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Awaiting the man in blue's call
Should Sachin Tendulkar quit One-day cricket? The question has gained currency in recent weeks in the wake of India's dismal Australia tour and Tendulkar's own scratchy form in the ongoing triseries, which follows the master's well-chronicled failures in the Test series.
Some former Indian captains, like Kapil Dev and Sourav Ganguly, have hinted that Tendulkar needs to take a call on his ODI career. Others, like Dilip Vengsarkar, have said that there is no need for the veteran to call it quits in the One-day format and that Tendulkar should be allowed to make a decision as and when he deems it fit.
Interestingly, an online poll conducted by TOI on Wednesday on whether Tendulkar should quit ODIs threw up a surprising result - 57 per cent of about 47, 000 respondents said 'yes. ' While what happens with Tendulkar's ODI career is not going to be decided in any poll, the TOI exercise does provide a good peek into the public bent. That, again, is not to suggest that Tendulkar take cognizance.
But the question is here, hanging heavy on the cricketing firmament and exercising the minds of experts and fans alike. Simply because it involves Sachin Tendulkar, cricket's biggest-ever icon, a nation's favourite son and an industry in himself.
It's not the first time that the Little Master has had to face this poser. During his form slump in 2004-07, caused mainly by debilitating injuries including the infamous tennis elbow, skeptics had begun reading the 'writing on the wall'. How long can he go on with his battered frame and possibly 'numbed' mind? Surely, 16-17 years of relentless, high-pressure international cricket would have taken its toll? Tendulkar rose like a phoenix and responded with some of the finest batting of his career 2008 onwards in both Tests and ODIs to not only silence the critics but also add significantly to his already well-established status as 'The Cricketer' of the modern era.
This time, the situation is vastly different. Nobody is hinting at an imminent end to his glorious career. The feeling among those who want Tendulkar to say goodbye to ODIs, it seems, is to see him continue playing Tests for a while. Quitting the limited-overs version will facilitate that, they think. Tendulkar is almost 39 and now also carries the workload of helming an IPL side. It's almost superhuman on his part to have played at this level for so long and with such consistent success. But even Tendulkar cannot go on forever.
That is why Tendulkar himself began cutting down on his workload post the injury-ridden years, mostly by excusing himself from One-dayers. In India's last 60 ODIs, Tendulkar has played in just about 15. The argument is that since he has already 'semi-retired' from ODIs, why doesn't he let go of it completely and focus solely on Tests and let younger men like Ajinkya Rahane and Manoj Tiwary possibly cement their places in the national team?
The fact that he was, for the very first time in his 22-year-long career, not picked for an India game - during the ongoing triseries in Australia - when available for selection also broke a 'glass ceiling. ' The move led to the raising of many eyebrows, with some ex-players slamming it either as a 'slight' to the great man or a 'fraud' on the paying public. But an iconoclastic (and debatable) decision had been taken and that gave people, on the other side of the fence, ideas.
What gives credence to the call is Tendulkar's recent Test form, especially on away turf. He was a shadow of his ebullient self in England last year and while he began the Test series Down Under in glorious fashion, his waning away after the first Test was stark and painful. One school of thought is that Tendulkar needs to focus intensely on Test batting to match the high expectations fans have from him. The expectations will not go away, unfortunately, and the master must carry the cross along with his willow till the time he throws it all away.
Tendulkar is burdened with another cross - he, more than anybody else, has to decide on how long he wants to keep putting on the India shirt - white and blue. Of course, it's going to be the blue one first as Tendulkar himself had, a few years back, made it known that he would sacrifice ODIs to prolong his Test career. Now, he has to make the great call, certainly not the easiest ask in the world. He is that rare player who is virtually beyond selectorial policies and fancies. He has been the great constant in the Indian side - in both Tests and ODIs - for two decades now. Lately, he has picked and chosen ODIs he wanted to feature in, in a bid to extend his reign. He has managed it adroitly and now boasts of a corpus of international games and runs which is mind-boggling : his longevity and productivity have almost no match in world sport. 188 Tests, 15, 470 runs and 51 centuries;458 ODIs, 18, 201 runs and 48 centuries. Tendulkar is statistically the Mount Everest of batting. There is no higher point on earth, and there won't ever be, possibly.
But with the team floundering abjectly in England and Australia in recent months - India may still salvage some pride by finishing the Oz triseries with a flourish - pressure has built up relentlessly on the stalwarts to stem the tide. What compounds the problem is that Indian fans and the media have become much more demanding than they were even a decade back. Success is sweet but it demands the world from those who taste it. By becoming the number one Test team in the world and by winning the 2011 World Cup, the Indian team let the fickle Indian fans taste blood. Humiliation in England and Australia, sadly, swept away heady memories of a happily crying Tendulkar being chaired along the Wankhede by teammates after the World Cup triumph.
Tendulkar's gargantuan legacy is built on both his Test and One-day exploits. While purists, which include Tendulkar himself, always cherish Test match batting as the 'real thing, ' for the fans, some of the abiding memories of the 'Master Blaster' involve One-day gems.
Thus, Tendulkar saying goodbye to ODIs is a big deal - it's going to break countless hearts. To see the greatest One-day batsman ever, with the possible exception of Viv Richards, no longer being a 'Man in Blue' will take a lot of getting used to.
Sadly, the environment around the Indian team right now is not exactly positive. Massive defeats, controversies and bickering over selection have vitiated the atmosphere a bit. It will be sad if Tendulkar has to leave the stage with even a bit of negativity around his exit. As and when he departs, we should celebrate his astounding career, which has given such immense joy to India and the rest of the cricketing world.
Tendulkar remains an automatic choice in the Indian eleven in both forms of the game and one cannot question his class and potential to decisively impact games on the basis of two or three failures. Of course, his powers are diminishing but he still is a leading light of world cricket.
So, rather than raise a clamour asking him to stop, let's leave the great man himself, in consultation with the selectors and the team management, to decide on the future course. He deserves, more than anyone, to go out gracefully and, possibly, with all guns blazing.
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