Sachin Tendulkar must be dropped from the Test team. Let us reiterate that without any ambiguity. The selectors – who are paid Rs 60 lakhs per year – must drop Tendulkar.
Whether Tendulkar retires or not, whether he is given a fitting farewell or not, whether he leaves the game in a dignified manner or not is irrelevant to this discussion. What is germane is that Tendulkar – with two half-centuries and ten sub-twenty scores in 2012 – must be axed from the Test side.
Virender Sehwag must be dropped. Gautam Gambhir must be dropped. MS Dhoni has overshot his shelf life as captain. Duncan Fletcher is our least successful coach. However these need not distract us from the topic on hand.
Tendulkar has struggled against pace, medium-pace and spin. He has been bowled multiple times. He has also been caught by the keeper, caught at slip and fallen leg before. He has consistently missed the line of the ball, has been beaten in flight and misread the bounce. His reflexes have slowed, of that there is no doubt.
The team management have had enough time to experiment with Tendulkar’s batting position. They have shown no imagination. Or maybe they tried and were rebuffed. There was a case to try Tendulkar at No.5 or No.6, a chance for an experienced batsman to guide the lower order, a role that Laxman played in the latter half of his career. But the time for such experiments have passed.
The team management, the selectors and the BCCI have also had enough time (over the last year and a half) to speak to Tendulkar, communicate their thoughts for grooming a replacement and plan for a seamless transition. There is no evidence that any of this has happened. If there was indeed a plan, it has obviously not worked.
Are we dead certain that Tendulkar will not rediscover his touch? No, we can never be. But that is not the point. A batsman of that caliber is no doubt capable of a half-century every ten innings and sometimes, if the opposition is relatively weak, more often. Pick Dravid and he will do the same. Pick Laxman and he will do the same. Pick Ganguly and he will do the same. To take respite in an edgy 76 once in a while is to clutch at straws.
The last time a Tendulkar innings changed the course of a match was back in November 2011 against West Indies in Mumbai. The last time a Tendulkar innings threatened to do so was in December 2011 in Melbourne. Since then almost every Tendulkar innings has been a bogged-down effort, adding to the pressure on the current batsman and offering the initiative back to the opposition. While Tendulkar’s struggle is humbling to the eye of the spectator it is also gratifying to the opposition and debilitating to his own team.
Consider Nagpur. England had scored 330 in the first innings. India were 59 for 1 with Gambhir and Pujara mixing caution and aggression. The surface was slow and the two batsmen had been patient enough to build a valuable partnership. That’s when Pujara fell to a dubious decision. In walked Tendulkar and, during the course of his excruciating twenty five minutes, handed England the advantage. He took nine balls to get off the mark, played and missed consistently and lived on the edge throughout his stay. The pressure built, Gambhir lost his earlier fluency, Tendulkar was out bowled, and, soon enough, Gambhir edged to the keeper.
This was not a one-off instance. Over the last year Tendulkar has been part of similar phases where his uncertainty has led to the team being pushed into a shell. Tendulkar’s batting form is not about Tendulkar alone; it plays a big part in his partner’s approach and the team’s progression, it has a lot to do with the confidence of the opposition, and it no doubt has a huge effect on the batsmen to follow.
Who will replace Tendulkar? Is there anybody ready to bat at No.4? Yes. Virat Kohli has shown – with innings in Perth, Adelaide and Nagpur – that he has the temperament. As a one-day player he is a phenomenon. In any other era, he would have been celebrated as a national treasure. Now is the time to give him some responsibility. First he needs to carry the batting line-up from No.4, next he needs to lead the side. His time is now. The more one delays the more one fails to exploit his talents in his prime.
What is the guarantee that the selectors’ decision to drop Tendulkar – if they indeed take it – will be backed by the BCCI? There is none. Mohinder Amarnath’s revelation – about the BCCI shooting down a unanimous vote to axe Dhoni as captain – has shown that the BCCI has no need for selectors anymore. They are being paid to be good puppets. But that doesn’t excuse Amarnath for toeing the line and letting the cat out many months later. It also doesn’t excuse the current bunch from taking the right decision.
There is plenty of sentimentality going around. And sport offers us that luxury. Tendulkar is no doubt among the rarest of the rare species in sport – a sociological phenomenon and a cultural icon. He is the greatest run-machine since Bradman, the most complete batsman of his – or some might even argue, any – era. He defines an age. The history of cricket will be incomplete without a chapter on Tendulkar. We could say the same about the history of modern India. Tendulkar’s influence transcends his sport. He is larger than life. Some will even argue – without a trace of jest – that he is the reason for living.
But all this is also besides the point. Correct decisions are almost never based on sentimentality. Had Naren Tamhane and his band of selectors turned to emotion, they would have never picked a 16-year old to take on the ferocity of Wasim Akram, Imran Khan and Waqar Younis in a series in Pakistan in 1989. They would have thought he was too tender, too fragile. They didn’t fall into that trap. They chose to be bold.
We were thankful that practicality trumped emotion then. We will be thankful if it does the same now.
This piece first appeared in Yahoo! Cricket