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Tendulkar paying the price for raising the bar too high

Calcutta: Twenty months after Sachin Tendulkar hailed him as the “best captain” he’d played under, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has become everyone’s punching bag. It’s fashionable to go after him if nobody else can be targeted.

Strangely, even Sachin finds himself in an unusual position.

Despite giving the game itself such a lift, Sachin is now almost being ‘asked’ to close his innings. This was unthinkable nine months ago, when Sachin got his 100th International hundred.

Sourav Ganguly remains India’s most successful Test captain, but with 20 wins, Dhoni is one shy of Sourav’s record. However, Dhoni has two World Cups to his credit: The World T20 in 2007 and the 50-over World Cup in 2011. It’s a remarkable CV.

As for Sachin, his is unmatched. But, increasingly in this T20 era, where there’s a bigger demand for IPL tickets than a Test match, it’s the ‘now’ which matters.

Or, as former Pakistan captain Ramiz Raja told The Telegraph: “Indians are driven by statistics... They’re obsessed with runs, wickets and averages... There’s definitely more to cricket.”

Of course, there is, but...

After the tour of Australia towards the end of last season, there was a case for removing Dhoni. As captain, he had to be held accountable for disasters on successive tours. But there was no obvious replacement.

Dhoni survived, by default, many may argue. Today, too, there’s no obvious successor but it will become very hot if Alastair Cook is presented the Anthony de Mello Trophy at the VCA Stadium in Jamtha.

[Asked by the media to comment on being at the receiving end, on Tuesday, Dhoni replied: “I’m not on a platform to assess the situation... I’m not on TV, nor am I writing a column...

“In India, you get a lot of support when you do well, but the same people try and pull you down when the team is not doing well... I am not really bothered... I am just trying to perform to potential...”]

Dhoni is weeks away from completing eight years as an India cricketer.

It’s a fact that Sachin hasn’t got a Test hundred since January 2011, an extraordinary length of time for a batsman of such class. All this while, though, one Jacques Kallis has been growing in stature.

Indeed, from the Cape Town Test (the last time Sachin got a three-figure score) till now, Kallis has registered no less than six hundreds to tally 44.

Kallis has turned 37; Sachin isn’t far from his 40th birthday.

But should Sachin only be judged on whether he gets a hundred or not? Aren’t 51 in Test cricket alone enough? Having got us accustomed to hundreds almost at the drop of a hat, Sachin has to quickly correct a massive ‘wrong’.

Perhaps, there’s a price to pay for raising the bar.

The question is: After 23 years, is Sachin finally feeling the pressure?

Except his immediate family, no one can claim to know Sachin up close and personal, but someone reasonably close echoed former India captain Anil Kumble’s sentiments.

Basically, that Sachin be given the “emotional space” to go about his business.

The person in question said: “Nowadays, it’s not unusual for Sachin to put on hold replying to most of the text messages... He needs those seconds and minutes to himself... At times, he does crave for space... He’s entitled to get it.”

After 192 Tests, Sachin still has a phenomenal average of a shade under 55.00. Irrespective of his runs at the Eden and in Jamtha, let him be.

The other day, Sachin himself acknowledged that there’s nothing “permanent” in life. That’s one of the lessons taught by his late father. However, with no Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman around, the senior-most pro will be needed for some time to come, at least.

That stated, it will be par for the course if Sachin made public his thoughts on the future. There’s no obligation, but we do need to hear more often (not necessarily in Parliament) from the most inspirational figure in Indian sport.

Possibly the most inspirational Indian, across all fields, in the past two decades.