Tendulkar and the IPL quandry
And yet the debates on if and when Sachin Tendulkar should retire keep happening after every game that he plays. The godly status is mocked, ridiculed in between spurts of delight as he caresses yet another boundary through the packed off-side with a high elbow. Many detractors sighed relief as Tendulkar announced his retirement from ODIs which was followed immediately by people mumbling what-if following ODI defeat against England with a batting collapse at top of the order in Dharmshala on a day Sachin was playing the Ranji finals at Wankhede. The chatter for him stepping down after every series, nay every match, continues incessantly. Experts alike keep tossing the ball between the selectors and Sachin to make the call.
This edition of IPL, many people looked forward to seeing Tendulkar and Ponting play together for the Mumbai Indians and secretly hoped for some past glory. Many waited to unleash the jokes on twitter. "Pondulkar" was coined by the media while others suggested Tenting, Sacting and so-on. The combination failed miserably and the much-hyped Mumbai Indians team had a bad start to the IPL capped by a shellacking by the Delhi Daredevils and Rajasthan Royals. Ponting was dropped (sat-out) and Mumbai Indians started winning although Tendulkar still struggled and continued to get bowled. And so the chants for him to be dropped also grew vociferous. Yes, the Mumbai Indians have a strong line-up which can do better without Tendulkar in their line-up. Yes, Tendulkar should probably step away letting the youngsters more suited for the shortest format of game take it over. Yes, the Mumbai Indians have a coaching set-up of Kumble/Wright who can probably talk him down. But will they? And more importantly should they?
Last year, I watched the India-England test match and the Mumbai-Saurashtra Ranji finals at Wankhede. While one absorbs the game and the atmosphere surrounding the game one thing becomes very clear - There is a whole different ball game surrounding Tendulkar at any Indian venue and specially at Wankhede. When India (or Mumbai) is batting while the crowd enjoys the runs being scored, there is a restlessness as they await the fall of the 2nd wicket specially if it is in first session and majority of the crowd has come in to watch the Little Master bat. The unfortunate batsmen who gets out as the 2nd wicket has to suffer the cheer of the crowd in front of a home crowd as he tries to gather in his thoughts on his dismissal. Some people applaud the outgoing batsman but every eye is strained on that 1st level balcony of the MCA pavillion to watch Tendulkar step out. And the stadium erupts sending goosebumps all over you. The chants of "Sachin, Sachin" echo all across the stands as he makes his way to the middle and continue amid sighs, cheers, phews, aahs all the while Tendulkar is batting. Even when Indian (or Mumbai) is fielding, every-time the ball goes to wherever Tendulkar is fielding is followed by a huge cheer. If Tendulkar moves to field close to the boundary, the lower stands rush down to the chain-link fence just to be near their idol. You notice subtleties in Tendulkar's mannerisms in which he prefers back-pedalling to the boundary after he has walked in with delivery or to back-up a throw for the moment he turns to boundary, every spectator calls out to him as if he is looking at them in particular. During the first IPL season when Tendulkar was injured and did not play, I had been to the Deccan chargers game at DY Patil stadium at Nerul. While not playing, Tendulkar was there and he briefly stepped in during the training session fielding a few ground balls and bowling a couple of deliveries of spin before a TV interview. That was enough to entertain the crowd who had just come to glance at him even though they knew he wasn't going to play.
Such is the aura of the man at Wankhede and surely at many stadiums across India. If the man brings in a packed capacity crowd every-time he plays and also brings in a crowd even if he might play, why would he want to leave the game. Why would Mumbai Indians franchise want to drop him? He will still bring in the crowds and the revenue. He will still bring in the endorsements and the ad campaigns and the media frenzy. Surrounding him with decent players which Mumbai can definitely afford may even win them the coveted title some day. But surely they would love to continue to feed on his fandom as long as they could. Isn't there a saying about the "Goose that lay the golden egg"?