The way things are going in the series, Sachin Tendulkar– in all likelihood- will get only one more opportunity to bat. An innings in Mumbai at the Wankhede.
The last time he faced the same team here 2 years ago, he scored 94- falling painfully short of what was to be his 100th 100. He would have preferred it to be in Mumbai to get the gorilla off his back, only so that he didn’t have to struggle to a labored century against Bangladesh in the Asia Cup. Not surprisingly, it was this century that convinced him that he had had enough of ODI cricket. He has struggled, suffered and plodded to a slow century that eventually cost India the game and tournament- more importantly, the enjoyment wasn’t there. Sachin looked like he would rather be somewhere else than deal with the pressure of a billion people baying for a meaningless record.
It was the pressure that made him who he was, and eventually, the pressure that told him he was too old for this. It drove him away quietly.
Now he comes back to the place that could have set him into the sunset a year ago. The 94 will have hurt him back then, but it ended up hurting Indian cricket for a while after that. Not to say he was responsible for all the failures that followed, but he was an integral part of it. He has now gone 8 innings without a test 50- it is a streak that had the likes of Sehwag, Laxman and Dravid forced out of the game. Even Ponting went away after 6 such innings. But this series, scheduled for Tendulkar, is a celebration of his best days, not the remembrance of his final 2 years. It is easy to sweep the last 2 years under the carpet until the next overseas tour, especially with Kohli, Pujara, Dhawan and Rohit easing the pain lately. He could have done without the decline. Many say that there was no successor at no. 4- but was anybody ever tried out there to even merit that argument? Rohit was in pathetic form in 2012, and Rahane hadn’t come up quick enough. But only once the slot is empty does the replacement come into question. Transitions for most teams have been rocky because greats are pushed out on their own poor form, not because they have ‘waited’ till somebody else took it away from them. A slot is left empty, a gaping hole is seen in teams, and then new players are willed to fill them and mould them into their own identities.
India’s warped logic of Tendulkar playing till somebody better came along is extremely flawed. Lara retired because he didn’t feel he could contribute any more, without bothering about who would fill his slot. It is upto the next generation to figure that out. Samuels and Darren Bravo are doing their bit, but the hole still remains. That does not mean Lara should have waited till now. He did what was right for the next generation- the team wouldn’t have been served any better to have an older fading legend struggling to carry on till another price came along.
In any case, it is hard to put a finger on who had more say about this decision- Tendulkar himself or the committee or BCCI. One suspects it is the latter that decided to squeeze out every drop of greatness from him until he appeared mortal. This is their ‘thank you’ for brutalizing a studded career in its final few years. Or maybe, this is an apology.
So there you go, Sachin. It’s a home test farewell.
You deserved better. You deserved to be dropped.
A century in your final test will not banish the memories of 2011-2013. Let us just behave like this is the World Cup Final. Everybody is in colors. And you got that century against Pakistan in the semi-final.