Sachin Tendulkar practising in the nets. (AFP)
Once again a Test series is drawing to a close, and once again that question is doing the rounds - will the Delhi Test be Sachin Tendulkar's last international appearance? But the pertinence of that question is open to the application of logic this time, as India's next Test series is eight months away, in South Africa.
He is approaching 40, but the way Tendulkar hit those 81 runs in the first Test of this series against Australia at Chennai, he looked the best he's been in the last 12 months. Since then, though, he hasn't done anything of note, but that's not what has once again ignited the debate about his Test retirement - it's the gap of eight months and the demands of a series against South Africa in South Africa.
There is not an iota of doubt that it's beyond Tendulkar, neither is there even the slightest question mark over his commitment and not once would one think that he is prolonging his career - but when your legs give way like Tendulkar's did during that run-out in the second innings of the Mohali Test, the question is bound to cross your mind. "Is my body supporting my decision to go on?"
Tendulkar's case, one has to admit, is not slightly but strikingly different. It goes beyond the logic of 'an individual is not above the team', because this 'individual' has literally carried this team solely on his shoulders for years. So this 'individual' is indeed not just any other but a special breed that you don't ever want to let go.
Just like Tendulkar, millions in India can't see a team without the man. Yes, a player has to perform to stay in the team, but then you can't say Tendulkar isn't performing and just playing on reputation, especially after the flair with which he stroked that 81 in Chennai. But while people firmly believe that it's entirely up to a performing player to decide when he wants to leave, it also becomes that player's duty to honour that belief. Tendulkar, his fans know, will do that.
But will it be in Delhi? We don't know. Will it be in South Africa? Hard to believe but could be. Really, it's entirely up to Tendulkar.