There’s a passage in the Cameron Crowe film Almost Famous that’s a mirror image of Indian cricket today.
The protagonist of that film, a young rock journalist named William Miller, is horrified when he realises that Stillwater, a band he idolises, have sold their most popular groupie (a girl William loves) to another band for fifty dollars and a case of Heineken.
“Don’t worry” says Russell Hammond, the Stillwater front-man, to an upset William. “This is a party... everybody’s trying not to go home.”
Like the never-ending rock and roll party Hammond refers to, the Indian cricket party that kicked off a couple of decades ago is in its final moments. No wonder some of us are in denial that it is ever going to end.
Guess what? It’s already the morning after. Dravid and Kumble had their fun but left on time to report to work sober. Zaheer is throwing up on the carpet because he didn’t know when to stop. Sehwag and Yuvraj have passed out on the lawn. Ganguly, who continued partying till daybreak, looked oddly fresh when he’d finally left. And Laxman is shaking his head disapprovingly as he drives by the party while dropping his kids to school.
And finally, the life of the party, Sachin Tendulkar, has climbed on to the roof, just like in another scene from Almost Famous. High on the previous night’s excesses, he is threatening to jump off it into the swimming pool below. It’s his last party trick. Everyone has gathered below him. “You’ll hurt yourself,” some try to deter him. Others cheer on: “Jump! Show us you’ve still got it!”
Will he? Won’t he? Should he? Should he not?
ALSO SEE: Tendulkar in ODIs - Moments of Magic
The BCCI’s decision to host the West Indies in November has given Tendulkar an opportunity to play an unprecedented 200th Test match at home. In one stroke, the BCCI has managed to drive the conversation away from their mangling of the South Africa tour and their mishandling of the spot-fixing scandal.
In the last two years, social media reactions to Tendulkar have dropped from nearly fully positive to increasingly negative. We can see why. Tendulkar’s form has slid down a greasy pole with no evidence of rising again. But he continues to defy suggestions of retirement as he chases the mirage of another big triumph.
"Let people have a chat with the great man and advise him,” posted reader Shrikanth. “There has never been a greater sight than seeing SRT bat (till a few years ago) and never a more painful sight than watching the great man struggle against mediocre bowling these days.”
"I can't believe it,” says reader Kamal of the West Indies series. “A complete series is being scheduled for a specific person.”
Even numbers no longer come to Tendulkar’s rescue. While he was India’s second-highest run scorer in the twin 0-4 defeats in England and Australia, he has fared miserably in four other series, all played at home.
Against the West Indies in 2011, he was India’s fourth-highest scorer and sixth against New Zealand in 2012. The slide didn’t stop. He took seventh position against England, and sixth against Australia, all in friendly conditions at home against bowling attacks that were not Wasim and Waqar, or McGrath and Warne.
Now, it’s his plan to recover from one of his countless injuries and surgeries, go to South Africa aged nearly 41, somehow hope his reflexes are back to their best as he takes on the meanest pace attack assembled in a long time — an attack that has bowled out three different teams for under 50 in the last two years. Some might call it optimism, others stupidity.
Yet, faced by these facts, we’re reliably told that Tendulkar has no plans to quit. “Don’t be surprised if he goes to England next July too,” says a former team-mate.
A BCCI official is even quoted as saying Tendulkar may play the home series (against either England or the West Indies) in November 2014! Tendulkar himself said yesterday, “No reactions now... will take it match by match.”
Among these details, we seem to miss that India had recently sent an ‘A’ team to South Africa, for what it’s worth, to adapt to local conditions and prepare for the upcoming Test tour. There’s a whole team of young players who did well on the ‘A’ tour and awaiting a break in the senior team — a break that will continue to elude them while faded prima donnas bask in their self-importance.
But retiring wasn't going to be Tendulkar's call alone, was it? The hastily-arranged West Indies series is another reminder of how important he is to the BCCI's finances, and by extension, the finances of many other cricketing entities.
Reader Sankara hits the spot in his comment: “Sachin is a prisoner of his own fame. At the deepest point in his heart he knows that he ought to have retired a long time back. Now he runs the risk of being remembered for what he has not done rather than for what he has done.”
Please get off that roof, sir, before you get hurt. The party is over. Let's go home.
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