Why Kapil Dev's comments on Sachin Tendulkar are uncharitable & unacceptable

Kapil Dev (left) did not cross fifty in his last 105 ODIs spanning over six and a half years. He did not take four wickets in an innings in the last 50 matches. And in the last 25 matches of his 225-match career, he scored at 11.50 and averaged 43.31 with the ball! And now Kapil is asking Sachin Tendulkar to quit! © Getty Images

Are five ODIs since the World Cup sufficient to write off a genius with 18000 runs and 48 centuries? And does Kapil Dev remember the last few days — nay, years of his own career?  Arunabha Sengupta asks some uncomfortable questions.

 

The typical ex-cricketer is a curious creature especially in the sound bite happy, fad favouring culture of India. He appears on television, in pathologically painful programs aimed at identifying the villain of the match. He plays the expert in shows ostensibly dealing with cricket while the goals remain firmly fixed on sensationalism. He is interviewed by umpteen news channels, and places the performance of the current team under scanner, crudely dissecting the present players to unkind shreds. He laughs his way raucously from show to show, often with reasons far from apparent, and once in a while, sheds the odd tear or two.

 

The focus, more often than not, is on grabbing headlines, something no longer possible through his exploits on the field. It is understandable. The applause and the adulation that surrounded him during his playing days gradually ebb with time, but the soul hankers for more.

 

Kapil Dev is undoubtedly the best all-round cricketer ever produced by India, a phenomenal athlete who changed the way Indians thought about the game and the way the rest of the cricketing world thought about India. He etched the art of fast bowling on the psyche of a nation used to opening the bowling with, among others, Mohinder Amarnath and Sunil Gavaskar. His heroics at Tunbridge Wells are as much a part of cricketing folklore as the smile beneath his famed moustache as he held the Prudential Cup aloft from the balcony of Lord’s.

 

However, his remark that Sachin Tendulkar should quit One Day Internationals does indeed seem manufactured with an eye towards the popular psyche and with little facts or figures to back him up.

 

The not too distant past in numbers

 

Indeed, with the prevailing cliché about ‘no one being greater than the team’ doing relentless rounds, the fans of Indian cricket are eager to pay homage to some new upstart by making him another Sachin. Reason has rarely been the forte of minds steadfastly rooted to the immediacy of action. And hence, Kapil’s comments can ride the crest of popular imagination.

 

Yet, let me make an attempt at some perspective.

 

It may be a bit taxing for the temporally challenged public memory swayed by this current fad of ‘individual versus team’, but cricket statistics, so easily available these days, tell us that Tendulkar was the second highest run-getter in the World Cup, and the highest for India with a tally of 482. Somehow, guiding the side to the final en route the resulting triumph does not seem to fit the bill of the individual taking precedence over the team.

 

Well, it may be equated with past laurels, but a year has not yet gone by. Since the tournament, Tendulkar admittedly has not really come good in ODIs, but how many has he played? Five in all, in one of which he scored a decent 48.

 

Are five matches with four failures enough to write off a man with 18,000 runs and 48 centuries?

 

If we go as far back as the World Cup, Tendulkar has played 14 matches since January 2011 scoring at an average of 41 with a strike rate of 87.

 

If the last 14 matches are taken into consideration for others, Gautam Gambhir averages 40, Virender Sehwag 35, and youthful Suresh Raina 25. Incidentally, the leading batsman in this14 match period is another bloke the fans love to hate nowadays, MS Dhoni, who scores at a phenomenal 121.20, while boasting a strike rate of 94. Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma have done creditably, averaging around 50 each. But, given the figures, and knowing that Tendulkar is always that one innings away from balancing things all over again, it does seem extremely hasty to write off a genius just because it has become trendy. It increasingly seems that while individuals cannot be greater than the game, such clichés can definitely dictate terms with élan.

 

What about Ponting’s example?

 

For fingers itching to key in Ricky Ponting as the defining example of the ‘team over big names’ attitude, let me quote some more numbers. In the last 14 matches, Ponting averages 26.53 with a strike rate of 74.51. If we take the last two years for comparison, Tendulkar scores at 47.47 with a strike rate of 93.94, while Ponting at 31.33 with a strike rate of 80.03. There happens to be a significant difference between the two.

 

To prod the recesses of memory a bit more, let me cite the last draught of centuries and fifties of the master a six-match spell from September to November 2009. Tendulkar had then broken the lean run with 175 against Australia, and a few matches down the line had scored an unbeaten 200 against South Africa.

 

Hence, what exactly is the basis for harping incessantly that his days are over after five ODIs? Does not a colossal performer merit a little respect and support from alleged cricket followers, or are we too steeped in the recency effect to care for such niceties?

 

Kapil seems to have forgotten his painful end to his international career

 

What is even more interesting is the nonchalant way that the past cricketers close their eyes to their own careers when placing the current generation under their merciless microscopes.

 

From the commentary box, someone infamous for batting through an entire ODI innings without reaching 50 often comes out all guns blazing about upping the tempo. Someone else, historically inept at handling bouncers aimed at the chin, is full of advice about playing the short ball.

 

In this regard, it is interesting to note, that on Mohinder Amarnath’s Facebook wall a status message appeared proclaiming ‘No one is bigger than the game.’ It is indeed rich coming from someone who had called the selectors a bunch of jokers when they had axed him, aged 38, because of a similar focus on the youth in 1988.

 

Hence, it is hardly surprising, but incredibly funny to listen to Kapil Dev urging the selectors to take a stand and remove Tendulkar from the team if required. True, Tendulkar has not hit a half century in the last five innings since the World Cup campaign. Many times more remarkable, if seldom remembered, is the fact that Kapil himself did not cross fifty in his last 105 ODIs spanning over six and a half years. For the last 50 matches he did not take four wickets in an innings. In the last 25 matches of his 225-match career, he scored at 11.50 and averaged 43.31 with the ball!

 

If one can get away from the distractions of the present, there flits by the image of Mohammed Azharuddin urging Anil Kumble to bowl wide outside the off-stump so that the great all-rounder could somehow manage to reach Richard Hadlee’s record haul of 431 wickets. Makes one wonder who was guilty of sticking around way, way longer than recommended.

 

However, the entire set of Kapil’s comments hint at a major alienation from memory. His observations on Dhoni’s supposed favouritism, for example, tend to ignore some past names such as Chetan Sharma. His intrigue at Ravindra Jadeja not being used as a bowler curiously makes one wonder why India’s new ball bowler Raju Kulkarni, who impressed one and all by taking three wickets in the first innings of his debut Test against Australia, had to wait till 63rd over to have a go at Allan Border and Dean Jones when the Indians were pushing for victory in the second innings.

 

From whichever way one analyses it, the proverbial glass house looms in the foreground from within which Kapil has smugly cast loaded stones.

 

There is no doubt that Kapil has been the best all-rounder in the history of Indian cricket. There can be no question about his ability or authority when it comes to the game.

 

Yet, this very respect that he has earned with his performance necessitates some discretion while voicing opinions so that one is able to distinguish between the handful of real experts from the myriads of pseudo know-it-alls that litter the cricket world.

 

(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)