All the action in the country on Sunday morning centred around India Gate in the national capital—where citizens demanding justice in the sordid gang-rape were locked in a confrontation with the police—when Sachin Tendulkar announced his retirement from One-Day Internationals (ODIs).
Cricket, while always crucial in India, was hardly on the radar of the media, though everybody knew that the Indian teams for the high-profile T20 and ODI series against Pakistan will be announced at the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) office in Mumbai. Saturday night’s defeat in the T20 match against England had provoked murmurs of some change, but nobody anticipated this clanger.
Tendulkar’s retirement has been the focus of much heated debate—among experts, fans, the media, social media and undoubtedly the country’s cricket establishment—over the past year. His lukewarm form—in Tests and ODIs—had seen an erosion in support, otherwise unquestioned for over two decades.
It is a moot point what precipitated Tendulkar’s decision. While theories abounded, there could be no corroboration of any deeper motive than that expressed by the player himself. Tendulkar, in a signed statement sent to the BCCI president, thanked everybody, especially in his quest to win the 2011 World Cup.
That was the highest point of a glittering career in which there are several peaks that are unlikely to be scaled by any cricket player. Having first made his mark in 20-over exhibition game with three rousing sixes against Pakistan leg-spinner Abdul Qadir at Peshawar in his first series as a precocious 16-year-old in 1989, Tendulkar went on to become the best batsman in this format—and by a wide margin.
He took 79 innings to score his first ODI century (he played 70 before becoming an opener, a spot he has held almost continuously since barring a few games), Tendulkar reeled off centuries with such amazing regularity and with such swashbuckling vigour as to leave opponents hapless and fans hooked.
There were times when he won a tournament almost on his own steam (the Hero Cup in 1996, in Sharjah against Australia in 1998). There was the highly emotional occasion when he lost his father in the middle of the 1999 World Cup, came home for the last rites, and returned to score a century. There were also times when his one failure—as in the 2003 World Cup final—spelt finis to the team’s aspirations, so dependent were they on him.
He was not to be denied the honour of being a World Cup winner though. In the 2011 World Cup, when almost 38, his gritty if laboured and chancy half-century against Pakistan in the semifinal was instrumental in taking India through to victory.
Several critics and former players have been hard-nosed about whether Tendulkar has been the greatest Test player of his era. Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis—to name only three—emerge as strong rivals. But where One-Day cricket is concerned, there seems little dispute that he was the best.
His retirement brings to an end a magical era in limited overs cricket. Sustained failures over the past four-five months had probably made Tendulkar alert to the perils of playing on regardless. In fact, in the past couple of years, he had become selective about his appearances in ODIs.
Given his current form, playing on would have put him under even greater pressure. The last notable ODI innings he played was in the Asia Cup against Bangladesh earlier this year, where he scored his 100th international century—albeit in a losing cause.
In the razor-keen contest expected against Pakistan, steeped as this will be in high emotionalism, Tendulkar perhaps realized that he there was more to lose than gain—for himself and for the team.
In interviews in the past few months, he had said he was taking his career series by series. Having had a lean trot against England, it remains to be seen how the future unfolds.
Whether this is a comma, so to speak, before the full-stop to one of the most glittering sagas in the history of the game is something only Tendulkar knows.