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Jan 28, 2012 at 09:34am IST

When should great cricketers retire?

Welcome to DRS, which is Directly Rajdeep Sardesai. I think this is not the best time to talk on Indian cricket, given all that has happened with Indian cricket over the last few weeks.

Today I thought I would speak on the subject that is on top of everybody's mind: When should great cricketers retire?

As the late Vijay Merchant once said, great cricketers or sportsmen should retire when the viewers or crowd starts saying 'why' rather than 'why not'.

Sunil Gavaskar was very fortunate, for example, to retire at the top after scoring a brilliant 96 against Pakistan at Bangalore. Anil Kumble retired when he was still very much the captain of the Indian team and their leading bowler. But not every cricketer is fortunate to know when to time his own retirement.

The question now on top of everybody's mind - what do VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar do? Have they, like some are now suggesting, overstayed in the Indian team?

It's a bit unfair how they are (being) singled out for the poor performance (of the team) in Australia. Last season Rahul Dravid scored 1100 Test runs and was easily India's Test player of the year, VVS Laxman averaged 90 against West Indies before the Australia tour. Sachin - yes (he) hasn't scored a Test hundred for the last 11 Tests but he never looked out of form, and in fact in the first two matches in Australia he looked in fine form.

The question then is, are we saying that India lost this series of matches due to these cricketers and suddenly they have become liability to the team? As usual, the Indian fans tend to respond in the extremes and just because we have done badly in this series doesn't necessarily mean that the Sachin Tendulkars, Rahul Dravids and VVS Laxmans should retire.

Ricky Ponting - before the start of this series just six weeks ago - was struggling for form, with the Australian crowd and cricket observers baying for his blood. Now he has scored over 500 runs in this series. The difference is the fitness levels of Laxman and to some extent both Dravid and Sachin, who have slowed down, as they normally would once you reach 39 and 40.

Does that mean they should retire? Well, I think this is a call that should be taken by these great players. Clearly they were motivated by going to Australia and trying what the team had not done before there - win a Test series in Australia.

Now that they have experienced defeat, it's time for all three of them to decide where their future lies. Sachin has achieved everything that any cricketer could in cricket; I am sure he will get the 100th hundred and that would be a mere statistical achievement but he has won a World Cup and has been easily the cricketer of his era. Dravid, also, at the end of the day has achieved a humongous amount for Indian cricket and so really has VVS Laxman.

I think it boils down at the end of the day to their own self-motivation and whether they are motivated enough to continue, and that's the one key factor when you decide when to retire. The other factors are that there are good enough young people to replace these three.

I think Indian cricket does need change, as you cannot stay in status quo forever and there is a certain timidity in our approach. I don't think the selectors of our country would pick up a phone and tell a Rahul, VVS or Sachin when to retire, which some would argue to say timidity of approach. But I think at the end of the day maybe it's time for heart-to-heart talk, between the selectors and these three cricketers to decide their future.

The next few series will be in India itself, (so) maybe this is the time to blood youngsters like Rohit Sharma or give Cheteshwar Pujara another extended run, maybe an Ajinkya Rahane. I think it's clear a time has come for a change but let's do it in an honourable manner, let's do it with some grace. Let's not bay for the blood of these great players, even though perhaps the time is up for some of them.

But I think they are proud cricketers, who will know that the time is up. Leave it to them; I'm sure their wisdom will tell them when to retire. When you have achieved so much and climbed the Everest of cricket, coming down is never easy. But let's not push these cricketers down the slope and allow them to come down gracefully from the very summit where they took Indian cricket.

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