esp. news channels) have a big part in pointlessly rousing this Sachin debate at every small hint of a failure from the great man. Ironic as it may sound, the very cause of this is Sachin himself. Brand Tendulkar is such a mighty existence even today that anyone and everyone even slightly capable look to use his name to gain short term mileage. How otherwise do you explain nearly all news channels running shoddy programs (with shoddier headlines) on the Master’s retirement at an incessant rate?
To a common man in India, Sachin has always been a symbol of national pride; one who has given us the confidence to look the world in the eye. Along the path somewhere though, the same common man has made an obsession out of the word ‘Sachin’. There is nothing wrong in talking of a player’s retirement. Everyone retires after all. It is, however, the childish manner in which it’s talked about that is appalling. The team management, the selectors and most importantly Sachin himself are the most qualified people to have any kind of plan for his retirement either on the basis of his performances or owing to any other vision for the team. However, till such a time comes, let’s allow him to play the game he loves to the core peacefully. As a nation, Sachin has given us countless touching moments to rejoice, to forget our troubles, differences and cheer our hearts out in unison. It is time that we give him one!