When a man of few words Sachin Tendulkar in a rare show of emotion and candidness said in a television interview some time during the end of last year that at 39 there wasn’t much cricket left in him, fans like me were left teary eyed. In fact, I had remarked then that if Sachin by just mentioning his retirement had left my eyes moist then what would happen to my emotions when he would actually walk away from 22 yards.
However, in a strange twist of fate, the batting legend announced his retirement from the ODIs in a way that left his fans and journalists shocked and surprised. No press conference, no press release and no message for his fans, who would miss him terribly every time that India play an ODI and see someone else in the opening slot. It is said that Sachin bade adieu to the shorter version of the game as the selectors overlooked his selection for Pakistan series and decided to drop him. But I guess that’s another story.
Having said that, one must accept the fact that however painful it must have been to digest the fact that we won’t see Sachin again in Indian team’s blue colour, he had more or less retired from the shorter version of the game, playing in matches on and off. If that had somewhat prepared us for his imminent retirement from the ODIs, then the consolation was in the fact that he had not retired from Tests and we would still see him don the whites for h
is country, see him walk down from the dressing room, looking heavenwards, take stance and mesmerize us with his beautiful and masterful strokes.
Nonetheless, given Sachin’s performance in the last few series, a sense of foreboding fills the heart. He had a pretty average outing in the last Test series against England in India. In the four Tests and six innings he scored 112 runs at an average of 18.6 with his highest score being 76. And before that against New Zealand at home, in the two Tests and three innings he totaled 63 runs at an average of 21.00 with his highest score being 27. In 2012, he averaged just 23.80 in nine Test matches and he has not made a Test 100 in 33 Tests and nearly two years. And consider this – all through his career Tendulkar scored a Test century in every 5.53 innings.
For precisely this reason, every Sachin worshipper will be keeping her fingers crossed when the Master Blaster takes guard against the Australians in the Test series starting February 22 and hopes that Sachin comes good. Not only because it will give them another chance to see his sublime batting (even though we may never see the old stroke maker of the youth) but because a lot will depend on this series as to how much longer is he going to don the India cap and whether he will be on the flight to South Africa and whether he can play in his 200th Test.
It is ironic that the man who was feared by the likes of Shane Warne, Brett Lee and Mc Grath and whose batting abilities was never doubted by anyone, will be probably for the first time in his life face Michael Clarke-led Australian team with a bit of self doubt in his mind and with his back against the wall. How much longer is the question on cricket lovers’ mind around the world. How much longer is probably also the question on Sachin’s mind too.
Yes, Sachin’s career in Tests is on the line too and this is a make or break series for him. If he does not perform then the selectors will probably let him go. Nonetheless, it will be heartbreaking to see him walk away from the cricket field and never come back again. As Tendulkar himself said - “The moment of retirement is going to be hard because I haven’t experienced anything close to what I might go through when I retire.”
So for his sake and for the sake of millions of his fans, lets hope that Sachin`s bat does the talking against the Australians.
He has the best of records against the Aussies and surely he can take them on again, even though we all know that in sports past records have no value and it’s the present which matters. (In 15 Tests against Australia in India, Sachin has scored 1629 runs at an average of 62.65.) If he can make Shane Warne say that he used to go to bed having nightmares of Sachin running down the wicket and belting him back over the head for six then surely Tendulkar can do the same to the new crop of Australian bowlers like Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson, even if age is not on his side and even if his reflexes have slowed down as experts say and as the Little Master has himself admitted.
What is heartening is the fact that Sachin would be playing at one of his favourite hunting grounds, i.e., the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai in the first Test match between India and Australia. He is the only player to have scored five Test centuries at the ground and is 124 runs short of completing 1,000 Test runs at Chepauk. He averages 87.60 at this venue and his highest score at this ground is 165 against England in 1993 for which he won the man of the match award. So, one hopes that his love affair with the ground continues and he is able to get back into the groove with this Test and carry on like his old self in the rest of the series. Who knows this may be his last appearance at the ground.
What is also encouraging is the fact that in the run up to the India-Australia series Sachin scored a century for Mumbai in the Irani Cup on February 08 at the Wankhede and remained unbeaten on 140. He also got two tons in the Ranji Trophy – against Railways and Baroda - and has played domestic cricket with a renewed sense of determination. Lifting the Ranji Trophy must have given him a feel good factor. So, from the look of things as of now, Tendulkar seems to be in the right frame of mind and in good touch. But then who knows how things will pan out in the days ahead.
: For million of fans like me, it has always been difficult to see Tendulkar from the prism of the mind. It is the heart which always takes over. Whereas the mind says that Sachin’s days as an international player are numbered, the heart wants him to continue forever. Nonetheless, there is only one recurring wish that I have - hope when the time comes the batting legend goes out on a high and gets the kind of farewell that he so rightly deserves.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)