Monday, December 17, 2012

The English Slap and Sachin's Retirement

Finally its over. India lost four match test series against England. Matches were played on pitches custom made for MS Dhoni. The English were denied spin exposure in practice games. The result – two humiliating losses after the initial bushwhacking. Indian cricket fan, who was just recovering from slaps on the vulnerable “away tour” cheek, was found tending to some fresh English finger prints on the other cheek. In other news – Poonam Pandey tweeted her picture in a Burqa, in solidarity with the fan's sorry state.

Last few tours of the Indian team have brought back memories of the era of Sachin’s captaincy in late 90s. However, this time is worse, with the ironical burden of being the current ODI world champion and leading ICC Test rankings not so long ago.

Players who have emerged worst out of the current series are MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar. It is startling to find  fortunes of two biggest brands in India reversed decidedly.

MSD has been following his low risk captaincy strategy as before. With the retirement of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman team, batting looked weak. Defying expectations it wasn't the young replacements that disappointed, but the old established brass. Notable decline in the quality of Harbhajan and Zaheer’s bowling was the other force majeure.  MSD’s undoing was below par individual performance of his squad. Captaincy can prove to be the magical ingredient if the players are performing close to par. When the squad under performs substantially, it is illogical to expect wonders from captaincy.

But, the big question remains  – Why on earth, doesn't Sachin Retire? 

Sachin has been part of the Indian dressing room for last 22 years and it would be a drastic change for him to hang his boots. There is no denying his selfish streak pursuing hundreds at his own pace disregarding the team's interest. But surely, this period is not doing his reputation any good.

For the fans, it carries a feeling of deja-vu. More often than not 'Larger than Life' cricketers have timed their retirement improperly. Be it Kapil Dev's pitiful last matches to break Hadlee's most Test wickets record or Ganguly clinging desperately till the very end.  

In the last few days, I have seen following headlines in the Times of India -
"Crazy to stop playing for no reason: Viswanathan Anand to Sachin Tendulkar"
"Nobody qualified to suggest Sachin Tendulkar on retirement: Viv Richards"
"Tendulkar best player of his generation : Graham Gooch"
Sachin is getting media support. Overwhelmingly from the newspaper (if it still qualifies as one) which doesn't support any brand without a kickback, and make no mistake - Tendulkar is a brand with large corporate interests involved.

If I were a corporate signing a Multimillion Dollar sponsorship deal over a number of years with an athlete, I wouldn't want him to retire and hurt my interest. At least not voluntarily. It is quite possible that some of his advertising contracts come with an explicit term prohibiting voluntary retirement.

This does not imply that he won't retire voluntarily. It just means that he will have to negotiate first with the brands. Both parties have to agree that better mileage is achieved in the "one last hurrah" scenario compared to him dragging on without hope and getting axed finally. Retirement is not a simple process after all if you are a brand, not just an amateur athlete.

I hope the resolution is achieved soon and fan admiration remains intact for the wonderful sportsperson whose place is assured in a billion hearts for years to come.

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