Sachin Tendulkar’s age has been held against him. But are those pointing fingers at the maestro on this count got their facts right? H Natarajan produces some compelling numbers to prove that Tendulkar’s trenchant critics have been wrong by citing age as the criteria in clamouring for his exit.
“I've been at the twilight of my career longer than most people have had their careers,” Martina Navratilova said after retiring at the old age of 37 in 1994, soon after losing the Wimbledon singles final to Conchita Martinez.
The lure of competitive tennis got her back on court in 2000. In 2003, she won the mixed doubles titles at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon, partnering Leander Paes to emerge as oldest ever Grand Slam champion at the ripe old age of 46 years and eight months. Truly Riplesque! In a professional sport for supremely-fit youngsters, Navratilova showed that she was a champion above champions - much like Sachin Tendulkar who confounds the world with his ability to go on and on and on with the kind of focus and intensity that has baffled legends across many sports.
Tendulkar is an unfortunate victim of the social cacophony by cricketing ignoramuses.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul is 38, nobody talks of his age and retirement. Michael Hussey and Jacques Kallis are both 37 and nobody is talking of their age and retirement either. Why? The answer is simple: All three of have been in cracking form over the last three years as the table below clearly shows.
Ricky Ponting will be 38 – the same age as Tendulkar – in two week’s time, but not many held the age factor against him. What worried Ponting fans – and he himself – was his form. And that’s what matters. Age is only a number. As long as one is fit and performing, there shouldn’t be many problems, though the team’s succession planning is a factor that cannot be ignored.
Indian fans made the mistake of hounding the touch artist VVS Laxman and forcing him into premature retirement. Laxman had an average of 67.29 in 2009, 67.07 in 2010 and 40.68 in 2011. He had averaged 99.33 in the home series against the West Indies, before leaving for Australia. But one poor series Down Under and fans pilloried him into his exit.
Rahul Dravid averaged 83.00 in 2009, 42.83 in 2010 and 52.25 in 2011. In three successive before the tour to Australia, he averaged 50.20 in the West Indies, 76.83 in England and 63.80 against the West Indies at home, towering over the rest of the Indian team. Yet, one poor series in Australia was enough for intolerant and irrational fans to bay for his blood. Even the terrorist Ajmal Kasab was treated with lot more humanity. Dravid, like Laxman, made a dignified exit.
Indian fans were indirectly responsible for creating a crater in the national team’s middle-order with their intolerance. But they did not learn the lessons. They next targeted Sachin Tendulkar. Those of us who like to cite Australia as an example, should realise the reverence Ponting was shown in the face of mounting failures. As the below box shows, Tendulkar had just one bad year and we did not even spare him. Compare Tendulkar’s figures with Ponting’s to see how insensitive and inconsiderate Indian fans have been toward the maestro. In fact, Ponting’s slump had started in 2009, a year in which he averaged 38.77.
Sachin Tendulkar – been there, done that
This is not the first time Tendulkar has endured an extended dry run. In 2002-03 against New Zealand and Australia his barren stretch lasted 12 innings in which he could amass just 209 runs. But he silenced his critics with successive innings (of 44, 241 not out, 60 not out against Australia and 194 not out against Pakistan at Multan). But then followed another 10-innings run-famine in which he could amass just 136 runs. But Tendulkar came out of that spell with an unbeaten 248 against Bangladesh and followed it with consecutive scores of 94, 52, 52 and 41 against Pakistan.
There’s absolutely no doubt that the old consistency and authority are missing, but at the same time there is no need for us to become prophets of doom.
The 76 that Tendulkar scored is only temporarily going to silence his critics. They will come back with full force when he fails next. True, one swallow does not make a summer. It needs to be seen how much the innings of 76 helps him in regaining his lost confidence. Tendulkar knows that he will have to play far more consistent than any other time in his career. The age factor will always be held against him – rightly or otherwise. And since he has set very high standards for himself, even a score of 60 will be regarded as not good enough.
I wrote during his earlier crisis, “Tendulkar will not stay a minute longer if he doubts his own abilities. Let us treat a man who has given so much for the country with the reverence he deserves.” That quote still holds good. He bounced back then – and how! Twenty of his 51 Test hundreds came after self-appointed Nostradamuses predicted his end. Geniuses have a way of answering their critics and Tendulkar is one such marvel.
As advice for Tendulkar freely flows on the social media, the Pontiffs of Facebook and Twitter would do well to heed what people with unimpeachable credentials have to say about Tendulkar.
"There was a time when we could guide him. He was like a child to me when he started playing. Today, I hold him in reverence. Even though I am in touch with him on phone, I have never ventured to give him a word of advice,” Bishan Singh Bedi, the legendary spinner and former India coach opined.
John Wright, another man who coached the Indian team revealed: “I didn't coach Sachin Tendulkar; I gave him gentle advice when he asked for it,” wrote in his book, “John Wright's Indian Summers”.
After the unfortunate exits of Laxman and Dravid, the team and the dressing room needs him more than ever. Many former and present Indian players have spoken unambiguously and strongly in favour of Tendulkar’s continuing in international cricket. Cynics, however, would see all this as an incestuous convenience. That’s one must read what a plain-speaking Aussie of unimpeachable credibility has to say about the clamour for Tendulkar’s retirement: “Leave it to Sachin. He will know when to go.” Those words were from Glenn McGrath.
In conclusion, I’m reminded of Sylvester Stallone’s immortal words to his screen son in the film, Rocky Balboa: “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that.”
Tendulkar exemplifies Stallone’s words. There is far too much pride in that five foot, four inch frame to remain knocked down on the canvas. The bout of his life ain’t over yet. Don’t count him out.
In the blue corner is Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar…
(H Natarajan, formerly All India Deputy Sports Editor of the Indian Express and Senior Editor with Cricinfo/Wisden, is the Executive Editor of CricketCountry.com. A prolific writer, he has written for many of the biggest newspapers, magazines and websites all over the world. A great believer in the power of social media, he can be followed on Facebook athttp://www.facebook.com/H.
First Published: December 8, 2012, 8:15 am