The late Peter Roebuck once wrote that great players are known for their failures while ordinary players for their achievements. It was in the context of Sachin Tendulkar, a few years back.
The same quote can be recycled as the context is almost the same. Will history be that kind to Tendulkar? From Rahul Dravid to Sourav Ganguly, everyone has now publicly conceded (after much reluctance) that Tendulkar is no longer the batsman he used to be. So, is Tendulkar’s struggle a new thing? Or is it a trend even among the greatest players, especially when they have crossed the age of 35?
Tendulkar has not scored a Test hundred for almost two years. There are so many other stats which will reveal that his poor form is not restricted to one series or a few months. So, why is the man himself in denial?
Tendulkar is struggling and it pains me every day to watch dismissal, as it pains millions of us across the world. But, history suggests that all mighty players fail to acknowledge this during their struggle. A genius like Tendulkar, it appears, is making the same mistake.
Even the great Viv Richards made the same mistake. Richards did not score a Test hundred in his last two years as an international cricketer. During this period, he could average just 36 in 13 matches while his career average was above 50. And, like Tendulkar, his struggle was not limited to just one format of the game. Possibly the greatest ODI batsman, Richards was not picked for the 1992 World Cup. Does anyone talk about that? The West Indies selectors could no longer ignore Richards’ sustained struggle. In his last 30 ODI innings, he scored a solitary fifty.
Contemporaries like Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara and Inzamam-ul-Haq played 19 Tests each in the last two years of their respective careers. Tendulkar was often compared with these players. Ponting’s failure is very recent; just two Test hundreds and change in a career average from 51.85 to 32.33 forced the Australian to retire. For the record, Ponting scored a total of 39 runs in his last seven ODIs and was dropped. Yes, dropped.
Although Inzamam’s case is slightly better with three hundreds in his last two years, closer inspection will reveal that he did not score a single ton in his last 23 innings. Similarly, just two fifty-plus score in his last 30 ODIs were stating the obvious decline of a mighty.
However, Lara was exceptional in this regard. Lara’s career average not only improved (from 52.88 to 53.11), but he also scored eight hundreds in 19 Tests in the last two years of his distinguished career. Lara’s average in ODIs dropped from his career average but the frequency of half-centuries did not drop alarmingly in the last two years.
Perhaps Sunil Gavaskar is the only Indian batsman who did not struggle in his last two years of Test cricket. Like Lara, Gavaskar got better (19 matches, an average of 54.37 with four hundreds) in his last two years as against a career average of 51.12.
Yet the likes of Lara and Gavaskar are rare cricketers who left the game on a personal high. In the last two years, players like Allan Border (42.10 from 50.56),Javed Maindad (38.35 from 52.57) and Matthew Hayden (36.91from 52.57) saw their averages take a blow significantly from their career averages. This phenomenon is perhaps as old as the game itself.
During Richards’ time, the media was not so big; there was no Twitter or Facebook to remind him of his mortality after each failure. Nobody was that bothered about Richards’ struggle then and his greatness is undisputed despite that blip. But Tendulkar may not be that lucky. The last chapter of his extraordinary career may haunt him forever.