Should Sachin Tendulkar be allowed to pick and choose?



a
In a country where cricket is religion and Sachin Tendulkar is God, to question the Little Master even remotely would be blasphemous. But there comes a time when even the greats have to answer the queries of mere mortals. And for precisely this reason the batting legend has to tell his die-hard fans his plans vis-a-vis playing the fifty-over format of the game.

In the recently announced team for India’s tour of Sri Lanka beginning later this month, where Team India will play five ODIs and a T20 International game, Sachin Tendulkar has opted out. Chief selector Krishnamachari Srikkanth confirmed that Sachin would be available only for the home series against New Zealand in August-September. Srikkanth also added, “Sachin obviously would like to extend his career. He is looking at Test cricket in a big way. I’m sure he must be aiming at the England and Australia series. It’s going to be a long session ahead and Sachin is spacing it out very well.”

Many would endorse what Srikkanth said and most would like Sachin to extend his career and want the legend to play for as long as he can. Because once he will bid adieu to the game of cricket he is never going to come back. That’s not the point. The point is that Sachin and the BCCI need to give the nation clear answers as to which series and which country the Master Blaster is looking at playing. Also, if he is looking to concentrate on Tests and will quit ODIs gradually?

Granted the upcoming series against Sri Lanka is a low key series, but apart from Tendulkar, India is fielding its full strength for the tour and all first choice players will be on the plane to the island nation. In such a scenario, Tendulkar is only giving his detractors ammunition. His fans would like to give him the longest rope that he would want and not question him even remotely. But what his admirers don’t want is that Sachin should be accused of setting a bad precedent.

Pick and choose has never been a policy of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. A player is either dropped if he is out of form, if he is injured, if he has been on the road for a long time and needs rest or if he had some personal problems. So in such a case Sachin ‘opting’ out is a new reason on the list for a player for not playing for his country. Tomorrow any other player may also toe the same line once he thinks he is a star and can afford to get away with it.

In the eighties former India captain Sunil Gavaskar had vowed to never play at Eden Gardens ever again after he was abused by a hostile crowd during a Test match. And true to his word he withdrew from India’s next fixture there and ended his record of 106 consecutive Tests. However, he was heavily criticised for it with many blaming him for putting his ego before his country. And don’t forget that Gavaskar was as big a legend of his times as Tendulkar is today and he too wielded almost the same influence in the corridors of power of Indian cricket that Sachin does today.

So the point is that Sachin has to be crystal clear about his future plans as far as the 50 over format of the game goes. And also about where he stands as far as the next World Cup is concerned, which is to be played in Australia in 2015. It takes time to build a team and get a winning combination and if we are looking at defending our 2011 title, then the time to start is now. He also has to silence those who maintain that instead of adopting the pick and choose policy like Tendulkar has been doing for some time now, why does he not opt out of the IPL till he retires from international cricket?

Plus, what happens to those youngsters who come to the team when Sachin ‘opts’ out and have to sit out when he decides to come in? Sachin also has to answer as to what it is that he looking to achieve in the ODIs after reaching the milestone of 100 hundreds in Bangladesh? He has to answer these to silence his critics because fans like us cannot bear even if a mild aspersion is cast at the great man.

Tendulkar has always maintained that he is the best judge of when he wants to do (or quit). He told a TV channel recently – “It's not what XYZ think, it's what I feel and I feel as long as I am enjoying and I feel like being part of it, I'll continue (playing ODIs).” On opting out of the Sri Lanka tour he clarified - “I just wanted to spend time with my family, as simple as that. I spoke to the BCCI and requested them. To be able to spend time with my children is also important. Because once we go back they will go to their schools then you won't get quality time which any family man expects from his family and that is something which will keep me going for next 10 months.”

After giving his blood and sweat for the country for more than two decades, no one would grudge Tendulkar time off with the family. But the man who has been a role model for millions should leave the game with dignity without any spot on his unblemished persona and should not be accused of taking advantage of his legacy. There is no doubt that Sachin is amongst the best even at this age to play for the country and his place in the playing eleven cannot be questioned. But I reiterate, he has to come clean on his plans. He owes his fans this much.

Post Script: In one of the TV interviews former India captain Ajit Wadekar had said, “The only weakness that Sachin has is that he is human.” Someone for whom Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar was one of the prime reasons to fall in love with the game of cricket, I have for most part of my life believed that he was not human but a special one created by God, above any human being on Earth. But somewhere, slowly I am getting a feeling of foreboding as to perhaps he is also human in some ways and he too has his weaknesses – he too can be confused at times and he too can be indecisive at times. At the same time, I also feel reassured that the man who has silenced his critics in the past will silence them soon by making the right choice. Over and above – this is the first time that I have questioned the great man – even if obliquely. Can I ever forgive myself...