‘You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain’
40 year old Sachin Tendulkar hasn’t scored a test century since January 2011, when he scored arguably his greatest test ton against a marauding South African attack in Cape Town. Since then, he has averaged in the low 30s in 17 more tests- and has scored just one century in all forms of the game- his 100th ton, arguably his worst, against Bangladesh in the Asia Cup.
The entire cricketing world was looking forward to India’s tour of South Africa, starting November 2013. It was supposed to be this young Indian team’s trail by fire, after some disappointing overseas form over the past few years that has resulted in no senior except Sachin and Dhoni being retained. What’s more, the tour would come at the right time for both teams- with South Africa slightly weakened by Guru Gary’s departure, but still a healthy test side, and with India gradually overcoming a tough 2 year transition phase through some famous limited overs form. The only grey area would have been Tendulkar’s selection for this tour. While many admit that he is at the twilight of his career, on current form, he does not merit selection in the test team anymore than, say, a Sehwag or a Gambhir.
And then, the BCCI stepped in to make a decision that is, at the same time admirable and stupid. They have scheduled a quick series with a visiting West Indian side- 3 tests and 3 ODIs- and truncated the important South African tour to a minimum of 2 tests and 3 ODIs.
This may be seen as a decision that may have been influenced by many factors:
The BCCI’s dislike for South African cricket chairman Largot, the BCCI’s greed to hoard wealth and use Sachin’s 200th test milestone in their favour to get the cash registers ringing again, the BCCI’s veiled message to their favorite son: Dream retirement at Wankhede in your 200th test and no selection after that, BCCI’s allergy to overseas tours based on pathetic performances abroad since 2011, their fear of this young team being exposed by Steyn and Morkel in their own den, or simply their intentions of keeping this 2013 gen-next Indian team high on confidence without too many setbacks.
Whatever their reasons, purely as cricketing sense, this short West Indian series (that is now longer than the original SA tour scheduled) defies logic. The board’s inability to ask Sachin to step down has been well-known, and the little master’s own stubbornness shines through again as he refuses to acknowledge his fading game. Dravid bravely stepped down after one bad tour, and Laxman after two ordinary tours. Sehwag had to be bullied out, despite his reputation, and Gambhir’s failure to get big scores led to his downfall. Even tennis legend Federer has begun to doubt his own game, admitting that he has been far from his best in 2013. But Sachin is intent on letting the BCCI decide when he goes. He has known for a while that he cannot be pushed out, that he is bigger than the game. The BCCI, at the risk of immense ridicule, have now done that- effectively telling him that he does not merit a place even in the overseas squad, forget the first team. A new no. 4 was groomed secretly during the India A tour to South Africa, and the young batsman must be a bit relieved to know that he will now earn a squad place for both West Indies and South Africa.
Hence, what seems to be a spineless and greedy decision by the board can actually be looked at as a landmark roundabout strategy that could only mean good things- by way of necessary retirements- for India’s tour of New Zealand, Australia and England in 2014.