Ten Test innings without crossing 27. No century since the Cape Town Test against South Africa in 2011. Bowled or lbw seven times in the last ten hits. These are the statistics doing the rounds in the last couple of weeks as most of India obsesses over Sachin Tendulkar. Irate fans have written sharp letters to newspapers, bloggers have had their unrestrained say and twitter timelines are full of venom.
Sadly, through the course of the debate, if you can call it that, the focus has been on Tendulkar, what’s good for him, and what he should do, rather than the Indian team. When any squad is picked, and from it a playing eleven, the first thing to think about is what gives the team the best chance of victory.
The situation being what it is today, with Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli being young in their roles, and Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman having retired, does Tendulkar’s presence make a difference? When you look at how fragile the batting line-up has seemed post-Dravid and Laxman, the presence of a rock at No. 4 becomes that much more valuable.
Since the Mumbai Test, where Tendulkar endured twin failures, falling to the left-arm spin of Monty Panesar in both innings, there has been speculation over whether Tendulkar has had a word with the selectors about his future. Sunil Gavaskar, appearing as an expert on television, suggested that it would be good for Tendulkar to keep the selectors abreast of his short and medium-term plans, but he’s the only one on record on the subject.
Tendulkar, understandably, has made no comment on whether he’s had a conversation with the selectors, and not one of the selectors have confirmed that a retirement conversation has been had with Tendulkar. Office bearers of the Board of Control for Cricket in India only get involved, even than in an unofficial capacity, in the rarest of rare cases when it comes to selection. At the moment, though, there is no directive from top Board officials to the selectors on the issue.
And, if you think about it with a clear head, there is no need, either. Tendulkar has never once been dropped in his 23-year international career, and has endured similar lean trots in the past, only to come back stronger. Turning 40 next April, Tendulkar hardly has age on his side, but he has managed his workload sensibly in the recent past, skipping One-Day International outings from time to time and staying away from Twenty20 Internationals altogether. There is no recorded history of Tendulkar playing with an undisclosed injury – there has never been the need for that – and to begin to doubt him now reeks of ingratitude.
For the sake of argument, if you concede that Tendulkar did have a word with the selectors, telling them that he was not about to announce his retirement at this juncture, and that the decision on his selection was down to them, it still changes little. After all, as one former selector put it not long ago: “The only chance of dropping Tendulkar is if his car has broken down and I’m travelling to Bandra. Then I may drop him home.”
Of the current selection panel, only Rajinder Hans, at 59, did not have a first-class career that overlapped with Tendulkar’s. Roger Binny, at 57, played till 1992, and Tendulkar was already a four-year veteran then. Saba Karim made his One-Day International debut under Tendulkar in 1997, and Vikram Rathour will no doubt remember all the extra nets and throwdowns Tendulkar gave him on the 1996 tour of England where he struggled to get going in the Tests. As for Sandeep Patil, he was a much-discussed figure in the Tendulkar household growing up, and Tendulkar’s association with him, in one capacity or another, spans decades.
To expect the selectors to drop Tendulkar is beyond the pale, for that is not how things are done in India. Australia is famous for taking the hard decisions regarding senior players being cut, and perhaps it is this that caused Ricky Ponting, enduring a similar drought to Tendulkar, to announce that he would retire after the Perth Test. In India, though, there’s little chance of Tendulkar being dropped, which leaves the decision on how long he plays down to the man himself. As anyone who has played the game knows, choosing when to go, if you have that luxury, is a deeply personal decision.
On today’s date, it seems everyone has an opinion on when Tendulkar should go, but in reality, the final word is his, and that is exactly as it should be, given all he has achieved over the years.