Sachin Tendulkar and the pointless quest

Ah, Sachin… the Little Master – in the history of cricket has anyone else commanded such a following, such fervour, such fanaticism? Unlikely, given the hundreds of millions in India to whom cricket, and the Indian team specifically, is a way of life. The man could run for president and win by a country mile, at least that’s the perception over here in England, where our hero figure likes to drive a tractor in his spare time and has the unique ability to send a crowd of 25,000 to sleep at will.

I don’t expect to be the most popular man on the web, therefore, when I air the following suggestion: Tendulkar should retire very soon, whether or not he gets his magical 100th international hundred. I realise this whole article might become a moot point if he gets a ton in the current ODI series, but even now, a certain amount of damage has been done.

The trouble is that two opposing forces are fighting it out. On the one hand, there is the undeniable fact that Sachin’s star is waning – quite simply he is not the player he once was. A very fine player, yes. One who’d be quite handy walking out at 4 in any cricket side in the world, but not the dominant force he once was. On the other hand is the absurd albatross which has been hung around his neck over the last year.

I’m talking of course about the ridiculous media frenzy surrounding the hundredth hundred which, in my opinion, is little more than an excuse to fill column inches. And boy, have they filled column inches with this stuff. One suspects that the Ancient Mariner would plump for the albatross every time given the choice between that and this non-statistic. Yes, it’d be impressive if he gets to 100, but it’s all very contrived. He’s already passed 50 Test hundreds, in my opinion the more exceptional demonstration of his batting prowess, and he’s got 48 ODI hundreds. That’s not a very special number. And he hasn’t got an international T20 hundred. Oh. But if you add them up, you get 99 (as one excited hack must have realised in a lightbulb moment)! Big deal.

All would have been well if Sachin had immediately gone out and smacked another ton. Pats on the back all round – 100 tons. Well done. End of story. But the trouble is, he didn’t. And doesn’t he know it. In the recent Test series in Australia, he looked a tortured soul, barely able to lay bat on ball. The fact is that the expectation has got to him. Forget albatrosses, we’re talking something in the region of a good-sized planet hanging around his neck.

Every time he fails, the clamour gets louder; as each venue comes along, desperate journos looking for something to write about settle again on the statistic: ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Sachin got his hundredth ton at [insert ground], the scene of his remarkable innings in [insert year], when he tore apart [insert team]. In this day and age where every stat is pored over, it’s unavoidable. At this rate, if he carries on screwing up, the BCCI might have to arrange a one-off game on a concrete wicket in Mumbai against Bangladesh, fielding all of their second-stringers who have been instructed to bowl lobs, with Kamran Akmal given special dispensation to keep wicket in order that any edges behind would be catastrophically missed. You get the picture.

The coupling of the decline in Tendulkar’s powers and the increased hype (if that were possible) surrounding him makes it appear that his career is coming to a slightly sadder conclusion than it ought to have done. His record is moderate over the last year, averaging only 37 in Tests, and it appears that, like countless sportsmen before him, he’s failed to pick the right time to retire gracefully.

Personally I think Sachin should have done himself a favour and taken a leaf out of Bradman’s book. To retire on 99 international hundreds would have a touch of greatness to it, rather as the Don retired with an average so perfectly imperfect. It would seem somehow apt. But it’s too late for that now for Sachin – retiring on 99 would no longer look graceful, as it might have done if he’d done it over the summer. Rather it would look now like an admission of failure.

And so we’ll plough on until he gets to 100, with the BCCI not dropping him and Sachin resolutely carrying on, until sometime in 2019, when, with his average hovering somewhere between Mike Brearley and Geraint Jones, Tendulkar, then aged 45, scores 102 in a dead rubber ODI against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo.

That really would be a shame…

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