Sachin Tendulkar: Autumn of the Patriarch

H Natarajan/

“When you are driving a car you must move on before amber turns red or shut your engine and park aside,” Sunil Gavaskar once said. What he implied was, either a player justifies his place in the side and delivers the goods, or quits. What he did not say — but always strongly believed in — was players should not give the selectors the opportunity to drop them.

Gavaskar maintained right through his playing days that he would retire when the going was still good. And he did exactly that. And how! His final Test innings was, arguably, the greatest of his fabulous international career: eighth out for 96, after opening the innings and defying the odds on a treacherous Chinnaswamy Stadium turner where Iqbal Qasim and Tauseef Ahmed were turning the ball square and making it leap over both the batsmen and the wicketkeeper. They were like cobras spitting venom.

Gavaskar had decided to retire from Test cricket after that match, but he did not announce his decision so as to be in contention to play the MCC Bicentenary World XI vs MCC match at Lord’s — his final First-Class outing in which he scored 188. And for good effect, in his last but one innings in One-Day Internationals (ODIs,) he scored a belligerent hundred in a World Cup game. That’s bidding adieu in style.

Gavaskar was from the Vijay Merchant School of thinking — not just at the batting crease. Merchant believed that a player should “retire when people ask why, and not why not”. And Gavaskar lived up to Merchant’s philosophy in going out when he emphatically proved that there was still gas in his fuel tank. Gavaskar’s playing career was all about planning, perfection and precision, and his retirement was in sync with those values.

Gavaskar passed on the high-achiever’s batting baton to Sachin Tendulkar, who took the art of batting to stratospheric levels. There are very few batting records that are not in his safe custody in a career that has defied longevity. Tendulkar’s exalted status in the game has seen even the likes of Gavaskar and Viv Richards — two of the game’s biggest titans in the post-Bradman Era — among the multitude of unabashed admirers who have said it should be left to the master batsman to decide on his retirement. Indeed, one can hardly find any player — past or present and anywhere in the world — saying contrary to what Gavaskar and Richards opined.

However, the Indian cricketing audience is notorious for extreme reactions. And they have found a potent weapon in the social media to give vent to their feelings. They don’t hesitate to voice their opinion — even if it means going against the likes of Gavaskar and Richards. As Tendulkar slipped from the high peaks that he once occupied, the nation stands polarised. The man who was once anointed as ‘God’ by a frenzied nation, finds many of those once worshippers not just deserting his side but also ‘desecrating’ him with the choicest of epithets to lampoon him.

Unlike in the past when he roared back into form to answer his critics in the best possible way — with the bat, this time around the relative dry run has gone far too long. With every passing day, and every failure, the decibel level of fans baying for his blood is increasing. And amid all this came the news that his exit from the ODI stage was not his own decision, but engineered by N Srinivasan, the president of the BCCI. Even as Tendulkar’s die-hard fans were digesting that unpalatable news, comes a new revelation that the BCCI is to ask Sachin Tendulkar to retire after his 200th Test.

Tendulkar is increasingly reminding one of Kapil Dev’s unfortunate end. The man who strode the cricketing grounds like a thoroughbred, was limping — metaphorically speaking — towards the end, hanging on embarrassingly. Quite clearly, he was well past the expiry date, but the great man would not accept the reality. Kapil hurtled down from the peak of excellence to the plateau of mediocrity and finally to the precipice of an inglorious exit. In his last seven Test series, not once could he get four wickets in an innings. In four of those seven series, his bowling strike rate went well over a 100! It is out of deference to his monumental stature that the selectors, manager (coach) and captain for long adopted a diplomatic public posture — without conviction, though — to justify his retention in the team under the circumstances.

Kapil could have found a place at least in the Indian ODI team on his merits as a batsman, but he went without even a half-century in his last 105 ODIs. It was a great fall for a man who gave Tunbridge Wells international recognition by slamming an undefeated 175 after India were 17 for five against Zimbabwe and facing an unceremonious exit from the 1983 World Cup. It was majorly due to his magnum opus which helped India win the World Cup and record its finest hour in cricket.