One of India’s finest opening batsmen, Vijay Merchant, announced his retirement from Test Cricket in Bombay. When he arrived in Bangalore airport on the next day, press reporters asked him why he retired when he could have continued to play for some more time. Vijay Merchant replied, “It is better to retire when you ask why? than Why Not?”. Recently Ian Chappell advised older players to “jump before they are pushed”. Some players were lucky to have announced their retirement, played well in their last match and faded into the background in all glory. Some others announced their retirement and stuck to it despite failure in the last match. Bradman’s dismissal for Zero in his last innings is one such example. With an average of 99.96 he was not tempted to continue playing with the carrot of a century in averages dangling before him. Who knows he might have achieved it if he had played a few more matches. Or he could have even ended with a lower average with each passing match like a gambler in Las Vegas, after a bumper win, keeps losing until he realises it is very late. He was fortunate to have lived in an era sans computers and statisticians churning out all nonsensical figures and thus deny enjoyment of the game itself.
Purists say that there are three vital components for a perfect shot; timing, power and placement. In the course of an innings a batsman gets all the three together in his shots many times in some innings, sometimes in some other innings and sometimes he is gone even before he gets the three together even once. When he gets all the three together many times and quite often, we say he is in good form and he gets a big score and it is his day. When he gets them together sometimes, well, he gets along. Many times two of them desert him and he may stay on the pitch due to sheer grit or due to dame luck smiling on him repeatedly. There are days when he gets an exceptionally good ball early in the innings or a fielder takes a blinding catch and the best of his life. Or his dear colleague at the other end runs him out or the pitch plays a dirty trick! Sometimes even the crooked finger of the Umpire may go up wrongly. With age catching up, reflexes slow down and sighting the ball becomes difficult and the tiring legs do not allow the luxury of a quick single to get to the other end and relax. Judgement is another important dimension; whether to hit a ball or leave it, whether to make an attacking stroke or to defend, front foot or back foot, all along the ground or lofted shot. On his day everything falls into place; timing, power, placement and judgement as well. On some days everything goes awry and the mightiest of players looks very ordinary; sometimes even pathetic. Getting out on such days will be a boon then and not a curse.
As in the course of an innings, announcement of retirement also involves three components, timing, place for the last match and judgement. Power is not required here but some may cling on to the power they wield to postpone the retirement. Timing and judgement may appear the same but it is not so. Judgement is to decide when to retire and timing is for the announcement part. Few players have the luxury of actually retiring. The best example is of Dr Roy parks of Australia. His test career lasted all of one ball. He took guard while his wife watched in the stands. She dropped her knitting ball and bent down to pick it up. Before she lifted her head he was out, first ball and never played test cricket thereafter! (Click here to read the blog about him titled "Was he a failure?") There are many other players who are one or two match wonders. Wonders because we wonder why they were selected at all in the first place or we are left wondering why such fine players repeatedly failed at the highest level. There are many players who are retired even before they settled down. There are other unfortunate ones who spent many years waiting for recall and when they finally announced their retirement eyebrows were raised as to why at all they are announcing their retirement.
The burning issue of retirement of three of our finest cricketers is to be examined in this background. Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman are under relentless attack during the past two weeks. Sachin Tendulkar is not under such severe attack as he is being attacked on another front, the one of not scoring his hundredth century. Statisticians are not prepared to accept his insuring the house for 100 crore rupees as the 100th century. Wasim Akram has today gone to the extent of saying that these players have disgraced the sub-continent! There appears to be no statement made by him in the past stating that these players are the pride of the sub-continent. How have they disgraced the sub-continent then? Did they involve themselves in match fixing or spot fixing? Did they show dissent when they were given out? Did they break furniture or TV in the dressing room? Were they involved in a drunken brawl in a night club? Or did they sledge their opponents? Tendulkar and Dravid have been the most gentlemanly figures the game has ever seen. Their work ethics and behaviour on and off the field are exemplary lessons to budding cricketers. Can batting failures in three matches be an ample justification for such sweeping remarks? This only shows that active players should retire because they can say anything and get away after retirement as they are accountable to none!
Did they really fail and deserve to be condemned? Tendulkar is playing sublime cricket and even in this series his shot making is breath taking. Agreed, he is short of his own high standards but he still better than others. Rahul Dravid was the best batsman last year, which is only three weeks ago. The selectors even found it fit to recall him to play one day cricket to his own utter surprise. It did provide him an opportunity to retire from limited overs cricket. And against which standards their failure is measured? Batsmen all over the world are failing to score runs in the last six months. South Africa had its own failures. Australia lost in South Africa and even at home against New Zealand. England which is number one team miserably lost to Pakistan yesterday. Ricky Ponting and Michael hussy were under attack till last week. Runs are at a premium nowadays and it is the season of the bowlers.
These players would have retired by now had the younger players measured up to their standards and pressed their claims strongly. The selectors found them fit to play. It is not the players fault. Retirement is the players’ choice and not selecting them is the selector’s privilege. Let the prophets of doom wait for a few days. They may get the answers even before they raise the questions.
The lessons of retirement in Cricket or Sports is also applicable to life. Some unfortunate ones are dead before they are born and some live for only a few days or months. Some declare premature retirement by resorting to suicide. Some await retirement after due preparation and some others try to postpone it though they are destined to fail.. Many more believe in the judgement of the selector or creator, leave it to him and wait for his call!