Quit when your fans ask “why?” and not “Why not?” is the most quoted chestnut about a Star’s or a leader’s retirement. Let me confess. This note is triggered by the recent news reports about the growing clamour in a section of media and fandom on the possible retirement or the ‘non-retirement’ of Sachin Tendulkar. The hastily organized home series against the West Indies to coincide with the landmark 200th Test match of the Little Master, well planted stories in the media about BCCI giving Sachin an ‘honourable exit’ at home are surfacing on the hour, as are the stories about Tendulkar being selected on ‘merit’ alone in future series. While Sachin or for that matter anybody retires or not will finally boil down to that individual’s decision, there are a few thoughts that I as a follower and as a fan ‘demand’ from my leader or star. I will try and break up the same in this page. The views are only about people who ‘do’ retire. So as you have rightly guessed, Politicians who either die or fade away in the fond hope of clinging to the chair are not included here!
I have always maintained that when it comes to Indian Cricket, more specifically retirement of Indian Cricketers, there are only two models. The Sunil Gavaskar model and the Kapil Dev model. People who are much more well versed with player statistics may kindly excuse me. This is not an exercise which will indulge in them. When Sunil Gavaskar announced his retirement from the game before the Indo-Pak Test series in 1986-87 season, none could dispute the fact that he could have carried on for a few more seasons. He was as fit as he could ever be, had come back from a very successful tour to Australia and was among the runs in the Home series against Sri Lanka. The gem of a knock he played in his last inning, almost single handedly taking India to victory in Bangalore are what folklores are about. The question I then asked myself as a young fan was: “Why SMG?”
By far the greatest among Indian Cricketers, especially given his handsome contribution both with the bat and the ball, Kapil Dev was the reason I latched on to Cricket as a fan, as a follower, as a devotee. The seed of fielding as a discipline in Indian Cricket was sown by Kapil Dev. Suffices to say Kapil Dev took the game forward in India. However as injuries took their toll, consistency dropped and the lethal outswinger would not appear like magic whenever he wanted, Kapil Dev’s only reason to drag his career along was to overtake the World record of 431 wickets then held by Richard Hadlee. As a fan of Kapil Dev and by extension Team India, I prayed before the start of every day of a test match that may Kapil get his bagful, overtake Hadlee and then retire. Kapil Dev did eventually take that landmark wicket after what seemed eons to me. I waited with bated breath for the noise around the event to settle down and for that eagerly awaited announcement of retirement to come. Alas! It didn’t. Kapil continued for one more unfruitful tour to New Zealand and then was never picked. I am not sure he ever retired till date!
As a fan, one of the primary emotions which we associate with our star is one of joy! Every time the star in question is shown on TV or he walks down to bat or bowl or takes that amazing catch, a part of us looks at the success, the ‘high’ as our own. Adrenalin pumps, heart beats pick up, it is almost orgasmic! The flip side surprisingly is not a low that we hit when our star does. The primary emotion on such occasions is hope! Yes, the man will pick up the pieces, rejuvenate and come back stronger to achieve what he has been destined to! Our Heroes don’t fail, they are not meant to. Knowledgeable enthusiast that we are, we know form is temporary and class is permanent. And life carries on till the next purple patch. But then comes a time when however much the mind is willing, the body refuses to respond. Age, failing fitness, enthusiasm levels maybe start playing with our hero. The prolonged spell of mediocre performances which we find difficult to digest, unacceptable, especially given the earlier standards of excellence on display. That is when the fan in me asks “Why go through this torment, this torture?” When I find it difficult to ‘defend’ the falling standards of my hero. When I notice a part of my childhood, my youth being dismantled piece by piece by a LBW to an innocuous straighter one from a journeyman or beaten by pace by a rookie fast bowler and clean bowled, again and again. The sighs, the oohs and aahs at every delivery that threaten to take the edge or a juicy half volley not banished to the boundary ropes. When survival at the crease and not domination of the bowling becomes the headlines. That is the time when I ask my hero, “Why not?”
Most among the post Kapil Dev era legends who graced Team India so successfully called it quits when ahead of the game. Anil Kumble called it a day the moment he realized that his latest injury was career threatening when he was integral part of Team India. Saurav Ganguly was given a friendly nudge by the BCCI and went off the field with a bang even symbolically leading Team India for a few overs in his last test. Rahul Dravid was supposed to have announced his retirement after a very successful tour to England. It is rumored that he was asked to undertake one last hurrah in Australia to bolster the crisis prone Indian batting. VVS Laxman bid adieu under dodgy circumstances but everyone agreed that maybe he deserved one last shot at glory! In each of the above case the fan in me asked one question, “Why? Why not some more of the magic?” I find it very difficult to ask Sachin Tendulkar this question now. Will he go the Gavaskar way or the Kapil Dev way? Only time and Tendulkar have the answer.