All Yours, King
Sachin Tendulkar is gradually stepping out of the limelight. If anything, this seems to be the best decision he has made all year- stepping down as Mumbai Indians captain after a torrid 365 days.
Despite the relatively successful last couple of IPL seasons, the Mumbai Indians stalwart seems to have understood that his game profits when freed from the burden of captaincy, expectations, hopes and dreams. Internationally, God knows he has enough on his plate.
Once again, his team starts the tournament as favorites on paper- and IPL 2012 is theirs to lose. If Sachin Tendulkar leads the team to yet another knockout stage only to fall there, his critics will be baying for his blood again. And that is not what he needs at this delicate stage of his career. He has a lot to lose, and there is no reason to be the fall-guy anymore, not in the twilight of his age-defying career.
Lately, the ‘seniors’ in the Indian team including Sachin Tendulkar have been under the scanner- and have been the subject of intense scrutiny. There has been intense speculation about his form and on the subject of his invisible retirement, and every shot he plays seems to invite cynical whispers and calls for his head. The relief on his face after completing an inconsequential 100th century against Bangladesh said it all. He does not want to be subjected to the weight and wait again, and he has constantly been a victim of the Indian fanboy phenomenon. Even his fans have started adding things to the ‘But He doesn’t need to…’ list with every match he plays, and this decision will gladden the most ardent of them. He (and the BCCI) seems to realize the fact that his 38 year old mind is more precious than his 38 year old body, and he must preserve it for further challenges. He has a responsibility to merit his place in the Indian team, because nobody else is going to ask him to step down- he knows that more than everybody else. He does have a point to prove after a tough season, and captaining the strongest team in the IPL is not the best medicine.
Be Kind Rewind
A long group stage will take its toll on most of the players, and he understands that Harbhajan Singh- on a comeback warpath after the worst year of his career- has a lot more to prove. If anything, the fortunes of this star-studded team resting on the desperate, aggressive shoulders of Singh might rise, after a successful Sachinless Champions League 2011 campaign. This also gives Sachin enough breathing space, and he can opt to choose out of games when he feels the need- without worrying about the responsibility of leading by example. There is enough firepower, especially amongst the new foreign recruits, to fill in his space at the top of the order. His role as the anchor in the batting order hasn’t always worked out, and he could experiment with some nifty new techniques- a la Jayawardena.
Mumbai Indians have lacked the killer instinct and the ability to win crucial moments in the latter stages, and with Singh as captain- this team will definitely be favorites even as the tournament stretches on. He has, after all, proved himself once- and has given a good account of his leadership skills after taking his young, inexperienced team to a World Title last year. Sachin Tendulkar is the most valuable player when he is behind the scenes, and his rapport with Harbhajan will help form more than just a sporadically brilliant outfit.
I’ll be back
This might just be a blessing in disguise for the best team never to have won the IPL. The Ambanis, though disappointed, might be at the helm of a very successful campaign- and they don’t know it yet. The team was always consistent, but now, there’s an added edge- a spark that is required to fill in that one empty spot in Tendulkar’s massive trophy cabinet. With Ashwin’s star fading in and out like the ball he often fails to spot while positioning himself for a catch in the outfield, the next two months could decide Singh’s future. Team India does need an experienced hand lower down the order with Zaheer breaking down again, and are in dire need of a spinner that can exploit home surfaces over the next two years. Ashwin, Ojha, Mishra and Rahul Sharma are all in the reckoning- with nobody taking the lead yet, but Harbhajan Singh has always been a confidence player.
What an IPL title might do for him and his beleaguered team right now.