How do you ask a legend to retire? Do you send him a tentative request in triplicate? Do you have a quiet word with him, after seeking an appointment discreetly? Or do you do it the Indian way? I.e. go to the press as an “unimpeachable source”.
We are Indians, so we tend to do things the Indian way. We are seldom able to come out and say exactly what we want clearly, which explains why we seldom get exactly what we want.
The selectors of the Indian cricket team solved the ‘who will bell the cat’ problem posed by Sachin Tendulkar by ratting to the press. In journo parlance, this sort of story is either called a ‘plant’ (something that grows organically and bears the desired fruit) or a ‘trial balloon’ (a story that susses out which way the wind is blowing). Once the overrated principle of ‘not being anyone’s messenger boy’ is set aside (for what are we in the press, if not to be messengers?), the plant is a reasonably acceptable proposition. Plants are obviously motivated, but they can make good stories. The Tendulkar retirement story was a very good one: it got everyone talking.
The problem follows almost immediately from there. These days, when everyone talks about something, one gets a fair idea of public mood — from hard data. So was the source a ‘planter’, or a ‘balloonist’?
I think he was a planter. Public mood has been in favour of Tendulkar’s retirement for some time now (except in the Shivaji Park area). Appropriate exit options have been discussed at length by most mothers-in-laws — his 100th hundred; the 2011 World Cup win — but they’ve all been passed up by the great cricketer. Despite the idle outrage in the comments sections at any suggestion of a farewell, there was no real need for a ‘trial balloon’.
The former Australian fast bowler Craig McDermott would say that no matter how great you are, there are only a limited number of runs and wickets ‘in the tank’. So do you leave when it runs dry?
(Bradman did! He got a duck in his last innings.) Do you wait for the last few drops to emerge reluctantly? Or do you go with the knowledge that there was something still left in the tank? (Mike Hussey, for instance).
To each man his tank, and the judgement of how much is left in it. But from the point of view of the selector, piffle such as ‘hunger/desire’ for runs, and worse, ‘as long as I enjoy the game’ may please be set aside when choosing a team to play the next test match.
If selections are made on the basis of who still ‘enjoys the game’, India would require a selection panel once every 30 or 40 years, its offices, ideally, located near a good medical facility.
The selectors’ brief is a simple one: choose the best team possible. It is made difficult by the weight of influence and reputation, but that’s the job. The Australians, for instance, had to deal with easing out successful captains such as Mark Taylor and Stephen Waugh. Keeping realities like public reaction, the legend’s ego, and most of all, his contribution to the game, proposals are made to them in as dignified a manner as possible.
The Indian board has worked out its own technique to achieve this. Unimpeachable sources explained in part why such a technique was adopted. The selectors cumulatively had considerably less test runs between them. Some of them had built careers on the kind of averages that Tendulkar’s poor performances in the last couple of years have yielded. So how could they have the temerity to tell the great man?
Not to put too fine a point on it, this is c**p. Tendulkar can retire when he wants, but it is the selectors’ job to choose the team — with or without him. Yes, it isn’t easy to tell one of the greatest cricketers that ever lived that tomorrow is rest day. Or to communicate to India that the ‘perfect’ Indian’s flaws are now showing. But these two things have to be done in that order. The board has slyly done the opposite, it is therefore unlikely to get what it wants.
The writer is an author, journalist and consultant editor with dna.