The Test series in Australia is all but over for India and what remains is a potential face saving exercise in Adelaide. As of now the clamour for a change in the team is doing the rounds. But, what needs to be answered is, is this the right time to phase out the seniors?
Have we found the right replacements for the illustrious trio of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman? In the ongoing series Tendulkar looked in supreme touch, Dravid was scratchy but the will to fight it out in the middle was still present, whereas in the case of Laxman, the very very special element was missing.
When India became the No. 1 Test team, almost everyone was of the opinion that now was the time to look forward. But as a matter of fact, the team has not shed its reliance on the big three - we still expect the trio to fire when in crunch situations.
After giving two decades of his career and being a honest servant of the game, Tendulkar inspires the same level of awe and inspiration when he walks out to bat - be it the chants of his name or the standing ovations at home and abroad, nothing seems to have changed a bit.
He made his debut as a diminutive 16-year-old kid thrown into an arena prowled by a feared Pakistani bowling attack in Karachi comprising of Imran Khan, Waqar Younis and Aaqib Javed. No one then thought this boy from erstwhile Bombay would make a mark and later take the cricketing world by storm.
No one will forget how in the same Test, with blood streaming out of his nose, he shoved off the assistance of a concerned Navjot Singh Sidhu batting at the other end after being hit by a nasty bouncer by Waqar. The very next delivery from Waqar was cover-driven for a glorious boundary. Tendulkar mania promptly gripped the nation and it still has India in its hold.
In the 90s the team revolved around and depended on him, and such was the over-reliance that India performed when Tendulkar scored and folded when he failed. To qualify this, two matches come to mind - the 1996 World Cup semifinal against Sri Lanka at the Eden Gardens, when India, chasing a target of 252, looked completely in control but crumbled dramatically after the Lankans got rid of Sachin. Similarly, in 1998-99, chasing Pakistan's 271 in the fourth innings at Chepauk, India were struggling at 82 for 5 and then walked in Tendulkar to stitch the innings up with Nayan Mongia. But soon Mongia fell and Tendulkar followed, top-edging Saqlain Mustaq when going for a lofted shot over mid-wicket. The customary batting collapse followed and India duly lost the Test by 13 runs.
There are many innings by the little master that would be etched in any Tendulkar aficionado's memory. One of the highlights is the two back-to-back centuries against Australia in the Coca Cola Cup at Sharjah, where he single-handedly took the team to the finals, standing tall amidst the sandstorm and helping his team eventually lift the trophy. The Aussies looked suitably shell-shocked by the onslaught and would not recover for days.
Thanks to India's dismal performance Down Under, the spotlight is now back on Tendulkar and his quest for the hundredth international hundred. The burden of expectation is not new to his 38-year-old shoulder however. It has followed him throughout his career and Tendulkar has carried it with responsibility and dignity.
In India if cricket is religion, for Tendulkar the game is a faith in which he truly believes. But now the time has come for him to leave one form of cricket and focus on Tests to prolong his career. He has achieved enough in ODIs - the highest number of centuries, a double ton and the World Cup. Moreover, the team in blues is doing well at the moment, with the youngsters taking up the mantle.
It is quite unlikely that the axe will fall on Tendulkar when the selectors meet to take bold steps keeping in mind the future of Indian cricket. ‘Nothing is impossible’, is what he endorses, but to bring a thaw to his growing age is not a possibility. In order to continue playing for India in coming years, Tendulkar now has to take a judicious decision and set his priorities.