February 24, 2012

Stay or go? It's not the player's call

Who decides when a cricketer retires? It should certainly not be the player himself

It is only the brave and the content who know when to go. It is a difficult combination to possess and a rare person who has it. Some years ago my father wrote of my father-in-law that by opting not to prolong life in the intensive care unit, he had vanquished death at its own game. Giving up a sport might seem trivial compared to life, but for those who play it, and know little else of the world, saying goodbye to the spotlight is an almost impossibly difficult task. Unless, of course, you are bored, tired, frustrated or have a lucrative television contract that you have to take a decision on within a week.

Ian Chappell said he looked at the clock at 11.10, Ian Healy said going to training became a burden, Anil Kumble had taken every painkiller around, Kapil Dev had the record he so wanted and deserved. But for most, playing sport has been a way of life for 20 years, it has been their identity, their badge of honour, their cloak of accomplishment. It has defined them, but often it has blinded them to the existence of another world, one that they must now enter and are unready for; why, even one they might have looked down on, in the company of colleagues.

"Am I going to buy my own tickets?" they might ask. "Stand in a queue to check in? Hope the sponsor I gave a hard time to now remembers me. Damn, I'll play another season."

In the days gone by it was a bit easier. You gave up a little bit of fame but opted for another career while you still could. You got an opening in insurance, or became a school teacher, or - for those more blessed - you entered the lucrative family business. You knew cricket didn't always pay the mortgage or ensure an easy life after.

Now, staying on in the game has a far greater financial value attached. You, or your old classmate who became a chartered accountant, can calculate the future value of being in the team for another year.

It is a real issue, not one to be scoffed at or ridiculed. If we were cricketers at 35, having to take a call on whether or not to end a career, we would think similarly. There is enough money in the bank, but becoming a ghost-written columnist doesn't quite have the same ring to it as walking out to bat in a full stadium.

And that is why the decision on how long to play on must never belong to the player.

I often hear people saying that a Tendulkar or a Warne or a Kallis or a Ponting have earned the right to decide when to go. Of course they haven't. Nobody has.

Team sport at the very highest level is about putting the best people on the park, or those that you know can still be the best, for going through a difficult phase is written in the destiny of every athlete. The decision on whether or not a player is still capable of playing at his best must belong to someone else. To a selector, whose job, whose Hippocratic Oath, is to pick the best possible side for the national team.

And that is why picking the right selectors - proud, independent men who command respect for their integrity - is a key function of those who administer our game. It is a job that requires firmness in taking a decision and sensitivity in communicating it. It is a specialised skill, not a handout to someone who has the time.

It is imperative, too, that the selectors are independent and not pressured by those who might have reasons independent of team requirements. Many years ago in Hyderabad, I discovered that Mohammad Azharuddin was to be the next captain because I overheard someone trying to speak to the president of the BCCI on a long-distance line seeking his clearance. The selector could be overruled. That must not be so.

Now more than ever before, Indian cricket needs selectors of substance who can stand up to the ever-increasing media pressure and exercise their judgement. There are decisions to be taken on the future of four or five of the very best who have played for the country. The easiest place to be a selector is in the media, where you say your bit, remove your make-up and head off for dinner. These selectors cannot do that; they must live with their decision. I hope they make it and not become willing bystanders to someone else's will.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nandan on February 27, 2012, 11:31 GMT

    I agree with Harsha. A player can't leave his team unless he's a main pillar of the team. He should play as long as possible to give his guidance to young players. Especially in tests, Indian seniors need to play some more so India couldn't be a poor Test playing nation after having such legends.

  • Luke on February 27, 2012, 4:27 GMT

    First time I've enjoyed Harsha's writing. And agree totally with Smudgeon. This is professional sport and sport owes noone anything. It doesn't matter how accomplished an individual is they have no right to make the team suffer from their selfishness. Ponting was and it took the selectors to drop him from ODIs to give him the message. They'll have to do the same in test cricket. If India don't learn from this tour of Aus and just keep going with Sehwag and Tendulkar in ODIs and those two plus Dravid and Laxman in tests, then expect a rough ride while the new guys find their feet. With no overseas test tours for ages this is a great opportunity for India to blood young batmen as they are doing with their bowlers. India have slid further than Aus did after the greats retired and have further to go. If the BCCI doesn't demonstrate courage and dump all of the big 4 over the next 12 months then they aren't worth a damn. At least Ganguly knew when to go.

  • wayne on February 26, 2012, 2:18 GMT

    Ponting is a great example of someone who needs to be tapped on the shoulder. He's got such a strong competitive drive, I can't imagine him ever uttering the words "I'm retiring". Tendulkar I think is similar - plus he has the added aspect of being the most idolised cricketer in the game. Hard to walk away from that, and I don't know that the Indian selectors have the gumption to drop the game's most bankable star, regardless of his form. Some people here have said "Sachin shouldn't retire as there is no-one to replace him" should understand that no-one comes into the highest level fully formed. Tendulkar didn't stride out as a 16 year old as the finished article - it would have been boring if he did. It takes time, and you know what? That's one of the most exciting points in a player's career to watch - you know they have the potential, and it's immensely rewarding for a fan to see potential realised. Frustrating when it's not realised. But that's professional sport, kids...

  • Dummy4 on February 26, 2012, 1:35 GMT

    Player Mat Inns Runs HS Ave 100 50 MS Dhoni 29 27 955 91* 59.68 0 8 V Kohli 40 40 1600 117 45.71 4 10 V Sehwag 15 15 675 219 45 2 1 RG Sharma 21 21 690 95 43.12 0 6 G Gambhir 24 24 942 97 40.95 0 9 MK Tiwary 5 5 163 104* 40.75 1 0 SR Tendulkar 16 16 603 120 37.68 2 2 AM Rahane 11 11 340 91 30.9 0 2 SK Raina 35 33 856 84 29.51 0 4 RA Jadeja 19 16 313 78 26.08 0 1

    Please check the ODI played by our players from Jan 1 2011. Now decide who all to be dropped and who all needs to be in team. SELECTORS must watch this stats too...

  • Dummy4 on February 26, 2012, 1:12 GMT


  • Dummy4 on February 26, 2012, 0:27 GMT

    Ok well .. Who is Harsha ? Sachinists .. Dont care Harsha from now onwards ..

    There will be definitely a bad period for each and every player .. If India had to play a test series in AUS or SA or on any pitch out of inidan sub continent , our selectors do consider Sachin , Dravid and Laxman for sure ..

    The reason is ,there is no promising players than them atleats as of today ..

    Even in the ODI's , Dear Harsha , do you think there is a player who can replace sachin. Or atleast can deliver better than the current team ? (Actually there would be many , our selectors are failing to catch them up. where is Ambati , why Tiwari is limited to Bench ,Why Dhoni is getting selected for Test Squad, etc etc .. Why Raina is not getting sacked ? , Even though Gambhir has been doing good, why there is a rotation policy should be applied to him ,its definitely going to effect the teams performance ..)

  • Dummy4 on February 25, 2012, 20:19 GMT

    Dear HARSHA ... you said that selectors should go for best players in National Team... I am 100% agree with it... now if you have any one who can replace SACHIN .. you can come with it. Otherwise you have to wait for retirement of Sir Sachin Tendulkar...

  • Dummy4 on February 25, 2012, 17:14 GMT

    DONT speak you phrases harsha,you people can only comment a person from outside..note that you or no one has no rights to speak about sachin,you ll speak him high once he scores and the next day if he doesnt perform,you ll add on commenting him..dont speak for popularity..please leave him.respect his achievements...lov u sachin..........

  • Dummy4 on February 25, 2012, 17:06 GMT

    "I often hear people saying that a Tendulkar or a Warne or a Kallis or a Ponting have earned the right to decide when to go. Of course they haven't. Nobody has."-- Well, Mr. Bhogle, they have. And i am not going to talk about past performances here, those you know better than me; hell, better than most in the world. My suggestion, watch Sunday's match and see what happens. I guess, it's time i stop waiting for your articles every friday.

  • Phil on February 25, 2012, 17:03 GMT

    I think any fair-minded reading of this article would conclude that it is not criticizing Tendulkar or any other senior player. It is making the point that the individual player is in no position to judge when to give it away (unless they want to retire). It's basically not fair on the team to let individuals decide to retire 'in their own good time'.

    Therefore the article is not telling Tendulkar to retire; quite the opposite, it is saying that responsibility for picking the team should be left to independent selectors. If Tendulkar wants to keep playing, all he needs to worry about is making himself available for selection. Whether he is in the team is then up to the selectors.

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