For years, he has made us watch his interpretation of cricket with some fabulous knocks, giving us immense joy and happiness with his exploits. We followed his journey from being a teenager to a senior statesman with delight, basking in reflected glory and letting our hearts swell with pride as he made cricket fans around the world envy our possession of the crown jewel.
For years, he made us extend our hands and feel the electricity in the air each time he walked in to bat but his failures now makes his fans wonder if he will play that one innings to remind them of his greatness all over again. He has set such high benchmarks for himself that it is hard for his fans to come to terms with a run of poor scores – and the manner of dismissals.
Five of his last six innings have ended with him missing the line of the ball and being bowled or leg before. Only in the first Test against England at Motera in Ahmedabad did he made contact with the ball but managed to sky it to the man on the deep mid-wicket fence since he did not get to the pitch of the ball and hence was unable to time it well.
All this has led to 2012 being his worst in a year in which he has played more than five Test matches. An average of 22.83 is not exactly Tendulkaresque. The fact the has crossed 20 just twice in the last 10 innings during which he has been bowled or been leg before wicket as many as seven times is not very distinguishing either. It is not the Tendulkar we have known for years.
Let me say this much, though: These last few innings are not what we will remember Tendulkar for. His presence in the lives of generations of cricket fans has been larger than life. Before long, we will forget his travails in Test cricket in 2012 and return to cherishing his amazing contribution to cricket for close to two and a half decades.
For all that, I do not understand the cacophonic calls for his retirement. Nor do I subscribe to such mindless class. I have always believed that it is the sportsperson’s prerogative to decide on whether he or she wants to retire from active sport. This is not some job where there is a fixed age and the employee retires on the day he turns 58 or 60.
He has been offered as much free and unsolicited advice by men who have graced the game as by the man on the street. We have seen former superstars change stands within a matter of days – from saying he should continue until he has completed three decades in world cricket to saying he must now talk to the selectors!
Tendulkar alone – and I repeat, he alone – can decide whether he should try to continue seeking the touch and form that can lift his game to his own elevated standards or if he should quit playing the game. We must leave him to ponder the question if believes it is worth the while to extend his stay in international cricket that he has strode like a giant for so many years now.
He must be having quite a tough time, wrestling with the run of low scores after having started the year with two decent knocks of 41 and 80 in Sydney. He must be too occupied with getting things right at the batting crease to be able to look at the larger question that has loomed on the horizon. And surely, it would be a bad idea to consider retirement in the middle of a series.
As someone who does not give media interviews until the end of a series, it is unlikely that he will worry himself too much about retirement at this point of time. He knows it will take his focus away from finding solutions to his problems at the batting crease. He is a fierce competitor and must be working out methods to make his body obey his mind.
In the wake of the dismissals in Ahmedabad and Mumbai, he would not have let the unknown tease and torment him. Instead, he will have concentrated on finding answers to the questions posed by Greame Swann and Monty Panesar. We must allow him time to reflect on retirement instead of letting it become a massive millstone around our own necks with national debates.
Yet, having said that, we must also remember that it is the prerogative of the selectors and the captain to decide on which players to pick in the squad and which players to back despite their seeming to lack touch or form as the case may be. It is these wise men who really must ask themselves the tough questions and pick the best team under the circumstances.
These are men who preside over the future of the Indian cricket team and they will need to exercise judgment rather than be carried away by so much talk around Tendulkar’s retirement. They must reflect calmly on the situation, taking a holistic view of both the present and the future, and make their own call.
Yes, the decision on retirement is personal but the ball is well and truly in the selectors’ court. Is the need for his vast experience, especially in the wake of the retirement of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, and incredible effect in the dressing room more than the need to play a batsman in form, since no middle-order batsman gave any confidence in the Mumbai Test?
Take the combine of Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Their collective contribution to India’s score was a mere 69 runs for an average of 11.50 runs each. To hold Tendulkar alone responsible for the batting failure in Mumbai will be most unfair to someone who has been an excellent campaigner for India since 1989.
There is no doubt that the team can draw immensely from Tendulkar’s presence in the dressing room. Not very many teams are blessed with someone who has played 192 Tests and 463 one-day internationals. Not very many squads are fortunate to have someone who played for so long and with such dignity and brings an amazing quality to the dressing room.
I have known how much respect successive generations of Indian Test cricketers have had for Tendulkar. A quiet word from him can make a world of a difference to young cricketers, not just for the innings in question but also for their careers. And given the fact that the Indian team is going through a period of transition, the selectors may be tempted to retain him.
This article first appeared in Prabhat Khabar daily on November 28, 2012