"Sachin Tendulkar has not yet recovered …" began the official statement that Indian cricket lovers most dread. At this point, we don’t quite know whether the statement could have been better worded or whether India’s greatest contemporary cricketer rushed his recovery process in his eagerness to play.
What we do know is that the IPL, kicking off what will be a hectic three years for the Indian team, where the only break till 2011 is two months in the middle of 2009, has claimed its first Indian victim. Australia’s Matthew Hayden is the other big casualty.
Whether Sachin, who returned to the Mumbai team in their 8th match was fully fit when he returned to active duty, is a question we won’t easily have an answer to. If he was not fully fit — and Tendulkar, who has played 18 years of cricket at the highest level, has found it more and more difficult to avoid niggles as age catches up — then he should never have chanced playing in the IPL.
But people are already asking if the urgency to return to playing for Mumbai, who started badly, is the first instance of an Indian player putting such a premium on playing for his IPL team that it affected his chances of playing for his country (even if inadvertently).
Only recently, though, he played the first Test against South Africa despite not being fully fit, and aggravated a recurring groin problem, so it’s tough to point the finger of blame against him (vis-à-vis the IPL).
It's premature to say anything about whether cricket's version of club v country has begun, but in football, there are well-publicised instances of such a conflict. Just before the 2002 World Cup, David Beckham broke his left foot playing for Manchester United in the Champions League, only seven weeks before the big tournament.
He eventually ended up playing, but was nowhere near full fitness and, as captain of England, it was hardly an ideal situation.
While no one can even dream of questioning India’s greatest cricketing icon’s commitment to his country, Tendulkar’s injury, the stupendous rise of the IPL (and the money-stakes involved) and the frenetic international calendar, does raise questions about whether players of the future will be under pressure to choose between club and country.
And the BCCI would do well to consider that in the near future, younger players could well opt for quick mega bucks than go for the long haul.