India January 4, 2012

Is retirement contagious?

What if all four of India’s batting mainstays decided to call it a day – on the same day?

Sunday, 1st January Hobart’s purpley heroes continue to sweep all before them. Today they overcame the Sydney Gayle and they were steered home by Owais Shah, one of my favourite batsmen. I liked him when he was the future of English batting, and I still like him now that he’s a footnote to an earlier chapter in the history of English batting.

He is fascinating because he has two distinct batting personalities, between which he alternates in phases, as though his technique is affected by high tides or the position of the stars. Perhaps in a desperate attempt to relaunch his England career, he once purchased a magic potion from a mad scientist, an elixir guaranteed to render any man invincible at the crease, but only for three overs at a time.

One moment he’s a harmless nudger and pusher, always in peril of tripping over his bootlaces whilst going for an easy single, and then, kapow! He is transformed into a biffing machine, despatching the ball with an angry snarl and a Pietersen strut, before reverting without warning to mild-mannered Owais, unable to say boo to the proverbial goose or even to the goose’s timid little gosling, Gary.

The setting for Owais’ triumph is now called the Blundstone Arena, which is overselling it slightly; the Blundstone Enclosure or the Blundstone Grassy Area would have been more accurate. But it’s a pleasant setting for a game of cricket and it was fun watching Chris Gayle attempt to bounce sixes off the tractor parked near the boundary, for which presumably he’d win a BBL Big Tractor Bashing Bonus.

Monday, 2nd January India’s batting order is like Stonehenge or Mount Rushmore. No matter how crumbly it gets, people still flock to see it in their thousands whilst these towering figures continue to weather poor form, creeping age and internet abuse, just as statues have to endure howling winds, lashing rain and the unwanted attentions of pigeons.

It can’t last for ever, but the question is, how to manage the decline? The Indian selectors need to bear in mind the Fire Drill Theory of Transition, which states that an orderly and controlled procession is better than a desperate rush for the exits.

For one thing, just think of the consequences for the Indian microphone-bothering industry if the famous four all head for the commentary booth at the same time. Talking loudly about nothing whilst watching a game of cricket is all that Ravi and Siva know these days. How will they earn a crust when they are made redundant?

No, each of these players deserves their full month’s worth of headlines, parliamentary tributes, pullout specials, and interviews with Harsha. And then there’s the other oldies. Ricky and Michael will also soon be entitled to their time in the setting sun. Maybe the ICC should set up a veterans decommissioning unit to prevent these all-time greats from stealing one another’s limelight.

Rahul, in particular, doesn’t deserve to have his retirement overshadowed. I can see the message board comments now: “Yes, he gave a lovely farewell speech, you can always rely on Rahul, but even though Sachin only said a few words (‘So long and thanks for all the runs’) he said it with such a mastery of tone and pitch that you’d have to say his goodbye press conference was the better of the two…”

The nightmare scenario for the selectors is if retirement becomes contagious. Let’s say Virender is woken at six one morning, turns over to look at the alarm clock and thinks, “Nah, I’ve had enough of this.” Later, he wanders into the dressing room in his jeans and t-shirt, and VVS sees how cool and relaxed he looks and calls it a day on the spot. Then Rahul, who was on his way out to try and save the follow-on, gets halfway to the wicket before retiring and returning to the pavilion, from where Sachin has already sent his farewell text, and the four of them drive off in a hors- drawn chariot.

And then what will Dunc do?

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England