March 24, 2013

Why Tendulkar must retire now

Like the other great Bombay batsmen of the past, he should time his exit right. It can't get better than ending with a series against Australia

In December 1951, after a Test match against England in New Delhi, the founder of the Bombay School of Batsmanship retired from international cricket. Vijay Merchant had scored a flawless hundred, and yet he chose to hang up his boots (and his bat). When a friend asked why, he said he didn't want to wait for the time when people would ask: why not?

Merchant was the greatest Indian batsman until the arrival of Sunil Gavaskar. Gavaskar grew up hearing stories about Merchant at the crease. Merchant had played for India with Gavaskar's uncle, Madhav Mantri, and it was Merchant who selected Gavaskar to play for India. When the time came for Gavaskar to leave the game, he chose the method laid out by his mentor. In the winter of 1986-87, Gavaskar played what he, and many others, regarded as his best-ever Test innings, against Pakistan in Bangalore. Later that year he retired, after batting well (and surprisingly briskly) through most of the 1987 World Cup.

The Bombay School of Batsmanship features many high hills and three mighty mountains: Merchant, Gavaskar, and Sachin Tendulkar. In choosing his moment of departure, will Sachin be as wise or as lucky as his predecessors? There was, in fact, a moment, in the fairly recent past, when he could have gone, to universal acclaim and the highest of honours. To be more specific, if Sachin had retired after the 2011 World Cup, which India won in part because of his 85 against Pakistan in the semi-final, he would surely have been honoured with the Bharat Ratna.

But he played on, a decision no one begrudged him, for he was batting well. In the two years since, though, his game has slipped. While touring England and Australia he batted well only in patches. Against New Zealand and England at home he was bowled far too often for a player of his genius. He went back to the Ranji Trophy, rediscovered some of his form, and has batted moderately well in the series against Australia currently underway. This prompts the question: should he retire at the end of this, the fourth and last Test of the series?

Every Indian cricket fan claims a special kinship with Sachin. Mine is this: he made his Test debut in 1989, and we acquired a colour television in the same year. Ever since, I have had my life enriched by the magic of Sachin Tendulkar at the crease. I have watched him bat many times live, and many other times on the box. I have marvelled at the range of his strokeplay, at his commanding control of both the Test and the one-day game, at his extraordinary ability to master different wickets, grounds and bowling attacks, and above all at the cool authority and understated calm with which he has borne, for this past quarter of a century, the absurdly inflated and sometimes maniacal expectations of millions of his countrymen.

Although I have followed him closely since 1989, I have never spoken to Sachin. We have not even ever been in the same room. Those who have think that he might yet be tempted to go to South Africa so that he plays 200 Tests (he is currently two short). Others speak of the ecosystem of sponsors, supporters and plain old-fashioned chamchas (hangers-on) who will not let him go. To this we must add the tendency of most sportsmen, indeed most men, to think that they alone are ageless, that the attritional forces of biology and history do not operate on them with the same intensity as they would on other mortals.

Even if Sachin does badly in South Africa, his standing among the fans will remain intact. Even so, I think that now is the time for him to go

The British writer Enoch Powell, himself a long-serving Member of Parliament, once remarked that all political lives end in failure. This is mostly true. Politicians tend to stay on far too long for the good of their reputation (and the good of their country). Winston Churchill should have retired as soon as the Second World War ended. Instead, he contested and lost the elections of 1945, coming back a few years later in his dotage, to serve a disastrous last term as prime minister.

Closer home, had Manmohan Singh left public life in 2009, at the completion of his first term as prime minister, history - and the people of India - would have remembered him very differently.

In this respect, sportsmen are somewhat luckier than politicians. Their fans tend to remember their best days, not their decline. The fact that John McEnroe won no major tournaments in his last few years as a player has not stopped us from remembering him as the most gifted shotmaker of his generation. That Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman batted so poorly on their last tour will not stop us from being grateful for all they did for and in front of us.

By this token, even if Sachin does badly in South Africa, his standing among the fans shall remain intact. Even so, I think that once this Delhi Test ends it will be the time for him to go.

Throughout his career it has been the rivalry with Australia that has been definitive, for him and for the cricketing history of the world. From those two brilliant hundreds on his first tour Down Under, to the superlative 155 in Chennai that demolished Warne and won a series six years later, to those magnificent one-day innings he has played against Australia in various countries, the image one carries - and will carry to one's grave - is of a little man with a flashing bat taking on a pack of tall, fearsome Aussie fast bowlers and their even more deadly wristspinning companion as well.

When Sachin went in to bat for the first time in the present series, the game hung in the balance. Australia had posted an impressive first-innings score (350-plus), while India had just lost two quick wickets. Sachin hit the dangerous James Pattinson for three boundaries, forcing Michael Clarke to take the bowler off. Those strokes reassured Sachin's partner, Virat Kohli, and together they steadied the innings, preparing the way for MS Dhoni's savage onslaught the next day.

Had Sachin fallen early in that first Test, however, the series may well have turned out differently.

In the event, India won that Test easily, and the next two as well. As I write this, on the second afternoon of the final Test, the match lies slightly in India's favour. But whatever happens over the next three days, we know for sure that in this series the mighty Australians have been vanquished. A group of fine young batsmen - Pujara, Kohli, Vijay, Dhawan - groomed and inspired by Sachin himself, are scoring runs regularly and with assurance. Therefore, at the end of this Delhi Test, Sachin Tendulkar should do a Vijay Merchant and retire from international cricket.

Historian and cricket writer Ramachandra Guha is the author of A Corner of A Foreign Field and Wickets in the East among other books

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nampally on March 27, 2013, 18:38 GMT

    Mr. Guha, The Fans & the Journalists may have their own opinion on Sachin's retirement. But Sachin himself must decide when he is ready to retire. In my opinion, he should have retired after India returned from Australian with 4-0 white wash. SRT is a legend like Wayne Gretzky was in the Ice Hockey. But sadly, age catches up with all of us. It is especially important for the Legends to quit so that people remember you for what you were at your peak. By staying on past your best years, you leave memories of a washed out batsman. SRT's Test average has dipped at least 4 points over the past 2 years & is still dipping! India has lot of talent in guys like Pujara, Kohli & Tiwary to take the spots vacated by Dravid, SRT & Laxman. There is also a new generation of younger guys like U.Chand (20) + others like R.Sharma, Raina, Rahane, in the middle order. SRT has achieved all the records & there is nothing more to be gained. Our life itself is a Game of Cricket - SRT, so lets play the Game!

  • bailey8210 on March 27, 2013, 8:55 GMT

    hi its going to be sad to see sachin retire but his outstanding record wont be beaten for a long time we will miss him. one thing i would like to see is if anyone was to replace sachin it would have to be rohit sharma the young man needs the opportunity and this would be the only indian cricket could move on and win games over seas that would be with rohit sharma.

  • dummy4fb on March 27, 2013, 3:51 GMT

    Perhaps the 2 tests spanning the same dates showed why. While in one his reputation influenced the umpire, apparently the reason why his camp (read he) objects to DRS, the other witnessed some drastic reviews, but for which the big chase for draw would have ended in a result, yet a dull one (most such chases end midway as they put umpires under extra pressure). It's another matter Oz's inability to capitalize on such breakthroughs may still have left them in trouble. He of course had once had his share of bad luck with umpiring , but that's no excuse for leaving Hugheses, Cowans, Pujaras or Kohlis at the mercy of instinctive umpiring when technology is available. It's horrible feeling when you see a drastic decision was just a howler.

  • Smithie on March 26, 2013, 18:04 GMT

    There is one most compelling reason why he must retire now. So that all of the cricket world can have consistency and use DRS in all ICC Test Nation matches. His reluctance to support DRS has been a blot on his impressive career. Hopefully his retirement will allow Srinivasan to save face and support DRS fully.

  • dummy4fb on March 26, 2013, 17:59 GMT

    Dear Sir, i am agree with you but i think indian batsmen have proved themsleves in indian conditions. In SA and NZ they have to face the seaming and bouncing conditions, in such case they require the experience of Sachin I believe for their motivation Sachin must retain in team, and irrespective of any result their he should retire from cricket after that. But any way master has made us proud so, Cheers for Sachin

  • henchart on March 26, 2013, 15:05 GMT

    SRT is his own worst enemy or at least is becoming so.Where are those booming extracover drives,use of feet to smother spin ,ferocious pulls,deft cuts?Probably in old videos ,repeatedly aired on Channels.SRT has to overhaul his approach to give one last fillip to his career.I guess he wont play another test in India.SRT is going the Kapil not Gavaskar way into retirement.People were asking when would Kapil break Hadlee's record and pave way for Srinath whereas masses were left yearning for more of Gavaskar after his superb 96 on a crumbling pitch at Bangalore.

  • dummy4fb on March 26, 2013, 14:55 GMT

    This article is laughable!! To think Dhawan, Vijay, Dhoni would score like they did in this series when India tours SA or Aus would be foolish. When is the last time an Indian batsman other than Sehwag played an innings like Dhawan's outside of India?? Sachin should retire, but he should wait till the SA tour atleast - the youngsters would benefit tremendously from his words of wisdom when touring outside of India!!

  • jay57870 on March 26, 2013, 13:56 GMT

    Importantly, Tendulkar's value to the team goes beyond stats & charts. "Sachin Paaji" is a pillar of strength. His reassuring presence brings out the best in his young teammates. Shikhar Dhawan said: "Sachin Paaji told me to be gutsy" as he received his test cap from the senior man. Shock & Awe! Was he "gutsy" with his breakout 187! We saw stellar performances from Vijay, Pujara, Kohli, Jadeja & Ashwin. Dhawan & Kumar are promising rookies. But can they perform at the same level overseas, especially SA? Can they step up & fill the void left by Rahul, VVS, Zaheer & possibly Viru & Bhajji? Can the team handle the pressures of a tough SA tour with a young side? As we well know, fortunes can turn adversely with injuries, fatigue, personnel issues, not to mention alien conditions & pitches! Can Dhoni lead alone? That's where his "sporting hero" Sachin Paaji could help. At this critical transformational stage, it's something for Sachin to ponder, one more time. He'll make the right choice!!

  • jay57870 on March 26, 2013, 13:44 GMT

    Guha - Tendulkar has said he will consider his options, series by series. The next series is in SA. The choice is his. He'll surely consult with his innermost circle of trusted advisers, family & friends. The biggest question will be: Is Team India back on its feet to go without him? Or does it need him one more time? No easy answers. First & foremost is his fitness & form. By all accounts, he still qualifies in the top XI. Yes, his performance may have declined from his lofty standards, but he's got enough in the tank to justify a place in the playing XI. As Guha attests: "Had Sachin fallen early in that first Test, however, the series may well have turned out differently"! Yes, his 81 & partnerships with Pujara & Kohli, after a poor 2 for 12 start, set the stage for Dhoni & Kohli to drive the big 1st innings lead & win. He also had useful partnerships in Mohali & Delhi in the early stages of the game. It's crucial to build an innings through good partnerships. And Sachin can do it!

  • krahuls on March 26, 2013, 10:33 GMT

    No, Mr. Guha. I do not think it is right time to retire for Sachin. Sachin is a team man and if he would have been selfish, he would have retired after the World Cup on a high but he has a job to finish and that is to groom teh next set of young batsman and cricketers. He has a big role to play in Indian Cricket to groom th eyoung talents like Pujaras, Kohlis, Rahanes and Sharmas (Rohit). I wlould want him to go SA and play his natural insticts - attack the best SA bowlers so that other young batsman can play their innings. On a lighter side, reading your article, it makes me wonder whether Tendulkar waiting for the next Mumbai batsmanship to cement and then retire... are you listening Rahane and Rohit?