On March 8th, 2012, Rahul Sharad Dravid announced his retirement from International Cricket. A billion hearts went numb, but did not break. He was never the heartbreaker, he was the guy you’d go to for advice on how to deal with a broken heart.
He wasn’t on the top of his game, but he was mighty close. One bad Away Tour had done enough for him to know that his time was up. Questions were asked, but Rahul Dravid was still the best number 3 in the country.
He wasn’t selfish when he retired, because he had nothing more to offer. Not at home, atleast.
The gentleman that he is, he stepped down without much fuss. The newspapers, and media, fans talked about this for two whole days- day and night, morning and evening- with heavy hearts. He was, after all, the Best test player of a Generation that had a King.
Two days later, life was normal again. Dravid faded away into the world beyond, and memories will remain once Team India steps back onto the field in white against Sri Lanka months later. Rest assured, Dravid will be missed once that day comes. For now, though, 48 hours of tributes is what he has earned.
‘Those who retire at the top of their game are selfish. They have a lot more to offer to their country.’
Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, that timeless star of World Cricket, had this to say when asked the millionth question about his retirement plans. In fact, he called the media to have an informal chat with them, during which he made clear a stance that has been controversial as ever over the last few barren months. Team India isn’t the team it used to be, and by default, that means that Sachin Tendulkar isn’t the player he used to be….A year ago, two years ago, five years ago, a decade ago, two decades ago? The man is sure that he is still at the top of his game, and no self-respecting fan will try to claim otherwise. He is sure that he has lacked luck over the last year, in the quest for that century. The reason he hasn’t really enjoyed the hard trek to the milestone, could be because Team India suffered its worst form in the last 20 years while the world concentrated unerringly on Tendulkar’s superhuman milestone. The team was engulfed, almost coincidentally, for no fault of his own, within the confines and shackles of his pursuit- just another pursuit of excellence if you take away the numbers.
The only real mistake, and I won’t call it a ‘giveaway’- is that Sachin Tendulkar decided to play the Asia Cup. It is quite clear that the pressure had gotten to him, and as he almost said it himself- he wanted to get done with the ton and carry on.
In an anti-climactic game against Bangladesh, Tendulkar reached the milestone- one of his slowest centuries in ODI cricket.
Nevertheless, you heard a nation sigh- an almighty heave, not a loud unparalleled celebration. You heard him sigh, and he heard himself question God- why did it take so long? Whether he liked it or not, and he may never have intended it to be- but the Asia Cup was Team India’s final tribute to the man that served them for so long. Their loss against Bangladesh cost them a place in the final, and in no way can that directly be blamed on Sachin’s dodgy century, but one could clearly understand that this tournament (meaningless, at most levels, until we win) loss was a small price that Team India was willing to pay…to help their father, their mentor and their best friend. They wanted him back. They wanted life to stop standing still, and they wanted to win again. The Asia Cup was collateral damage, and in hindsight, after watching his innings against Pakistan- was not a high price to pay. He wants to say it himself, but now that the gorilla is off his back, he can bat with a smile again. That may not mean that he chased a record with single-minded dedication, and that may not mean he is not a team man. But the team wanted to be a Sachin team one last time. He didn’t ask for it, and in all probability, he deserved the favour. He may not have wanted to accept it, but it was given to him. And we will take it, too. One billion inner demons are too much to deal with, even for the man himself. In a moment of weakness, he may have declared himself available for the Asia Cup, after a disastrous tour Down Under against his favorite teams. There was no real need to play on, but one suspects that his decision did not have much to do with his inclusion in the team. He is a relieved man now, and the gentleman that he is, he will not blame it on the thunderous media and fan pressure over the last year. He will thank them instead, because he understands, as he says- that a 38 year old mind can do what a 17 year old body cannot…and a hundredth century in a losing cause against a lower-tier team in a meaningless tournament is ONE of those things. It was one of the most meaningful, poignant, individual, meaningless matches ever played- and there’s no reason to be ashamed of the fact that- for once, the player rose above the game, and the world stood in applause as a tribute to a gladiator that has dedicated his life to their dreams. Almost as an afterthought, Bangladesh won the game. Almost as a sidenote, Kohli broke another record and India exited a series they were destined to lose.
Sachin’s 96th half-century, that came two days after he scored that hundred, proved to be one of the most telling innings played by the man in his 22 year old career. It was one that answered a lot of questions, ones asked not by the world- but by himself. Yes, he is a relieved man, and he is happy to be human once again- a human that is touted as superhuman so many times, rather than being a superhuman falling to human depths.
The papers, and websites still talk about that century- 10 days after it was scored. Reels and programs are dedicated to his career, and his final effort. What is most significant is the fact that Sachin Tendulkar may find it hard to believe that two days were dedicated to India’s most glorious Test Career, and 10 days have been dedicated to India’s most popular number. He does not like it, but he has to accept it.
Meanwhile, Rahul Dravid does not find it the slightest bit hard to believe that. He is content, sitting back, and watching his comrade bask in yet another glare of unforgiving limelight.
Both of them, the old wise men of a generation that stood still, know one thing: While Dravid’s style of play and career were proof enough that the man played Cricket for sheer, unbridled love of the game- why else would anybody suffer so much to score a 100 runs?- Sachin’s outrageous statistics have always held him back in that aspect, and have raised questions about his real purpose.At the end of his ‘informal chat’ with the media, Sachin Tendulkar- in his new hairstyle that strains hard to hide those boyish features yet again- showed us a rare glimpse of that child on Azad Maidan- ‘I am still playing because…I am in complete love with the game. There is no other reason, and nothing else is forcing me to play’. He is still in love, ladies and gentleman, is it really so hard to believe anymore? Could it really be so simple? There are still those rare marriages in this world, that stand the test of time…my grandparents were with eachother for 70 years, is it really so hard to believe? It is, in these T20 times, because the world is changing.
Simple, unconditional, unbridled love that strives to rise above mere habit- is a rarity. But then, Sachin Tendulkar is a rarity. So was Rahul Dravid.
Take their cricket away from them, and they’re pathetically mortal. They won’t know what else to do. We do need a story, though, don’t we? How else can we sell some newspapers?