There are a few ways of telling when a top-class batsman is waning, and being bowled regularly is one of them.
For Rahul Dravid, it was the final straw. When ‘The Wall’ was breached six times in eight innings in Australia, he decided “enough is enough”. He was a technician and his pride had been wounded, but for a stroke-maker like Sachin Tendulkar it’s a little different. A player constantly looking for scoring opportunities and to dominate the opposition expects to be bowled occasionally but rarely via the direct hit.
Since the start of 2011, Tendulkar has been bowled or leg before in 13 of his 25 completed Test innings. That’s a considerable increase on a career percentage of 39 between the two modes of dismissal. He scored his last Test century in the first match of 2011, 24 completed innings ago. Throughout his career, Tendulkar’s scored a Test century every 5.53 innings.
The fact that he was bowled three times in the New Zealand series would concern him. Like all batsmen, he’ll start to have strange thoughts, the prime one being; “Are my eyes going?”
That’s rarely the case but in drought times the player often isn’t watching the ball as closely out of the bowler’s hand. This happens because there are too many thoughts. Most batsmen are at their best when they watch the ball out of the hand and react to what they see.
As a batsman gets older two things can happen which cause the failure rate to escalate — he can become more conservative and being aware of the pitfalls he thinks more about survival and less about scoring opportunities.
In Tendulkar’s case, he’s tended to become more conservative because lately he appears to be hell-bent on building a statistical structure to rival Mt Everest, the difference being his peak is unlikely to be conquered.
There have been times when he’s reverted to the dashing stroke-maker of his youth and then his form has been pretty good. He started the Australia tour in excellent form but tailed off as he became more tentative.
There’s no doubt that Tendulkar can still make runs at the Test level; he has the ability and the know-how to capitalise when things go his way. However, the question the selectors should be asking themselves is; “Does he still deserve a place in the team or is there someone else who has earned an opportunity?”
The tipping point comes when the selectors believe a young player can provide the team with similar input to Tendulkar but has the potential to improve.
As they near the end of their career, most players are prepared to play at a reduced standard. However, they have a ground level below which they won’t venture and that gives them the guide to their retirement announcement.
Because he has become more aware of the statistical side of the game, he may have already ventured into his basement. When a player does that, he’s relying on generosity of the selectors and that can be dangerous ground.
There’s no doubt Tendulkar was safe with the outgoing selection committee, as they were among the least adventurous I’ve known. He now has to judge whether the new panel will be as slavish to public opinion.
Sure, it’ll be a sad day when he retires but better to do it when, as Keith Miller said, “People are asking why did you rather than why don’t you?”