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BATTING AGAINST TIME

A famous Bengali poet of the post-Tagore era once asked, in one of his famous poems, the poignant question, “I will go. But why will I go?’’ Sachin Tendulkar, batsman extraordinary, has no reasons to pose such a query to himself, to his innumerable fans and admirers, and to the selectors. He has served India and cricket very well and has made himself into a legend during his own playing career. What is equally true, whether Mr Tendulkar admits this or not, is that as a cricketer he is playing on borrowed time. Even a player of his prodigious talents cannot continue to fight biology and the ageing process. He has, with the irreversible passage of time, slowed down. His footwork is no longer what it used to be and his reflexes are slower. Thus his strokemaking and his selection of deliveries to dispatch to the boundary are often faulty. He is making errors that he would have never made in his prime. One inevitable consequence of all these factors is that he is no longer a prolific scorer of runs. Save the sycophants no one will advise Mr Tendulkar to continue playing. Mr Tendulkar should retire before he faces the ignominy of being dropped from the national side.

An example is already there before Mr Tendulkar: Ricky Ponting. The Australian batsman came into the game a few years after Mr Tendulkar, but he is retiring before him. Mr Ponting was also hero Down Under because of the runs he scored in all forms of the game, his superlative fielding and the leadership he provided. But Mr Ponting has had the good sense to admit that he cannot go on forever. He has announced his decision to hang up his boots. Mr Ponting did not have to be told that he had passed his prime. As a thinking cricketer, he realized it himself and did not allow sentiments or the love of lucre to stand between himself and the reality. There were many others like Mr Ponting who gave up playing before people began wondering what they were still doing on a cricket field.

It is difficult to understand why Mr Tendulkar continues to wield the willow. It is difficult to believe that he still enjoys playing. He must be a tired man who wants to avoid the stresses and strains of international cricket. It would be highly unusual if he enjoys the camaraderie of the dressing room since most of the players around him must have been schoolboys when Mr Tendulkar hit his first boundary in a test match. It cannot be the hunger of runs that keeps Mr Tendulkar going: he does not get that many runs anymore. Unlike his batsmanship, which was lucid in its execution and brilliance when he was at his best, Mr Tendulkar’s reasons to keep on playing as a ghost of his own past will remain a mystery. There could be the odd innings when he will get runs but that will be akin to playing from memory. For the sake of his own dignity, Mr Tendulkar should step down before he is out hitting his own wicket.