Little Master can bow out on his own terms
21:15 GMT, 15 November 2012
Sir Don Bradman was out for a duck in his final Test innings. Nijinsky lost his last two races. Bobby Moore was eventually dropped by Sir Alf Ramsey. Brian Clough was relegated with Nottingham Forest.
It comes for them all in the end. Brigitte Bardot stopped making films before she turned 40. She said it was the only elegant way to end her career. The greats of sport rarely possess such insight. As Sachin Tendulkar holed out to Samit Patel on the leg-side boundary yesterday, opinion instantly divided as to whether this was just an uncommonly bad trot that would soon be rectified, or the continued betrayal of the talent of the greatest batsman of modern times.
A professional controversialist could achieve easy notoriety in these parts by rubbishing the latter career of the Little Master. Tendulkar provokes such devotion in his homeland that his cheap dismissal by England here was being rewritten as a small triumph in some quarters, because it made him the only Indian batsman not to be clean bowled by Graeme Swann. It is doubtful he saw it that way.
Little Master: Tendulkar failed to make big runs in the first innings against England
Tendulkar tucked Swann away to the boundary to take his score to 13 and, from the next ball, played a simply woeful shot, snaffled by Patel, who had been placed there for precisely that purpose.
The silence that befell the arena in the dusty Motera district echoed the shock of a death in the family. All day, locals had been arriving at the gates of the Sardar Patel Stadium, inspired by the news that India had won the toss and would bat.
They were delighted by the return to form of Virender Sehwag and Gujarat’s Chetesh-war Pujara, but there was one man above all they had come to see. It was 23 years to the day since he made his debut for India and this was his 315th Test innings, but India will never tire of the flashing blade of Tendulkar.
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‘There is something special about bowling to him in India,’ said Swann. ‘Just the noise as he is about to come out to bat. You know who it is before he has left the changing room. You can tell this is the greatest batsman to still be playing the game. So getting him out means a lot; and not just getting him out, but getting him out early.’
Twenty-five minutes and 18 balls of early, to be precise. This on a track that saw Sehwag hit his first Test century in two years and Pujara close the day on 98 not out in only his sixth Test.
The roar as Tendulkar emerged made the 54,000-capacity stadium sound as if his devotees were hanging from the rafters — the estimated 10,000 crowd was better than expected but still a small disappointment in a country so in love with the game — but on his return to the pavilion it felt more like Mudville, the setting for the famous baseball poem, Casey At The Bat: ‘Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright; The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light, And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout; But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.’
That is what India’s Casey does a lot
these days, too. His Test scores this year read: 41, 80, 15, 8, 25, 13,
19, 17, 27 and now 13. His last Test century was in Cape Town against
South Africa in January 2011.
He has scored two centuries since
October 2010 and he has been bowled in five of his Test dismissals in
the last 12 months. At the start of his career it took bowlers four
years — and 42 innings — to find his stumps five times.
Day of toil: England were made to work hard for their wickets – of which Swann (below) duly obliged four
And there is the problem. Plainly, Tendulkar — the only batsman whose name can be mentioned in the same breath as Bradman — has earned the right to take leave of the stage on his terms. Plainly, there is nobody within Indian cricket, not even strong-willed coach Duncan Fletcher, who would presume to usher him away a moment before he was ready.
Yet great sportsmen are notoriously poor judges of when to leave the crowd wanting more. Tendulkar lives for cricket; in India it is not unreasonable to conclude that cricket lives for him. He plainly believes he has more to give, and perhaps he does.
So how does this end When the time comes, as it did for the others that made India the greatest Test team in the world, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, who will be brave enough to call time on the career of the great Tendulkar Will he; will they How does a man with 15,546 Test runs know when, or where, to stop At the end of this series It is hardly likely.
The presumption has always been that, when it is right, Tendulkar will bow out in fitting surroundings, such as his home town of Mumbai, India’s cricket capital. Yet the next Test is to be played in Mumbai.
The final Test of England’s tour is in Nagpur, at a stadium that has only been open for Test matches four years. It does not have the feel of a venue at which India should say farewell to its greatest sporting hero.
Penny for 'em: Mionty was on the sidelines when he should have been out in the middle
Indeed, who would even have the temerity to raise such a dreadful subject It may have been another day to forget for Tendulkar here but, closing at 323 for four, how much of India’s imposing performance was inspired by his presence The young players idolise him, contemporaries revere him, England’s delight at claiming his wicket did not suggest a hollow triumph over some weak link. No player could bring to the team spirit what Tendulkar does and maybe that alone is enough.
On Wednesday, the day before the game, as the majority of his team-mates retired to the shade of their air-conditioned changing room, one batsman continued to toil in the sweltering nets. Maybe, deep down, the Little Master knows times are changing, but who can blame him for trying with every last sinew of his strength to resist, or change them back To the days when those who trekked to Motera would not have merely glimpsed greatness, but gloried in it, ball by ball, over by over, run by run, hour by hour.
‘Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell; It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell; It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat, For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.’ As heroes do. Until there really is nothing more to give.