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Mr Tendulkar, it is time for you to retire
March 29, 2007
I remember first hearing about a 14-year-old ace cricketer in my early days at the Podar College hostel in Bombay. Some members of the college cricket team often socialized in the hostel, guzzling London Pilsner (a local brew), after the day's practice at the nets. The conversation would quickly steer towards a critique of players on the Bombay circuit.
Getting a very objective analysis of local or national cricket at Podar in the mid 1980s was natural. Many of India's cricketing greats claimed the college as their alma mater. Dilip Vengsarkar and Ravi Shastri were alumni and Sanjay Manjrekar, still in college, was predicted to make it to the India X1 soon. In those days, it was normal to see Podar dominate the Bombay Ranji cricket team line-up.
Podar, a college in Bombay's middle class suburbs, filled with progeny of conservative families found its claim to Indian cricket of good snob-value against the high profiled, flamboyant colleges in "town" and in "Juhu" where the rich and famous from the world of business and bollywood sent their kids.
In that autumn almost 20 years ago, I found one string of conversations taking place in Podar Hostel noteworthy. Those gathered -- accomplished cricket players, self-proclaimed expert commentators and watchers were unanimous about this boy genius. They had no critique, no suggestions of how this boy could improve his stance or skill. Most other players got the brunt of their criticism -- that guy flirts off of off-stump, does not handle leg-spin well, will not do well on a grassy pitch, etc.
No such comments about this particular player. The group would talk about a Sachin Tendulkar, a kid still in school, as an accomplished player. In those discussions, he often got compared to Gavaskar. The conversation seemed over-hyped, exaggerated. This expert, informal group was in awe of Sachin and predicted that he would be the Indian side's future. Mind you, this was when Sachin was not even playing for the city, let alone the country.
Raja, a top order batsman, who had migrated from Kolhapur to the big city to play cricket happened to tour England with Sachin. Upon his return, after representing India in the under-19 side, Raja talked about three things -- the century he himself made in the olde country, the bite of the cold weather in the summer months, and this boy wonder called Sachin.
We saw Sachin play at Matunga Gymkhana, the nondescript cricketing field across from Podar College, once a harvesting field for the country's selectors. In that part of the city, budding cricketers dreamt of following a hallowed path -- from the by-lanes of Hindu Colony in Dadar playing tennis-ball cricket to Matunga Gymkhana playing for Podar and then for the Ranji team and India at Wankhede Stadium -- was the road to fame and success.
No, Sachin never went to Podar. He did not need a college to bolster his cricketing career. Most is history about this great cricketer. From those early years in the modest suburbs, he went on to become the greatest name in world cricket.
Over the years, I lost touch with cricket, Podar and Bombay. After more than a decade, I saw Sachin play at Lord's in the summer of 2002. The Master batsman failed to put up a good innings in that Test match but did excel in the series with a terrific century at Headingley, his 30th, thus passing Sir Donald Bradman's record.
But that was the past. Sachin Tendulkar is past his prime now. He failed himself and the country in the Caribbean at the 2007 World Cup last week. A player like Sachin needed to come through last Friday against Sri Lanka and get India in to the next round. Earlier, he had also put on an unimpressive display against Bangladesh. The consistency we saw in past years has evaded Sachin for a while now.
The Indian cricket team has disappointed all -- Indians and cricketing fans around the world. Sachin is the most accomplished, seasoned and high profiled player on the team. He needs to take responsibility.
This was Sachin's last World Cup. It would be a perfect time to announce his retirement and make way for younger players. Besides, it would also take the pressure off of other players who will be tentative about returning home after their dismal performance.
I have a feeling that if the same group that used to gather at Podar hostel more than 20 years ago got together today, there would be a difference of opinion on Sachin's inclusion in the Indian side going forward. I am guessing that this group that once was unanimous about his future prospects would find him less confident of his own performance today.
So, Mr Tendulkar, it is time for you to retire. Your best cricketing days are behind you. You will be known for your records, great batting style, bringing unparalleled thrill to your fans over and over again -- and if you do it at the right time, people will also remember you for your graceful exit.
And while I am at it, let me ponder about those who play for Podar College today -- that once fertile ground for India's future cricketers. Recent years have not seen any Podar college player make it to the India XI. I hope that this is nothing but a rough patch for the college and its best cricketing years are still ahead of it.
Girish Rishi, an essayist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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