Tendulkar's retirement from ODIs December 23, 2012

A career built on reinvention

In limited-overs cricket Tendulkar represents reinvention - of form, of technique, of order, to some extent of the passage of time

On the night of April 2, 2011, the Wankhede Stadium was more than a stadium. It was a wall of volume, a tidal wave of noise that began on land and spread towards the Arabian Sea in the west and the train tracks to the east, as India won the World Cup after 28 years.

Then, the figure of Sachin Tendulkar was seen sprinting down from the dressing-room stairs onto the grass and his teammates. From the other end of the field where we stood - my colleague Nagraj Gollapudi and I, at ground level - Tendulkar was a speck in a surging sea of specks.

Yet, driven to an insane joy they will probably never experience again, the crowd spotted the speck, one stand at a time. And the noise began to grow larger, as if it had a tangible, physical size. As if the air had expanded to fit in the sound of 40,000 lungs each calling out to Tendulkar, in a joyful sharing. The stadium, it felt, was about to be lifted off its architecturally solid foundations.

This was the last time Sachin Tendulkar played an ODI in India. It was his best of times in the game's short form. Yet he played ten ODIs after the World Cup final, which gave rise to much hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing and plaintive queries of "Why didn't he quit right then?"

The World Cup was Tendulkar's sixth, and his second final turned out to be successful. That would have been the ideal time to wave goodbye to the one-day game, a movie-script-finish, with thunderous music. But he didn't and maybe he will tell us why he didn't quit the ODI game right then. Or maybe he won't.

For any neutral Tendulkar observer/watcher/analyst, the decision to linger on and retire from ODI cricket 20 months after winning the World Cup must be handled like a DRS-free, 50-50 umpiring decision. Deal with it, buddy. The last 20 months could either be interpreted as Tendulkar's blip or blemish, his private battle against time or his stubborn refusal to surrender one half of his cricketing identity.

With the passing of time, though, the 20 months will pale against the monument created by Tendulkar's ODI career in its studious, raging pursuit. The numbers are formidable - 18,426 runs from 463 matches, 49 centuries, 96 fifties, at an average of 44.83 and a strike rate of 86.23 - and won't be matched. But the reason Tendulkar has become the standard by which batsmen must measure themselves in the limited-overs game requires the imagination to be stretched a little beyond those numbers.

His retirement from the short form, whether brought on by an inner voice or a nudge from the selectors, indicates that Tendulkar wants to give his Test match batsmanship another crack, against the Australians next year

In limited-overs cricket, Tendulkar represents reinvention. Of form, of technique, of order, to some extent of the passage of time. His ODI career was crafted with a riotous method in the first half and scientific consistency in the middle. Towards the end, though, there came unexpected abandon. For everyone who thought they had understood Tendulkar and his approach to one-day batting, around the corner there lay surprise.

If statistics can be turned into symbols, Tendulkar's highest score fits all this perfectly: 200 not out, the first double-century in ODIs, scored in his 442nd one-day match, when he was two months short of his 37th birthday. In a sport growing younger and faster, 200 off 147 balls came from the most experienced man in the game.

Tendulkar's surge in ODI cricket - and in India's imagination - had much to do with his constant request to the team manager Ajit Wadekar to allow him to open the innings in 1994. Over and over again he asked for one chance, "And if I fail I'll never ever come to you again." The chance was given and Tendulkar and limited-overs batting and Indian cricket were forever transformed.

The advent of the attacking opener came to public notice at the 1996 World Cup through Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana. Tendulkar did not have an opening partner to match his pace but by the time the 1996 World Cup began, he had played 32 ODIs as an opener, with four centuries and nine fifties, at a strike rate of 94.

He has often spoken of the impact his ODI batting had on his Test career, in improvisation, widening and making flexible the canvas of his strokeplay in both forms. His peak as an ODI batsman was always carbon-dated to Sharjah 1998, particularly as he chose to play the anchor's role at No. 4 for a while. As a returning opener, Tendulkar accumulated scores with consistency and fluency but without the Sharjah aggro. Yet, once past the cricketing dotage of 35, with injuries set aside, Tendulkar the ODI batsman turned up at the top of the order and smashed the clocks.

He won't play the ODI game anymore. His retirement from the short form, whether brought on by an inner voice or a nudge from the selectors, indicates that Tendulkar wants to give his Test match batsmanship another crack, against the Australians next year. It could be his final shot at reinvention.

Tendulkar, Indian emotion, and in the past couple of years some anguished questions, have always travelled together. As he brings his ODI career to a halt, here though are a few less anguished ones. Why didn't Tendulkar lose his way at the age of 25, having gone crazy with the adulation? Why didn't he turn into a boor or a prima donna? Or give the crowd the finger when they booed or heckled him, which they did? Or give up the hardship of Test cricket and coast, like he could have done, in ODIs? Stats cannot measure drive or ambition. Nor indeed its benefits or hindrances.

For the moment, though, a favourite memory of Tendulkar in ODI cricket. It is not the teenager whose cherubic cheeks bulged from under the helmet visor and who wielded his chunky bat like a razor-blade in a knife- fight. Or the boy who grabbed the ball to bowl the last over of the Hero Cup semi-final against South Africa. Or the "desert storm" of 1998, or the upper cut of Centurion, or even the speck in a sea of specks rushing down the steps at the far end of the Wankhede Stadium.

It lasted all of a few, fleeting minutes, in Jaipur. This was the match before the Gwalior 200 not out, the first of three 2010 ODIs against South Africa, who needed seven to win with two balls left. On the penultimate ball, Charl Langeveldt pulled one that travelled at speed past short fine leg. Tendulkar, on the boundary, ran full tilt towards the ball and flung himself, diving and sliding along the ground like he was 16, to get his hands on the ball. The batsmen had taken three and Tendulkar saved a single. India won that match by one run.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mike on December 26, 2012, 22:21 GMT

    @Mallesh Gadam: Jacques Kallis was considered to be an ordinary player? Cricket comprises of 3 disciplines; . Batting . Bowling . Fielding

    To say someone is the BEST or the GOD of cricket; the player would have to be astute at each aspect of the game. Now compare Tendulkar's test stats to that of Kallis. Tendulkar is ahead of Kallis (for now) in batting. But Bowling and fielding? Kallis trounces Tendulkar. Kallis = TRUE God of cricket, whereas Tendulkar is a false prophet.

  • Mike on December 26, 2012, 21:56 GMT

    I loved the way Sachin re-invented the ball while playing against South Africa. It was called the "Mike Dennis" affair!

  • Sreekanth on December 26, 2012, 21:07 GMT

    Guys who cares what @LillianThomson thinks? It doesn't matter. She thinks she represents the opinion of non-indians, but she doesn't. So, let her have her opinion. It is really obvious to the rest of us that it is a seriously biased opinion (and I think we all suspect why it is so biased), so why bother. Sachin, a Top 50 cricketer is just laughable!! :) ... Take a chill pill folks.

  • Jay on December 26, 2012, 18:38 GMT

    Earlier this year, the highly respected cricket historian David Frith observed: "It is tempting to mark down Bradman and Tendulkar as the finest two batsmen who ever lived"! He posed the question "So what did the greatest of a former era think of the greatest of our time?" in the context of a personal letter the great Don wrote to Frith wherein "he (Don) felt himself in tune with his (Sachin's) technique and his aggression"! Another reputed writer, the late Peter Roebuck, hailed the then 37-plus Sachin for winning the ICC international cricketer of the year award. Peter was amazed that "any cricketer of his calibre (had) changed so less"! He felt the same did not hold true for other "great players" late in their careers: Richards "became a caricature of himself" & Lara "ever more fitful". Such is the Little Master's extraordinary Staying Power! That's why TIME Magazine proclaims: "Time stands frozen in front of Sachin Tendulkar"!!!

  • Jayaprakash on December 26, 2012, 15:07 GMT

    @LillianThomson how do you decide that bowlers who played Viv's era were better than Sachin's, its very subjective isn't it? I would say Donald,Pollock, Mcgrath,Waseem,Waqar,Brett Lee,Saqlain,Muralithan,Warne were as good a bowlers as any in Viv's era. In every era there will be some factors which will help you average more and some factors which will reduce the average. Sachin played in all conditions and against all opponents over a long period and still came out with a fantastic avg & strike rate. It does not matter if you think he is 100th best ever, Sachin is in a league of his own in ODI's and I dont think we can compare him to any one, including Sir Viv.

  • Satyajit on December 26, 2012, 14:18 GMT

    @LillianThomson, I am not taking back what I have said. Lower 4th innings total in case of weaker chance of win is common (Just mentioned Lara, Ponting who on their own right are great batsman) but doesn't mean this won't have exception (you mentioned Andy). There is another part to it which I could not mention in same comment due to lack of space. Why only 4th innings total important? why not 1st innings? Basically people playing well in 1st innings set up the game for the team. Sachin too liked to do that. Ultimately each run matters in a team win/lose/draw. Andy was a sticky character, not so dominating but persistent in his approach. I admire this but you can't compare him to game's greats like Sachin or Viv. On the whole, how much a batsman has done in one specific innings is not so imp how he has contributed totally is. Regarding Sachin's position in the pantheon of cricketing greats, in my opinion it is definitely in the top 5.

  • David on December 26, 2012, 13:36 GMT

    @SatjayitM Do you understand what you've just exposed about Sachin?

    You say that players from weaker teams have lower fourth innings averages.

    Could you therefore please explain how Andrew Flower of Zimbabwe had a higher Fourth Innings Test average than Tendulkar, and a vastly higher one than Sehwag?

    That's why outside Asia most of us think of Tendulkar as being around the 15th to 20th best batsman of all time. If you then add around 15-20 outstanding bowlers, and around ten great all-rounders you have his true place in Cricket's Pantheon: around the fiftieth best player the world has ever seen.

  • Dummy4 on December 26, 2012, 13:32 GMT

    Jacques is no where in comparison to Tandulkar. Please don't lower CRT by this type of comparison. Jac is a allrounder and jac started playing better at last part of his carrier. before that he was considered as a ordinary player

  • Devesh on December 26, 2012, 12:49 GMT

    True that!! the greatest ever to take the field in both the forms of cricket. A true master of his art!! Just one disappointment though. As someone who has left an indelible impression on the history of cricket, I think he shall only be criticized for not taking India over the line on more than a few occasions. But I guess that is the legend he has left for himself and for any cricket lover.

  • Satyajit on December 26, 2012, 11:23 GMT

    @LillianThomson, bowler skill and pitches impacting avg by 10? It's not that simple my friend. During Richard's time there were others who averaged more than 50 and had slightly better avg (Gavaskar, Greg, Miandad). In fact 80s and 90s were considered equally difficult and Sachin had 57+ avg in 90s). Regarding 4th innings I could see batsmen in stonger team almost always did better compared to batsmen in weaker teams. Also same batsman while in strong team does better in 4th innings but starts failing in relatively weak team (Ponting has about 50.4 in 4th inning career avg which dropped to 33 in his last 6 years!). My theory on this is that players in better teams get a more achievable 4th innings target which they often surpass and remain not out pushing up the avg. Same player when playing for a weaker team start failing.Just to prove this theory has some teeth, look at Lara's 4th inning avg. It's 35! Most people would agree that class wise Lara and Richards are comparable.