Sachin Tendulkar: Is now the time for him to retire?
14*, 34, 12, 16, 56, 1, 40, 23, 91, 7, 76, 38, 94, 3, 73, 32, 41, 80, 15, 8, 25, 13, 19, 17, 27, 13, 8, 8, 76, 5, 2... the score that comes next in this sequence, in a few hours’ time in Nagpur, could determine the future of one of the greatest cricketers ever.
It’s the topic that daren’t rear its head, the subject everyone’s scared to mention for fear of talking into reality, though conversely one that’s been dragged centre stage and got everyone talking about; I speak, of course, of the possible retirement of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, which looms large over the current India-England series, with each failure - and there’ve been far too many over the past two years - bringing that prospect ever closer.
Amarnath, Sourav and Vengsarkar all say the time has come; Geoffrey, and now Sir Viv, think otherwise, the Master Blaster telling the BBC yesterday:
“Nobody is qualified enough to tell him when they think he should go...
“When you’re retired, you’re retired for a very, very long time... It’s like being dead to some degree, so while you’re alive and still up for it and still enjoying what you’re doing, to me that’s what it’s all about.”
While former England quick Mike Selvey believes “the finishing line is approaching” and it may be time for the men in grey tracksuits to have a word, writing in The Guardian:
“In the split second that he heard the death rattle behind him as the ball careered from his inside edge and into his middle stump, Sachin Tendulkar surely will have known that the game is up.
“He has one more innings in this series in which to find a spark, but India needed him first time round and he was unable to deliver. Too late now. It was genuinely painful to watch, for no one with a heart or a love of the game for its own sake can have taken pleasure from the way he played...
“He was once the most revered man in India but the worm is starting to turn. The noise levels still rise when he takes the field and his dismissals bring a deafening silence. But it is almost ritualistic now, a process that has to be gone through. No longer does his image seem to dominate the billboards across India. His own media are starting to question his value and so are India’s cricket fans.
“The problem is one common to all great champions, though: the refusal to accept that, rather than there being another innings of substance waiting round the corner to kickstart a renaissance, there may actually be no more corners and the road to the finish line is a straight one.”
“There is a common belief that sportsmen of the status of Tendulkar - and they come no higher in that regard - earn the right to choose the time of their departure. Personally I take issue with this in the context of a team sport and a player whose star is fading. What a great player does is earn the right to a dignified departure but they cannot be allowed to outstay their time if it is to the detriment of the side and its development simply because of who they are.
“Would Tendulkar be allowed such a departure, though, or would there be an insistence, a public clamour, on a valedictory series, a grand tour of the country, something that would inevitably dominate proceedings? Who indeed if necessary would be the person to try to nudge him in the direction of retirement instead? Would anyone dare?
“Perhaps the great Rahul Dravid, as dignified as any cricketer has been, should have a word. Perhaps he already has.”
The numbers, the cold, cruel stats, damned stats and averages illustrate the problem: four single-figure dismissals in his last five innings, just one half-century in his last 13...
... no centuries in his past 31 innings, the longest he’s gone without one (smashing his previous highest ton-drought of 17 from December 2005 to May 2007):
It’s most rare for a sportsman to choose the exact manner of his departure, going out on a high high very much the exception - think Zidane in the 2006 World Cup Final; Schumacher’s pitiful second retirement; Ponting’s hastened demise...
As Andy Zaltzman put it, it’s not logical:
“He deserves some kind of glorious ending, but the mysterious sporting scriptwriters about whom commentators are so fond of inquiring have an irritating habit of writing a dull, anti-climactic, inappropriate or rubbish final chapter. Bradman scored a duck in his last Test innings. Nasser Hussain blasted a match-clinching hundred and hit the winning runs. Jason Gillespie scored a double-century.
“Cricketing retirements are like Stalinist Russia - devoid of logic and justice.”
In July he said he had no plans to retire from ODIs, though more recently he has said he knows he can’t “go on and on” and would “have to look at it series by series”, with the BCCI last night confirming he “will certainly discuss his retirement with top BCCI officials” and “everyone will know when that will happen”.
Sachin deserves to be remembered for the magic, those unforgettable moments, not for his recent poor form (if this is to be the end), so let me leave you with my favourite memory - and it really is a tough call - an innings which, even though I could have selected one of the many times I’ve had the privilege to witness him live, I didn’t see in person - an occasion of such great significance above and beyond just cricket, a Test to unite the nation at a time of one its greatest crises, a match that mightn’t even taken place...
Chennai, Monday, December 15th, 2008, India v England, 5th day, 1st Test:
“This was an innings once and for all to silence all the doubters, those "ignoramuses" as Sunny Gavaskar had described them, all those who believed Sachin lacked bottle, lacked the character for a fight, to lead from the front and finish off a match, working for each run on a tricky last day pitch.
“Praise also must go to Virender Sehwag, without whose thunderous assault on England's bowling the previous evening none of this would have been possible, and Yuvraj Singh, who came to the crease with 163 runs still needed and only MS Dhoni and the tail to follow.
“His was an innings of great maturity, discarding the one-day form which had brought him two centuries earlier in the tour and playing a real Test innings, showing great patience and a cool head, ignoring the barbs and picking off the runs with ease.
“Then, as the winning post came within sight, he even eschewed the chance of another century and forsook the glory of the winning hit, blocking balls to the crowd's delight - never in all my years of watching cricket have I ever heard such deafening applause for a straight bat - and leaving the Little Master to hit the winning runs.
“And hit them he did, paddle-sweeping Swann round the corner to bring up his 41st Test century, win the match and complete, by some distance, the highest successful fourth innings chase in Asia and the fourth highest anywhere, punching the air in delight as he was lifted up by Yuvraj with the cheers of the crowd ringing in his ears.
“Seldom can the mood of a whole nation have been transformed so quickly by so few, illustrating most vividly the tremendous power of sport, to heal wounds, raise morale and showcase the very best of the human spirit, and in so doing fully justifying the decision to play.
“It may have finished India 1-0 England but the real score was Cricketers 1-0 Terrorists.”
• December 2010: Tendulkar dedicates Centurion century to his father and says “it’s the hunger which keeps me going”
• December 2009: 20 years of Tendulkar: the stats
• December 2008: Helps India to dramatic win
• October 2008: Helps India thrash Australia
• October 2008: Breaks Test run-scoring record
• July 2007: Little Master looks ahead to Lord’s Test