What do cricketing retirements have in common with Stalinist Russia?
The India-England series moves to Eden Gardens in the coming week, amidst increasing frenzy over the pitch and what it might or might not do, and over one of the men who will attempt to play on it.
Sachin Tendulkar has been one of the greatest cricketers, and one of the most extraordinarily long-lasting elite sportsmen, of all time. Admittedly the first 13 billion years of time did not feature too much cricket or sport, give or take the occasional outbreak of Catch the Asteroid in the dinosaur community, but the last 140 years have been full of it, and Tendulkar's achievements and career span will stand out whether he plays one more Test or another 192. His batting in this Indian season has been stripped of its former certainties and precision. He deserves some kind of glorious ending, but the mysterious sporting scriptwriters about whom commentators are so fond of inquiring have an irritating habit of writing a dull, anti-climactic, inappropriate or rubbish final chapter. Bradman scored a duck in his last Test innings. Nasser Hussain blasted a match-clinching hundred and hit the winning runs. Jason Gillespie scored a double-century. Cricketing retirements are like Stalinist Russia - devoid of logic and justice.
India have opted not to drop any of the players who failed so strikingly in Mumbai, and instead have chosen to drop the curator of the ground where the next Test is to be played. To the neutral observer, this did not immediately seem to be entirely appropriate. Were the tentative prods and pokes at the Wankhede caused by the celebrated giants of Indian batsmanship worrying about what pitch the Eden Gardens groundsman was plotting for them? Who knows. In any case, the Indian batting folded like a tentative origami poker player, and the pressure had to tell on someone. Even if that someone had nothing to do with it.
Home-pitch advantage leading to skewed and unequal cricket is an age-old problem in cricket. I am sure you all agree that, in Kolkata, it would be grossly unfair for a turning wicket to be specially prepared. Particularly after the Mumbai Test quite clearly showed that one of the teams involved cannot play spin. Let us at least have a surface without such intolerable bias.
Petty squabbles over the surfaces prepared for cricket could easily be avoided, simply by removing home advantage from pitch preparation. A much fairer means of ensuring a surface that provides a just and equitable chance to both teams is to allow the home team and the away team each to prepare one end of the pitch. Furthermore, this would make for far more interesting cricket - if alternate overs were played on a green seamer flown in from Worcester and a rank dustbowl turner specially grown in the Gobi Desert.
The Indian camp have, additionally, sent the toe-end of Virat Kohli's bat to a private health resort, where it can be treated for post-traumatic stress.
World exclusive cricketer retirement breaking news India's Cheteshwar Pujara has announced plans to retire after the Ahmedabad Test against Australia in December 2025. Pujara, currently 24, said: "I know in my heart of hearts it will be time to go in 13 years' time."
Visibly emotional, a choked Pujara added: "It will be the perfect way to bow out, in front of my home crowd versus the team I made my debut against two long years ago. After much thought, I have realised that, come 2025, it will be the right moment for me to step aside. By then, players like Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane will have earned their chance."
Opponents and team-mates queued up to pay pre-emptive tribute to the Indian future stalwart. South Africa's Jacques Kallis said: "Pujara will have been a top, top player, and one of the most formidable opponents I will have encountered during the middle third of my career ‒ both whilst I am still playing for South Africa, and, subsequently, for England."
Indian legspinner Piyush Chawla commented: "It will be sad to see Pujara leave in 13 years, but it will have been a privilege to play with him in most of my 127 Tests for India, and to captain him in 70 of them. I will never forget the 350-run stand we will share for the third wicket at Lord's in 2021." Chawla was later taken away for psychiatric evaluation.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer