September 3, 2014

Is there such a thing as an ideal retirement?

The decision to quit is an acutely difficult one, and many cricketers trip up when it's their turn to take it

Steve Waugh had a season-long farewell Chris McGrath / © Getty Images

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine, a Boston Red Sox fan (don't ask), posted an article to her Facebook page, one that savagely took Derek Jeter to task. His primary sin? The announcement that 2014 would be his "retirement year" thus triggering a season's worth of tributes, farewells and sappy goodbyes. I am a New York Yankees fan, and I admire Jeter tremendously, but I was only too happy to - treacherously, given my company - join in this critique of his retirement plans.

Extended farewells like these are a nuisance. During the southern summer of 2003-04, as India toured Australia for a four-Test series that would eventually be drawn 1-1, cricket fans all over Australia were treated to the Steve Waugh farewell tour, for the Australian captain had announced his retirement from Test cricket at the commencement of the series. There were standing ovations, red handkerchiefs waved from all corners of all grounds, and there were many (oh, so many) tuneless tribute songs belted out lustily from the stands, the vocal chords of choirs suitably fuelled by dozens of alcoholic libations. Australia loves its cricketing heroes, but even there, I could sense, by the end of the series, a little impatience at the retirement strategy the normally hard-headed Waugh had adopted. He seemed to have hijacked the summer's cricketing narrative; and besides, how many standing ovations for one man could you, er, stand?

Our dismay at the tedium and self-indulgence of the extended or excessively staged retirement - a sentiment visible in the unease some expressed at Sachin Tendulkar's farewell - is matched by our impatience with, and sorrow over, the delayed retirement. I wonder if there is a sportswriter who has not waxed indignant, bemused, or wistful, as an ageing star declines to go down the supernova route and settles for the way of the white or brown dwarf instead: a series of increasingly bedraggled, tired, undistinguished performances threaten to crowd out the previously dominant images of sparkling sporting glory, prompting ever greater anguish on our part. Why won't our heroes put us all out of our collective miseries and call it a day already? (We are then, of course, treated to plentiful platitudes from other sportswriters, who inform us, in sonorous tones, about how champions never know when to give up, about how the fading of the light is a truth too brutal to be dealt with by most of us, and on and on.)

I wonder if there is a sportswriter who has not waxed indignant, bemused, or wistful, as an ageing star declines to go down the supernova route and settles for the way of the white or brown dwarf instead

It never gets easier. Sometimes cricketers retire too inconspicuously, not allowing for a send-off commensurate with their careers. Many Indian fans still wish Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman could have been given a proper farewell, an ovation for the ages, ringing around the rafters of one of India's mammoth cricket stadiums, the devotion and passion of the fans who underwrote their careers visible for all to see.

Is there an ideal retirement? Some say yes: retire when you are asked why and not why not? Retire at the "top of your game"; retire on "a winning note". The great Australians - Warne, McGrath, Hayden and Langer most recently, and before them Chappell, Lillee and Marsh - have shown some accomplishment in this domain, and will continue to set the benchmark here for some time to come.

Let me offer my own personal variant of the ideal retirement, a fantasy concocted - just like those World XIs - to amuse ourselves with. In my tale, the hero makes his announcement on the fourth day of the final Test of the series; he has known for some time that his retirement was nigh, but the events of the current series have convinced him the time has come. He calls a press conference, reads a prepared statement that concludes with him saying that he will answer all further questions pertaining to his retirement after the Test and series are over.

The next day, the fifth of the Test, is his: he will receive his standing ovations, from the crowd, from his opponents, or from his own team, whenever the opportunity presents itself: perhaps when he walks out to bat, perhaps when he accompanies his team out to the middle for fielding, and when he leaves the ground for one last time. And that will be that.

My personal preferences, in many domains, tend to the austere, so perhaps it's not too surprising that I should have cooked up such a retirement scenario. It does not adequately address the problem of the reluctant sports star, unwilling to drag himself off the stage, but it certainly attempts to get the applause, the farewell, the acknowledgments, the send-off, just right. Your mileage may vary; feel free to construct your own.

The ideal retirement is, of course, really a matter of taste. It's hard to satisfy the many competing desiderata of fans, journalists, one's family and personal drives and ambitions. This shouldn't be surprising; the decision to quit is an acutely difficult one. It trips up romantic relationships, mountaineers heading for summits and those reading difficult books. "Should I stay or should I go?" has never elicited a straightforward answer.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jay on September 6, 2014, 1:10 GMT

    Sachin walked into the sunset last November at Wankhede, watched by millions of his fans worldwide. Arguably the greatest batsman ever, Tendulkar completed his 24-year journey in a way only he could: "Playing It My Way" (his coming autobio)! Maybe he was inspired by the song "My Way" popularised by the iconic singer Frank Sinatra ... "And now, the end is here / And so I face the final curtain ... I traveled each and every highway / And more, much more than this, I did it my way"! Yes, Sachin!!

  • Jay on September 5, 2014, 10:59 GMT

    Samir - It may not be "ideal", but there's something special about a star's retirement. For an exceptional superstar like Tendulkar, several factors affected the timing. Most important, as Gary Kirsten rationalised: "Look, if Rahul, Sachin or VVS decides to retire it is a major blow ... But as long as the retirements of these players are staggered, rather than everyone leaving all at once, it will be a little easier for the team to integrate and groom the younger players". Sane advice from a well-respected coach. With Rahul & VVS gone, Sachin had to stay as the team's anchor & mentor.

  • Dummy4 on September 5, 2014, 10:40 GMT

    This make sense if, like yourself, you are a cricket writer who has the luxury of visiting multiple tests in the one series. Most cricket fans only attend one or two days of test cricket, and rightfully, wish to farewell their favourite sons when they retire from the game.

  • Dummy4 on September 5, 2014, 9:11 GMT

    only two names come to mind, Imran Khan and McGrath. Rest did not time their retirements well.

  • Dummy4 on September 5, 2014, 6:03 GMT

    I think Imran Khan is the only cricket who showed when is the ideal time of retirement. He won the World Cup for his country and retired from the team. This should the best time for any legendary cricketer to retire. It is better to win the highest award and retire rather than carry on forward and retire later on after some bumpy performances which we have seen with some of the players.

  • Dummy4 on September 4, 2014, 19:48 GMT

    you talk about retirement n you misses out Imran Khan , this is insane

  • Steve on September 4, 2014, 16:08 GMT

    I don't agree that Dravid and Laxman should have been given opportunity to retire with prior notice. If they didn't retire, they deserved to be dropped (especially, Laxman, who clearly looked past his best during India's 0-8 drubbing abroad). My thinking is that when a player no longer feels the urge to prepare himself for the battle on the ground, he should quit. I also don't like lengthy retirement season. At most, it should be a one match affair.

  • Dummy4 on September 4, 2014, 14:48 GMT

    I`ll leave it to the man himself, returning to a city that had lost so many throughout the course of the war, where he`d scored 334, 304, and a lowly 103 and 16 in his previous three visits. "I know I shall never cherish any memory more than the reception at Leeds... Not only was it the greatest I received in this country, but the greatest I received from any public anywhere in the world."...after scoring 33 and 173* in his final test there. Unnecessary matches? The greatest batsman the world has seen, returning to the spiritual home of the game, and showing people, in his inimitable way, that life as it had been known could begin again...that`s the way to retire.

  • Dummy4 on September 4, 2014, 14:40 GMT

    Excellent article Samir. I`m not quite sure where to start with some of the comments though. Probably the one that stands out for me is this - "Inzamam, Jayawardene & Bradman had worst retirements as they risked losing their 40, 50 & 100 avg club in last few unnecessary matches"...I think Inzi might have been in the 49/50 club, but don`t know much about his last series, so will leave him out of it. Wonderful batsman at his best though. As for Jaya, we`ve all just seen the wonderful finale to his glittering career. I can`t imagine that a decimal place here or there would have swayed him either way, or take away from his wonderful farewell series at home. As for Bradman, he captained an unbeaten team on the first Ashes series in England in 10 years, as an old man. He only managed to average 75 or so in tests that tour, but farewelled the English public, still under wartime rationing, in the manner they deserved.

  • Sarath Chandra on September 4, 2014, 8:59 GMT

    @Ahmed Hassan "However, something was amiss. Something about cricket- about the sheer competition, about the level of the game, the intensity of the contest, something about playing and emerging victorious against a ferocious side at a big stage where gut-wrenching, nerve-racking pressure is the only constant."

    Yes, all that is true. But it is also true that fans got a chance to say goodbye and thank you and I will forever be grateful to BCCI for that. I was there at Wankhede that day and the special, almost unique bond between Tendulkar and his legion of fans was on full display and it was spine tingling to witness it first hand. The extreme emotions that day were genuine, tangible and almost once in a lifetime experience.

    BCCI had nothing to with it. It was between Tendulkar and his people.

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