Australia v India, CB Series, Brisbane February 19, 2012

Ponting and Tendulkar fight for their utility

Both have been through almost everything in their ODI careers, and still love it enough to fight for it, something they are not accustomed to. It will be fascinating to watch how they come out of the rest of the triangular

Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun. Now they are asking you what else is left to achieve in ODI cricket. Now a hush doesn't fall when Sachin Tedulkar gets out. Now Ricky Ponting's coach says performance is a cricketer's currency, and he should know that.

Two months ago, Ponting turned 37; in two months, Tendulkar will be 39. Today Ponting kept finding fielders with accuracy that would have won him some in a shooting range. For the first time in his career Ponting has had a string of five single-figure scores in ODIs: 2, 1, 6, 2 and 7. For the first time on this tour - a non-productive one - Tendulkar looked out of sorts today, falling for 3, taking his tally in 12 international innings on the tour to 355, an average of 29.58.

Tendulkar and Ponting in ODIs: 31,883 runs, four World Cups and 78 centuries between them. Tendulkar has a double-century too. What is left to achieve, people ask, and is that worth going through what they have been going through? For the players, though, that is not a question at all. There are achievements to be achieved, yes, but there is more to the game of cricket. They love it, they want to do well, and perhaps they don't know what after cricket.

On Saturday the Australian team flew in from Sydney to Brisbane, one of them attended the obligatory press conference, and then they rested to recover for the second game in three days, on Sunday. Ponting, though, slipped out of the hotel, and hit the nets at the Gabba. He wants to play, he is doing all he can to retain his place, and he is not asking himself what is left to achieve.

"If that time ever comes for me, when I start questioning if I want to play the game or not, the time has already passed you," Ponting said. "You should have given up the game. People asked me similar questions, I guess, through the Tests as well, before the Indian series. If I still thought I could do it, if I still thought I had the passion to keep playing. Definitely yes."

Surely Tests are different than ODIs? Surely ODIs don't provide the same sort of challenge, surely there is only so much you can achieve in ODIs? Not for Ponting. "I can't see how it can be any different at all," Ponting said. "It's my passion for the game, it's not my passion for one form of the game. It's my passion for representing my country, it's my passion for representing Australia."

Ponting then went on to announce he was available for Australia's next ODI, to be played in his hometown Hobart. He also announced he wanted to play ODIs beyond this summer, in the West Indies.

"I wouldn't have run to the nets yesterday for an hour-and-a-half if I didn't have that determination to try and make myself better and improve everyday," he said. "That's always been the way I have gone about my cricket. There's never a training session that goes by where I leave the training track without being a hundred per cent happy with what I want from the training day. That's the way I have always been about my cricket. That's the way I'll finish."

It is easy to be cynical and dismiss this as PR talk. Another way of looking at it can be that Ponting doesn't want to go anywhere. He has been the first Australian in a long time to continue playing even after losing his captaincy. An even rarer case would be how a former captain has taken over the side with the current captain unavailable because of injury. The message is clear: I am not going anywhere, don't ask me to retire, if you feel I should be dropped, go ahead. That's how it should be, too.

Tendulkar's case is slightly different. He has been picking and choosing the ODIs he wants to play. There is a feeling, keeping that in mind, that he might have missed a golden opportunity of calling time on his ODI career when India won the World Cup last April. Then again, leaving on a high is a highly idyllic notion. Today, though, was the first time on this tour he looked off right from the start. He even pre-mediated his movement away to make room against a short delivery.

Again, the real question is, is Tendulkar hurting the team balance? On the surface, he is not, because he still looks likelier to perform than some of the youngsters. MS Dhoni, though, feels he cannot accommodate all three of Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir because of their relative slowness in the field. He says an extra slow man in the field adds up, and the cumulative difference the slowness costs is about 20 runs. In that scenario, Tendulkar is fighting, like any other player, to keep his place in the side. That's how it should be, too.

Ponting and Tendulkar have taken up the challenge to prove their utility in the side in their own different ways. These are two men who love the game, who have been through almost everything in their ODI careers, and still love it enough to fight for it, something they are not accustomed to. It will be fascinating to watch how they come out of the rest of the triangular.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on February 21, 2012, 12:57 GMT

    the easiest thing is to comment,so critics who have only the words are doing their easiest jobs on the planet but sachin and ponting are batsman.they have bats .they have to perform which is not easy like so callaed critics and commentators works.otherwise who the hell they are to criticise and force sachin and ponting to step down....even they have no moral base to go against them....forget dhoni...he is only lucky but not talented....he feels inferior when there are senior players...they step down when they feel the right time for them...

  • Andrew on February 21, 2012, 1:35 GMT

    Interesting scenario - if Inverarity was head of the Indian selection panel.........

  • Pavandeep Singh on February 20, 2012, 14:37 GMT

    The Australian selectors have taken a tough decision and probably a step in the right direction by axing Ricky Ponting from the ODI squad.By duly respecting his credentials as a player, captain and team man over the course of the last decade and a half, they felt that it was time they moved on by keeping the larger interest of Australian Cricket in mind. . Now just compare this to a similar thing back home, can the Indian selectors and team management be brave enough to drop a certain Sachin Tendulkar who seems to be hampering the balance of the ODI team especially in series in which he selects to play. It is no rocket science to suggest that he now only plays in the series which he feels will challenge him as a batsman. It is his sheer presence in the team that is misbalancing it and rotational policy is the garb that the captain is wearing to hide the same fact. I doubt if the emotional Indian people (read selectors) can dare to take such a drastic but right step.

  • S on February 20, 2012, 13:27 GMT

    No cricket fan can deny what both of these outstanding cricketers have achieved personally & for their respective countries.......but no one is player bigger than the team. The Indians should take heed of the Australian selectors decision to drop Ponting, Tendulkar should not be allowed to 'decide' what is best for the team, it is not his decision!! Because they are dropped does not make them lesser players, it shows they fought till the end to represent their countries playing a game they love..........

  • Binender on February 20, 2012, 11:50 GMT

    Who are you guys to talk about players retirement....If the player is still confident in his work let him continue, age doesn't matters at all............If you are talking about form...can you say which Indian batsmen is doing well???..useless yungsters they only show up there talent in very few matches.....when looking to dhoni's statement he is pointing out only the seniors as if other all done there job perfectly......he is just planing to make the team as Chennai super king's as somebody said earlier....

    Please let the seniors play without discouraging them.....

  • surendra on February 20, 2012, 11:40 GMT

    Sachin will retire if he feels that he is not worth to keep his place in the team, Many Juniors around him are not performing to keep him out as Ponting faced in AUs team.

  • Dummy4 on February 20, 2012, 11:16 GMT

    nobody is eligible to critic about sachin tendulkar, an mental pressure created by our own people only made him play like this, he is not playing for his 100th ton he just plays for india & indian people, so give him our full support still he has magic in his bat

  • Harry on February 20, 2012, 10:43 GMT

    With no Bhajji and Yuvi to pump his ego, SRT is well and truly isolated in this Indian team. He should realise that his time is up and the dressing room no longer needs him. He should play the Asia Cup (after all he can pick and choose his ODIs), score his 100th 100 and then retire. The 100th ton will erase any negative memories.

  • Andrew on February 20, 2012, 10:20 GMT

    All this Sachin bashing people doing here doesn't make sense. Look at the performances of so called Youngsters Rohit Sharma and to an extent Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli. If I'm not mistaken all of these players have played all the ODI's in the current series. In almost all the matches the Indian batting team had a competitive target to chase but either of these three were not instrumental in couple of victories that India had. I agree Rohit Sharma is a very talented batsment but is he someone India can rely on? I don't see him scoring a decent knock over 50 against quality team.

  • Panneer on February 20, 2012, 9:23 GMT

    Tendul will not retire on his own. He will be forced to retire in disgrace. On field or offield, he takes all the attention making others 10dull man. Have to all wait till he his 100th hunderd makes......

  • No featured comments at the moment.