Let him go...it will be okay
"The team will not seem the same without him. His contribution goes far beyond his batting statistics. The example he sets in every respect and his extraordinarily positive influence in the dressing-room is acknowledged by all. He is held in the highest possible regard by his team-mates and there is no higher accolade than this."
In a world that does not exist, those would be Krish Srikkanth's words. A generous tribute after he and fellow selectors announce an Indian one-day squad that does not feature Sachin Tendulkar. But that world does not exist.
Those words though aren't imaginary. They were indeed spoken. In a world that does exist. A 68 year old by the name John Inverarity delivered them with brutal politeness. The chief of Australia's selection panel was saying thank you and good bye to Ricky Ponting after slamming the door shut on his one-day career. He delivered the words with respect but also with the firm authority of the position vested on him.
Inverarity played all of six Test matches for Australia, the last of those in 1972. The man whose career he was ending had played more one-day games than any other Australian. Had been part of three world cup winning teams, two of those as captain. Yes, he had failed in five straight innings but that is a blip on the radar when you've played 375 one-day internationals. Only recently, Ponting the Test cricketer had fashioned a stunning resurrection so a comeback in coloured clothes was near certain. Yet, at the snap of a finger, it was over. But there was no mention of comparative pedigree, no manufactured outrage at how a man with a puny track record was nailing the coffin on a legendary career.
In Inverarity's selection panel sit three other men who share a deep bond with Ponting. Rod Marsh, the brilliant Australian wicket-keeper who was in-charge of the renowned academy in Adelaide when Ponting first provided evidence of his unique talent. Andy Bichel- who played and flowered under Ponting in the victorious 2003 World Cup campaign in South Africa. And captain Michael Clarke- who emerged and succeeded under Ponting's tutelage. But he too was clinical when asked to make the choice- "We've made this decision as a panel. It is tough not having the great Ricky Ponting out there playing for us but that's the decision we've made. Obviously the 2015 World Cup is something we've spoken about as a panel. He knows it's certainly not personal".
It is naïve to imagine these men didn't feel a surge of emotion as they pulled the plug on the career of a man they have known with such intimacy. The next Australian game was at Hobart, Ponting's home ground. The script for a fitting farewell was written for them. Yet Inverarity, Marsh, Bichel and Clarke did not succumb. They earned their pay-cheques: "In elite sport", they tellingly said, "There is no place for sentiment".
Only the foolish will argue though that a method that functions with such smoothness in Australia can be transported lock, stock and barrel to India. Our cricket, much like our daily lives, thrives in the chaos of emotion and sentiment. Sachin Tendulkar is more than a mere player, more than a mere cog in the wheel, more than a mere contributor of runs. Ponting can be plucked out, Tendulkar is a behemoth. He will choose his own moment. And till such time that he does not, the cotton wool of delirious fans will protect him.
As we have now learnt, the finish point of Tendulkar the one-day cricketer was just an assumption in our minds. That April Mumbai evening, we believed Tendulkar had it all. A World cup winner after five fruitless campaigns, the shoulders of an adoring team to celebrate the moment on, the gratitude of a nation. Records and statistics generations will gawk at in disbelief. What more could he possibly want?
But perhaps, the world cup was just a significant milestone in a journey that he didn't believe had reached a full stop. The grandeur of a moment hadn't dampened his love for playing the game. So after his body was rested and his mind was refreshed, Tendulkar was ready again. To compete, to relish the thrill of another challenge, to conquer opponents, to contribute in winning causes. He wanted to wear the blue uniform again. He wanted to face the white ball again.
Cricket has often shown us how a man's destiny may or may not be in his own hands. For every Imran Khan who bids farewell on the day he wins a world cup, there's a Javed Miandad, crawling out in ignominy. For every Sunil Gavaskar who produces a master-class in his final skirmish with an arch rival, there is a Kapil Dev who zealously drags an inadequate body towards a personal milestone. Cricketers are a self-serving breed but unlike us average Joes this is not a character flaw. They draw sustenance for the daily grind from the streak.
The question now is if Tendulkar has allowed the moment to be master of his own destiny pass. And if its time for others to make the decision for him and Indian cricket. Men entrusted with the task to chart the shape and form of India's national teams.
The national selectors and India's cricket board must now ask the critical questions. Is 39 year old Tendulkar a natural fit in this Indian one-day team? Does his occasional presence disrupt the balance of the batting order? Has India's one-day outfit learned not just to live without Tendulkar but flourish in his absence? Is Tendulkar as fleet of foot as he was in days gone by? Can he roll his arm over as he did in those memorably canny spells from yesteryear? Will an occasional burst of brilliance do more than provide temporary joy? If Tendulkar still ticks the boxes, this state of flux can persist. If he does not, then this is a bull ripe to be taken by its horns.
Retirements from international sport are deeply personal and deservedly so. It is quite an oddity for a man not yet 40 to be "retired" from all he's known through his adult life. So it is no surprise that sportsmen grapple with the timing because as the cliché goes, "You are retired a long time"! It is why they must be left alone to make their choice. As the great Pete Sampras did, waiting for a year after winning a Grand Slam without actually stepping on court before deciding the drive had vanished.
Conversely, leaving a player out of an outfit where he doesn't quite fit in the scheme of things anymore isn't a negotiation. It is a polite, respectful conversation, largely one-way. Where the man entrusted with wielding the axe does so. And the one at the wrong end of it either throws the toys out of the cot or swallows the bitter pill and gets on with it.
"I have no bitterness at all about what's happened. I totally understand the reasons why and the national selectors are looking forward to building a team for the next World Cup of which I am not part of their plans going forward". In the world that does not exist, I suspect Sachin Tendulkar would say something along these lines too. Ricky Ponting did in the world that does. And look around. The sun still came up. Life still goes on. Let him go...It will be ok.
More about Gaurav KalraGaurav Kalra has been producing sports content on television for over a decade. He started his career at Trans World International where for four years he worked on a variety of programming including magazine shows, news bulletins and live broadcasts. In his next role at Quintus, Gaurav produced a series of programming under the Wisden brand name, including the Wisden Indian cricketer of the century and the Wisden Awards. Gaurav joined CNN-IBN as Sports Editor in 2005.
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