With Sachin Tendulkar, it's never safe to speculate. It can come back to haunt you. He's proved himself over and over again in his long career. And it's time for him to do it again - this time in the Indian T20 league.
This season has seen a trend among the big-name non-performers to opt out of games of their own freewill, and this has brought pressure on the Mumbai Indians stalwart as well, especially after skipper Ricky Ponting chose to bench himself.
With a scoring sequence of 23, 0, 1, 44, 1, 54, 2, 23, 9 and 14 --- 171 runs at an average of 17.10 --- Tendulkar's performances this season have been below par. He has shown glimpses of his old self, got a few starts, but hasn't been able to produce those defining knocks.
In limited overs cricket, in the second phase of his career, he was highly successful anchoring the innings with the rest of the batsmen playing around him. It was the role he had also mastered for Mumbai Indians.
This season, he's come out looking to take on the bowling from the word go. He's not looking to playing himself in as he used to. The intent has been to dominate and set the tone for the game.
He's managed a few cameos but the failures have been more. Not ready to lower a gear, he's not getting his shot-selection right. An example was Wednesday's game against Sunrisers when he committed himself to playing a forcing shot but was unable to adjust when Ishant Sharma's ball nipped back sharply.
Having turned 40, it is only to be expected that his failures are linked to age and slowing reflexes. South African greats Graeme Pollock and Barry Richards feel age is a factor, and they commented on it in their facebook posts while discussing Tendulkar's performances in this T20 event.
Now, the simple solution would be to follow the Ponting and Gilchrist example. But that is not an option for Tendulkar. It's an event where the brand is more important than the player's performance, and Tendulkar is indispensable on that count. His mere presence has got home team fans cheering for the opponents. This has been witnessed in every away match he's played.
Analysing Tendulkar's form, his former India manager, Ajit Wadekar, said: “He's like Sunil Gavaskar, a great student of the game. If he is unhappy with his game, he would go to the nets and work till he gets everything right. He thinks and analysis his game in great detail and would have analysed why he's getting bowled. But the issue with the T20 league is there is no time to work on your game.” Wadekar, though, admitted pressure could be playing on Tendulkar's mind. “I have never seen him get affected by pressure but sub-consciously all the criticism could sometimes affect a person. He's been too aggressive sometimes.”
On the option of resting himself for a few games, the former India captain said: “Tendulkar can't be compared to Ponting or Gilchrist because he is a huge motivating factor. He brings more than runs to Mumbai Indians. He's an inspiration for the team. He started the Mumbai Indians story and it's his dream to help them win the league before he retires.”