Something unprecedented happened last Sunday. Sachin Tendulkar, despite being available for selection, wasn’t picked in the final XI that took on Australia in Adelaide. Already, many former cricketers and die-hard fans have voiced their displeasure over the omission, carried out as part of team’s rotation policy for the top order batsmen. The man himself, according to team sources, has no issues, however, with being rested and rotated. Far removed from overriding emotions and sentiments, the question being murmured in the cold and practical world isn’t ‘if it’s right to rest Tendulkar’ but whether he’s overstaying his welcome in the ODIs?
While it’s of course his decision to decide when he wants to move on, his sporadic appearances in the shorter format over the last two years suggest he isn’t too keen to play ODIs. Of the 58 matches played by India since he struck that magical double hundred against South Africa in Gwalior in February, 2010, he has turned out in just 14 matches, nine of them at the World Cup. And that gap between the matches played and missed is big enough for anyone to see that unwillingness.
This reluctance could be mainly put down to two reasons -- he’s either not finding the challenge appealing enough, or his body can’t take the rigours of playing ODI cricket at a stretch. On closer scrutiny, both factors appear to be responsible.
He has generally skipped ODIs at home and in the subcontinent - (Asia Cup and Tri-series in Sri Lanka (2010), New Zealand (2010), West Indies (2011) — and opted for more challenging away series in South Africa, England (pulled out due to injury) and the current series.
How he’s picked the tournaments also makes one thing clear — it’s the love of the game that’s driving him on, not the lure of personal records. Had the latter been the case, he wouldn’t have let go of so many relatively easier opportunities to get that elusive century.
As for the grind of the ODI cricket, playing regularly is understandably tough for a 39-year-old, especially after 22 years and a record 456 matches. He can still defy an ageing body and slowing reflexes for some more time as far as batting is concerned, but it’s impossible to match the enthusiasm and agility of the players almost half his age on the field. And that agility these days often separates the winners and the losers, as is obvious from the difference in India’s showing in the Tests and the ODIs Down Under. In that light, who’s benefiting from his guest appearances?
While there remains practically nothing for Tendulkar to achieve in the ODIs, especially after realising his biggest dream with the World Cup triumph, the team too has come a long way from being a one-man army. It has learnt to win with or without him — the last three ODI series triumphs (against England at home, vs West Indies at home and away) have come without him being a part of the squad. So neither the team nor the man stands to lose much when this long and special association comes to an end.
Besides, his occasional availability is something that is perhaps keeping the selectors too from thinking long term. In the dark about his plans, they need to keep him in their scheme of things and can’t look beyond him. It’s about time the maestro spelt out his plans regarding One-dayers in no uncertain terms.