Sachin Tendulkar has reached a stage — and age — when conventional cricketing wisdom suggests that he should be retiring from the game he has adorned for so many years. A ‘bad patch’ few years ago provoked even knowledgeable critics like Ian Chappell to suggest that he should consider retirement.
But that is precisely where one feels Sachin Tendulkar is ideally placed to stretch cricketing boundaries. True, he is now 38 years old and performing consistently. But his level of intensity would have inevitably taken a toll on his physical fitness and mental alertness.
It is equally true that over the past four seasons, he has played what many reckon to be the best cricket of his life. Around 2008, there was a time when he and Ricky Ponting were almost neck-and-neck in the race for the maximum number of Test centuries. Tendulkar, now on 51 centuries to Ponting’s 40, simply surged way ahead in a spectacular display of sensible batting. He has added 14 centuries to his tally since 2008. That’s an awesome achievement.
So, let’s not judge Tendulkar on the touchstone of conventional, previously-adopted, known cricketing norms. Whilst 38 has conventionally been deemed as the appropriate outer retirement age for even the most gifted cricketers, why should one apply the same yardstick to a genius like Sachin Tendulkar? There seems no reason why he should not continue well into his forties, maybe even for another 10 years, till he is 48 years old.
‘Fantastic nonsense’ you say? Please reconsider your reaction. There is a precedent: that of another very great cricketing genius, who played the last of his 61 Test matches at the age of 48 years and scored the last of his 15 Test centuries when he was 46 years old.
He ended with a world-record 199 first-class centuries, a record that is unbroken to this day. An astonishing 85 of those centuries came after he had crossed the cricketing biblical age of one score and eighteen! Imagine, 85 centuries after reaching the age of 38.
Who are we talking about?
That will have to wait a while.
First, consider Tendulkar’s present situation. Anyone who saw him play the near-perfect cover drives during his innings of 73 in the recent Melbourne Test will testify to the fact that age has neither withered nor stalled his technical excellence or his flair for stroke-making.
Given his passion for the game, his disciplined life-style, his innate modesty, his level of fitness, why should Tendulkar not break another barrier by playing on at the highest level till he’s say, 45 or even beyond?
To many of today’s younger generation of cricket lovers, “Sir Jack Hobbs” is an unfamiliar name. He is the gentleman I referred to above.
Hobbs shared much in common with Tendulkar. He too was a genius. He held the record for the highest number of Test runs – 5410 runs - in his era. He was originally called “The Master”, for his superb technique, extraordinary batting abilities and modest demeanour.
He was a tall stately figure, with the gentlest of faces. He played 61 Tests for England between 1908 and 1930, spanning 22 years (with an enforced break between 1914-18, when WW I raged). He made his Test debut at 26 and retired with a batting average of 56.94, with 15 centuries. In all first class cricket, he scored 61,760 runs - unprecedented, a record that has never been broken. He scored 199 first-class centuries and toured India and Sri Lanka at the invitation of the Maharaja of Vizianagram.
He scored over 3000 of his Test runs after he reached the age of 38. He played Test cricket till he was 48 years old, his last Test series being against the touring Australians in 1930, when he played all five Tests. Hobbs scored his 15th Test century at the age of 46 at the Kennington Oval in 1928. To the end, he remained one of the finest cover-point fielders cricket has ever known. He maintained a high level of fitness throughout.
So, the logical question is: can Tendulkar not do better than Hobbs? Sure, the modern game has changed, there are far more Tests being played today than there were in Hobbs’s time. The physical demands and pressure of performance are far greater now than in those years. The levels of media scrutiny in the two eras bear no comparison.
But consider this: it is unlikely that bowling speeds will get appreciably faster than they are at present. Protective gear can only get stronger, lighter and more effective.
Ultimately, age is only a mental number. One can safely trust Tendulkar to continue to maintain his level of fitness as long as he walks on to a cricket field. He has so far conducted himself on and off the field with a mind-numbing, impeccable integrity, modesty and honour. He too, like Hobbs, believes in ‘clean living’. Two other great Indian cricketers played Test cricket after 40 - Vinoo Mankad and CK Nayudu.
Tendulkar has a mental toughness that is unique. He has not fallen prey to the temptation of deviating from the highest standards of sportsmanship the game has known. His enthusiasm for the game remains undiminished.
The marvels of modern medicine can be trusted to take care of physical niggles. In these circumstances, don’t write off the likelihood of Tendulkar carrying on for much, much longer than the conventional 36 years-stretchable-to-40 years retirement age. In the process, he will break another hitherto undreamt-of barrier.
The mind boggles: Tendulkar still batting at the age of 50? That’s one more frontier to cross. On present evidence, only his desire to spend more time with wife Anjali and his family can stop him from setting a new cricketing standard. All it requires is for conventional cricketing theories to be given a decent burial and for him to think “out of the box”.