Whenever the conversation turns to ageing batsmen and retirement, there's much conjecture about what goes first --- the eyes or the legs. In reality, it's usually the mind.
There are exceptions. Barry Richards was a gifted South African opening batsman who admitted his eyesight began to fade during the World Series Cricket. And New Zealander Martin Crowe was a top-class batsman whose knee injury forced him to retire roughly 400 runs short of 20,000 first-class runs.
However, it’s generally something in the mind that brings a batsman to the conclusion; “it's time to declare.” Greg Chappell, at his peak a mentally well-organised batsman, announced retirement prior to his last Test. He needed 69 runs to pass Sir Donald Bradman as Australia’s highest run-getter and when asked why he made the announcement before the game, he replied; “My concentration had been wavering for a while, so I figured that was the only way to force my mind to work at full capacity.”
His ploy succeeded because, along with former Indian captain Mohammad Azharuddin, he’s the only batsman to score a century in his first and last Test innings.
Why to quit?
Brian Lara has retired, presumably because he’d had enough. So what is the likely fate of two other dominant batsmen from that era, Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting?
Tendulkar has suffered from injuries and the odd form dip during his glittering career but his recent renaissance is proof there's nothing wrong with his eyesight. And his running between wickets during an extraordinary limited overs double-century, suggests leg problems won't force him out of the game.
Tendulkar is a player who genuinely loves playing cricket. The moment of realisation for Tendulkar might be the retirement of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. If he looks around the dressing room and they’re not there, suddenly Test cricket might not be as attractive.
Part of what has driven Ponting to be a top-class batsman is the challenge of resurrecting an innings and then setting a course from the No. 3 position. Without that motivation, on top of not having the captaincy, might leave him with an empty feeling. Ponting has hinted at touring the UK in 2013 but that has more to do with his captaincy record in that part of the world.
With the retirement of these two dominant batsmen imminent, it would be comforting to know there’s a young player or two ready to take on their mantle. While there are some good young batsmen around, the next dominant one hasn’t yet surfaced.