Sachin Tendulkar © PTI
Sachin Tendulkar scored 74 in his final innings at the Wankhede Stadium in his hometown of Mumbai © PTI

My favorite Test player is Rahul Sharad Dravid. I have never had a doubt regarding that. It was probably because I could relate to him so much; or rather, the perception I had of him. There aren’t many people in the country, or in the world I daresay, who can even think of relating to Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar even in their wildest dreams. They can carry that illusion with them, but it will be just that: an illusion. By that same token, empathy is a word Sachin Tendulkar would have known, but neither felt nor understood.

There are folks who can delve into statistics and prove lots of things. Sadly, I am neither trained nor very interested in that science (art?). To a run-of-the-mill cricket fan like me, Sachin Tendulkar represented hope. And it’s fairly difficult, if not completely impossible, to put hope into statistical terms. READ: The legend of Sachin Tendulkar will only grow after retirement

Much has been written about his brilliance, his genius, his artistry, his science, his perseverance, his technique, his commitment, his dedication, his devotion, his determination…you get the gist. Even attempting to do so would perhaps be akin to trying to answer the Ship of Theseus conundrum.

But there’s this one thing, this one aspect, one event that I have wanted to write about, to vent what I have felt very deeply since his retirement. Today is absolutely no occasion for writing this. There has been no fresh news byte regarding this and no cricketer – turned – analyst has expressed his opinion about it. But then, there is never a wrong time to write about hope, or so I believe. Stephen King and Andy Dufresne would probably agree with me on this.

How is one to decide if Tendulkar’s decision to retire when he did was right or wrong? I was talking to a dear friend a few days back; the two of us have played cricket in the oddest of circumstances just because we love it so much. He told me that Tendulkar’s farewell speech more than made up for his orchestrated retirement, as did the autobiography. In his words is inherent the argument that it wasn’t the right thing to do.

To him, nobody is bigger than the game itself which means that you can’t reschedule a marquee bilateral series which is part of the agreed upon Future Tours Programme. Going further, it probably also means that you can’t decide the venues of Test Matches to be played, especially when something like this is typically done on rotation basis. But then, Sachin Tendulkar always seemed to be chummy with the powers that be. Try as much as we do, the match-fixing saga that reduced the great Kapil Dev to absolute tears can’t be swept under the carpet. To the best of my knowledge, the standard response from Sachin Tendulkar during that time was that to the best of his knowledge, it never happened.

Later, strangely enough, not one journalist or analyst of repute probed him further regarding this. And if he could survive the probing of the world’s best bowlers across generations, this probing — had it happened — would have been child’s play to him. Yes, there is a certain sense of statesmanship involved in maintaining a sense of distance from all the controversies and suchlike, but surely there must be times when the cloak of statesmanship must be abandoned to roll up the sleeves and get your hands dirty. One can’t even begin to fault him for the choices he made but then without enough explanations, the doubts linger, the pain rankles. Does he owe any explanations to us? Didn’t we make him what he became? Or at least, did we have a role to play?

Look at Michael Clarke, or Shivnarine Chanderpaul, or Rahul Dravid. In international cricket, you don’t always get to bow out on your own terms. Yes, there are a few who know just when the time is right; who leave with all and sundry imploring them to stay a bit longer. But then, there are others who traverse the downhill slope too. If you go back to first principles, apart from the fact that all of us are afflicted by recency bias, there isn’t much to gain from going out on a high. All you have to do is hope that history will be kind.

If it has been to Sir Don Bradman, then it would have been to Tendulkar too. But a stroke-filled 74 is what Tendulkar chose, on his home ground to boot where they already have a stand named after him. It just doesn’t come any closer to bowing out on one’s own terms than this. Were there major commercial interests involved too in the timing of the retirement, given that he had become a brand ambassadorial machine by the end of his career? Even the thought of casting such an aspersion on the great man leaves you uneasy, uncomfortable.

The other question is whether he earned it or not, which is a treacherous question in itself? As soon as you ponder over it, you are flooded with some of the sweetest memories of the days gone by, with countless innings to talk about in this regard. If some market Research agency had conducted a survey among a sample of his fans to ask if they would prefer such a mode of retirement, the collective response would surely have been a resounding yes.

One could say that it would have been the cricket equivalent of the classic FMCG impulse buy. We were filled with so much emotion in those moments that everything else seemed secondary. The retirement question would have seemed so far out into the future that the surveyor would have had a laugh or two. Superman, as my dear friend calls him, never retires… at least not when he is out and about saving one and all.

But things changed and how! The injuries, the dip in performance, the up and coming stars… were we becoming any lesser of Sachin Tendulkar fans? Was he continuing to be true to himself? What were we in for? Then again, a master has many tricks up his sleeve. The seeds of change were probably sown during his unbeaten 241 in Sydney (against Australia in 2004) and then when the flowers bloomed, we saw that this humungous tree also had the ability to give fruits of two different species. In those days, I could not help but wonder how the 136 in Chennai (against Pakistan in Chennai in 1999) would have turned out with this Sachin Tendulkar? Another question to which there could be no easy answers. Most hypothetical questions are like that.

But the tree, even with its newly discovered shoots, found the going tough in foreign climes. England and Australia saw the beginning of the end. Here again, my friend has a brilliant point. He probably would have deserved the exit that he got had he left when the time was ripe. Yes, there is an inherent contradiction in this since one has already put forth the contention that he wasn’t bigger than the game. Then again, one has to allow certain leeway for fandom for without it, what would our great game be?

So what does one make out of the whole thing? It will be very hard for future generations to look at the great man without this being a very important footnote. There will be those who will be convinced to write a complete chapter on just this. Probably one of them will be from the massively weakened West Indies team who had the best seats in the house for the cricket equivalent of the last show of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge at Maratha Mandir.

A few of them will rip into the great man and call a spade a sledgehammer. My friend and I will surely read such stuff and be greatly pained and our defensive walls will be up. There will be a few others who will cease to be rational and their eulogies will contain only hymns sung from the same sheet. My friend and I will read such stuff too and we will disregard all of it. We will continue to hang in the balance, our feet will be neither forward nor back, the weight transfer won’t happen, the head won’t be still and the eyes won’t follow the line and length of the delivery.

We will hope to survive the ball that comes in late and arrows into our pads after pitching just in the corridor of uncertainty. In true Sachin Tendulkar style, we will then adjust our abdomen guards and ask for the sight screen to be moved a millimeter to the right of where it is. The next ball, as RSD learnt while facing Wasim Akram at Chennai (in 1999) will go away ever so slightly and hit the outer end of the off stump bail. There is some degree of perverse fun in indecision too.

What happens when your first love goes bad? It is gut wrenching to say the least but you still can’t really let go completely. My dear friend tells me that the real criminal is Time itself for it turns Gods into mere mortals. I couldn’t have put it any better myself.

(Abhishek Chopra idolises Rahul Sharad Dravid. Till a couple of years back, he used to daydream about getting selected for India as a leg-spinner or an opener or a wicketkeeper. Then reality struck. He can be contacted at facebook.com/chopra.abhishek)