It has become a little distressing. After almost every big series that India plays, and also during the series, one question invariably pops up: “Are Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman already well past their sell-by date?”. The distressing part is that while this question has been asked very often, one does not have an answer to the same. The more the fans of Indian cricket think about this, they more they shuffle uncomfortably. Probably, our heart says one thing and our head says another. The one person that has really made us most uncomfortable is Sachin Tendulkar, more than Rahul, VVS and Sourav. The main reason for that is not because he has been the mainstay for Indian batting for nearly 2 decades, not because he has been at one time the best batsman in the world. Let me try and explain, dear reader, why.
As per the census conducted in 2001, the average age of Indians is 24.8 years. And how many years has Sachin been playing for? 18!! This is the reason why we get so uncomfortable, because we have a huge population that has grown up with a certain Tendulkar being an integral part for 80% of our lives. We may have never thought of the same but it is true. Sachin has been part of our childhood. Very few things have been common thru childhood, teens, adolescence and adulthood for most of us. And one of them is Sachin.
Sachin started playing when I was nine. My friends and I would watch, on TV, a fantastic batsman playing and then walk out to the grounds wanting to play like him. We have grown up from then on. We have moved on to different careers because we were never good enough to play cricket at higher levels, but each one of us still want to walk out to bat like him. That is why when we watch Sachin play now there isn’t one but 2 of us watching him simultaneously. One being the working adult that cerebrally analyses the pale shadow of a world beater and wishes that he either shapes up or ships out soon. The second being the child in us, gratified by the countless moments of joy this champion batsman has given, disagreeing with the head and wanting him to play like the young Tendulkar. We really need to ask ourselves this question: are we wishing for the young Sachin, or are we striving for some wonderful moments of our childhood?
Past series have shown that SRT is not likely to regain the form of 1995-2002. Those days of glory might never come. Do we really wish to see a champion become an also-ran? It is true that we haven’t seen anybody who can take his place. Frankly, nobody can. But he needs to be replaced, sooner rather than later. People had this apprehension when Kapil Dev was about to end his career, India’s first world-class fast bowler. True, we have not had another like him, but post his retirement we have had a line of good, competitive pacers. Srinath, Prasad, Zaheer, Sreesanth, Pathan, Munaf etc. Maybe the floodgates will open once the big three call it quits.
The problem is that around 5 top performers will leave the stage together and Indian cricket would then face a crisis that might last a few years. Replacing 5 champions is never easy. But, for the betterment of Indian cricket, it needs to be done. While all of us are grateful to these great servants of Indian cricket, we all switch on our TV sets to see India win. A Sachin duck and an India win is a lot more acceptable than a 100 for Sachin but an Indian loss. I think it’s time the fans of Indian cricket tell themselves that the end of the greats is here, and the greatest batsman India has produced is also in the winter of his cricketing career.
If Tendulkar walks out and scintillates again, a childhood would be vindicated. I hope that day comes soon, as the noises in our heads are getting louder. I think even Sachin Tendulkar would know that he has been a very important part of the ‘Wonder Years’ of most Indians. That is something nobody can take away from him. I hope he makes 2007 memorable as well. If not, we shall have no complaints. This warrior can walk away into the sunset, ending the most glorious career ever. A new generation shall then look for another hero from 2008. But what he should now know is that most Indians living now shall go to their graves with memories of SRT of 1989-2002, grateful for having grown up watching the best that ever was.