LONDON, 23 DEC 2012 — Modern cricket’s division into three formats means that retirement for leading players is likely to come in stages. One version of the game is abandoned in order to facilitate continuation in another.
So it has proved with the most anticipated and debated departure in the game’s history. Debate has raged — above all in his native India but also everywhere cricket is played and watched — over the future of batting legend Sachin Tendulkar since his poor performances in the series of five-day test matches against England that concluded last week.
The answer came Sunday, with an announcement through the official Web site of the Board of Control for Cricket in India: Tendulkar is quitting one-day internationals.
“I have decided to retire from the one-day format of the game,” he said in his statement. “I feel blessed to have fulfilled the dream of being part of a World Cup-winning Indian team. The preparatory process to defend the World Cup in 2015 should begin early and in right earnest.”
“I would like to wish the team all the very best for the future,” he added. “I am eternally grateful to all my well-wishers for their unconditional support and love over the years.”
Ratnakar Shetty, chief administrative officer of the cricket board, said that “Tendulkar’s decision is not a shocker for B.C.C.I. He was waiting for the right time.”
Tendulkar’s decision means he will not be available for India’s series of three one-day internationals against Pakistan, set to begin Dec. 30. But it implies that he intends to continue in five-day tests, adding to his all-time records of 194 matches and 51 scores of 100 or more, taking a career that began when he was 16 up to and beyond his 40th birthday next March.
This piecemeal departure — he quit Twenty20 internationals after a single match in 2006 — has the virtue of allowing his remarkable career in the one-day format in its own right. Here, too, the numbers astonish — and all stand as records. He played in 463 one-dayers for India and scored 18,426 runs. There are 49 innings of 100 or more. Next in line is the Australian Ricky Ponting, whose own retirement was completed this month when he quit tests. Ponting is nearly 5,000 runs behind on 13,704, and reached three figures on 30 occasions.
Born in 1973, Tendulkar was 10 years old when India, in one of the greatest shocks in the history of the game, defeated West Indies in the 1983 World Cup final, unleashing a wave of enthusiasm in cricket’s largest nation for shorter formats. He acted as a ball boy when the 1987 tournament was held in India and was part of the first generation of Indian players for whom the one-day game was more than a sideshow.
It also played an important part in his own development, ensuring that he developed his attacking instincts to the full. Tendulkar began his one-day career batting, as he did in tests, in the middle order. That explains why he played 79 matches before scoring 100 for the first time. But once he moved up, the big scores came regularly as he was enabled to deploy his exceptional speed of footwork and range of stroke play in the innings-defining early overs.
Statistically, his greatest single triumph was the first double century in one-day internationals, struck against South Africa in Gwalior, India, in 2010 — scoring exactly 200 not out, a record since eclipsed by his teammate and regular opening partner Virender Sehwag.
He can never have batted better than in making 98 against India’s fiercest rival, Pakistan, at Centurion, South Africa, during the 2003 World Cup. Good bowling was destroyed by lightning stroke play, and a challenging target was made to look simple. Anyone watching was privileged to see the world’s greatest current practitioner of the art of batsmanship playing at the absolute limit of his abilities.
The greatest single moment was India’s clinching of the World Cup for the second time after a 28-year gap on his home ground in Mumbai last year. Tendulkar’s contribution to the match was limited, but his importance to Indian cricket over the years was beautifully expressed by teammate Virat Kohli as India’s players carried Tendulkar around the ground: “He has carried Indian cricket for 20 years, now it is time for us to carry him.”
To have become a true passenger is a fate that Tendulkar did not deserve, and will now avoid. And if it prolongs his contribution to the longer game, so much the better.