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After India won the World Cup under captain MS Dhoni, left, many expected Sachin Tendulkar would retire from the format.
After India won the World Cup under captain MS Dhoni, left, many expected Sachin Tendulkar would retire from the format.

Sachin Tendulkar stands in the way of India's progress

The Indian legend's refusal to bow out of the ODI format has left his captain Dhoni in a bind.

Less than 11 months ago, India's cricketers finally emulated the World Cup-winning heroes of 1983 with back-to-back victories over Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Sachin Tendulkar, who had played his first global competition at the age of 19, was three weeks short of his 38th birthday when he got his hands on the biggest prize in the 50-over game.

With the final having been played in front of his home crowd in Mumbai, most believed that the script was written for a fairy-tale exit.

There were no peaks left to scale in the one-day arena - his run tally will never be matched, and he was also the first man to score 200 in a limited overs international - and with Test tours of England and Australia looming, the time seemed right to focus on white clothes.

In the aftermath of the celebrations, though, there was no retirement announcement. Instead, there was acknowledgement that MS Dhoni was a cut above any other leader of his time.

"He [Dhoni] is the best captain I have played under," Tendulkar said. "He is very sharp and always alert. He reads the situation well and is open to sharing ideas. He always has discussions with bowlers, batsmen and senior players separately.

"He is always calm and never shows his frustrations. These are some of the human qualities that have made him so good. He is a fantastic captain."

India won the World Cup with a top order that had matchless experience. That came at a price.

Throughout the competition, Dhoni responded to questions about the fielding with words like "safe". There was tacit acceptance that having old hands around meant a lower athletic quotient.

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When the team was winning, it could be brushed aside, but Dhoni's wholehearted backing of youngsters like Suresh Raina had much to do with the fact their all-round fielding gave the one-day team an edge that a more mature Test side lacked.

Dhoni's eagerness to embrace the future was apparent even in his early days as captain. Having won the World Twenty20 with an inexperienced side in 2007 - neither the board nor the senior players thought the event worth their time after a long tour of England - he urged the selectors to look ahead when he took charge of the one-day series in Australia in 2008.

Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, both with more than 10,000 runs in the format, were those to be jettisoned and the opportunities that opened up as a result gave the likes of Raina, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma a chance to establish themselves in the side.

This was also the period in which Tendulkar was allowed to pick and choose his one-day games and tournaments, with an eye to keeping him fresh for Tests and the World Cup.

He played just 33 games in 2008 and 2009, and a mere two in 2010. It was a risk to expect him to ease back into the team seamlessly every time, but it paid great dividends as he scored magnificent hundreds in two of India's biggest games at the World Cup, against England and South Africa.

With the tournament won and the focus seemingly on defending the title in 2015, Tendulkar played no part in the one-day games in the Caribbean and England.

He was also absent when the same sides were overwhelmed on home soil.

When he was named for the Tri-series in Australia, there was surprise all around and a fair bit of cynicism as well given how he had struggled to bring up that elusive 100th international hundred in the Test arena.

Having Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir in the side has also meant no place for Sharma, so impressive since returning to the side after the World Cup.

Gambhir could yet make the squad for 2015, but the chances of either Tendulkar or Sehwag going on that long are remote.

With the next World Cup to be played in Australia and New Zealand, it would have made more sense to ensure that Sharma and Manoj Tiwary, likely bulwarks of the batting along with Kohli, got as much game time as possible.

Instead, Tiwary, who scored a century against the West Indies in his last international outing, still waits his turn, while Sharma knows that there's no place for him if the experienced trio play.

It has left Dhoni in a bind.

Unequivocal in his backing for young talent right through his tenure, he might now have to oversee the phasing out of a second batch of seniors.

The public sniping between those with a long-term view and those focused on the here and now has not been edifying.

On ESPNCricinfo, Sharda Ugra, one of India's most senior and well-respected cricket writers, called it "a circus without a ringmaster". It is also regrettable that much of the tension can be traced back to Tendulkar's decision to play these games.

Personal interest appears to have taken precedence over what is best for the team, and Dhoni's irritation at that is perfectly justified.

A team that was on top of the world less than a year ago is now lacking both direction and soul.

 

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