x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Sachin Tendulkar seeking a perfect ending

The legend has retired from ODIs with memories of India's World Cup win still fresh. He may now be looking to quit Tests on a similarly high note, writes Dileep Premachandran.

Sachin Tendulkar scored a hundred and a fifty in his last two ODI innings. But his recent form in Tests has been less than satisfactory. Munir uz Zaman / AFP
Sachin Tendulkar scored a hundred and a fifty in his last two ODI innings. But his recent form in Tests has been less than satisfactory. Munir uz Zaman / AFP

This is not how great careers are supposed to end, you will hear some say. Reality, however, is shorn of such sentiment.

Look at how two of Sachin Tendulkar's heroes bowed out.

Kapil Dev, whose lifting of the World Cup in 1983 fuelled a million dreams, including Tendulkar's, exited one-day cricket with five overs that cost 37 and an 18-ball 12.

Viv Richards, the batsman that most youngsters of Tendulkar's generation strove to emulate, ended his limited-overs career with a scratchy 37 off 57 balls.

Many will question why Tendulkar did not choose the fairy-tale ending on April 2, 2011.

With a World Cup won at the sixth attempt and no records left to break in the 50-over game, the stage was set for the last bow.

We cannot be sure whether the quest for a 100th international hundred clouded his thinking, or whether he genuinely believed that he had it in him to play a few more seasons.

One thing is beyond dispute. Richards may have written the manual when it came to one-day batsmanship, but it was Tendulkar that revised and expanded it.

From the time he started opening the batting regularly in coloured clothes (1994), Tendulkar managed at least a hundred every calendar year. In 1998, he scored nine in 33 innings, more than some of the game's greats have made in an entire career.

What was even more admirable was the manner in which he responded to adversity.

After a Test failure in Karachi in early 2006, an Indian newspaper had come up with the headline "Endulkar". He responded with a century in Peshawar and a 95 in Lahore, on a night when Mohammad Asif's mastery of swing and seam made other batsmen look ordinary.

A year later, with Rahul Dravid and Greg Chappell presiding over an unhappy dressing room, India exited the World Cup in the first round. The consensus was that time had passed the country's golden generation by. And indeed, the bell did toll for Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble.

Tendulkar, however, was back four years later, scoring brilliant hundreds against South Africa and England, and crucial half-centuries against Australia and Pakistan.

In the years that followed the 2007 debacle, he played 78 one-day innings and averaged 48.36. Along the way, he also scored the first double-hundred in the format, against an attack spearheaded by Dale Steyn.

So, why leave now, when his last two one-day innings were a century (the 100th one, against Bangladesh) and 52? Why now, when questions are being raised about his poor run in Test cricket?

For those of Tendulkar's generation growing up in India, the World Cup was always the goal. As much as he cherished the hundreds in Sharjah against Shane Warne (1998) and the match-winning hands he played in the Tri-Series in Australia a decade later, he knew that his legacy would be viewed differently if he managed to emulate his heroes of '83.

With Indian cricket having stockpiled defeats in the aftermath of that 2011 World Cup triumph, the mood within the cricket fraternity is no longer indulgent.

Change is the buzzword and with young players aplenty waiting in the wings, Tendulkar's tendency to pick and choose his one-day engagements was increasingly being questioned.

Virat Kohli, at the forefront of the young brigade, has been scoring with freedom and panache in the one-day arena – he has a jaw-dropping 13 hundreds from 87 innings – and there are high hopes of at least a couple of others. Even two years ago, Tendulkar's was probably the most prized wicket for the opposition. These days, they know that they need to get past Kohli.

There is also the small matter of an ending. The one-day cricket narrative has always been based around the World Cups. Tendulkar can thus be assured that the last significant memory people have of him in coloured clothes is from the World Cup final in Mumbai.

He may have scored only 18, but Kohli's words afterwards revealed just how much his contribution to the campaign was cherished. If he was to leave Test cricket now, after the underwhelming year that he has had, it would be a sad reprise of how Richards and many other greats exited the game.

That his final tours of England and Australia were so disappointing will rankle enough. To exit the game after the whimper that was the England series cannot have been an attractive option.

If he stays on to play Australia, there is no guarantee that things will get any better.

Despite a welter of injuries, Australia will bring a formidable pace attack to Indian shores. Nathan Lyon, while not yet in the Graeme Swann class, is a fine off-spinner in the classical mould. The batsmen, led by the Michaels, Clarke and Hussey, could make plenty of runs.

Tendulkar averages 62.65 against Australia at home, and has always scored at least a hundred in each full series he has played against them in India.

If he can do it again, against the team that was the dominant force during his playing days, it would be the perfect ending. But as we have already seen, you seldom get those in sport.

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