Is this the beginning of the end?
If Sachin Tendulkar wants to struggle, that's his right. But what is left for the maestro to achieve?
Sachin Tendulkar is not playing well - no doctorate in batting is required to perceive this.
He does not appear a great player, and men like him are not supposed to look anything but great. Normal is not their thing, average is not their way. It is as if he is not allowed to struggle.
Once again, "retire" is being occasionally affixed to his name, but that could merely be the hysteria that follows a poor World Cup.
Errors in judgement
Some say "wait", others say "go". Certainly it is harder now, compared to 12 months ago in this same column, to make a case for him to continue playing.
Tendulkar's recent scores are scarcely embarrassing though, even if they are not overly impressive. It depends how you see him.
On one hand he scored seven and 0 against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka at the World Cup when India needed him most, suggesting he cannot summon his skills on command as he once did. It is unfair perhaps, but when others fail we expect Tendulkar to stand tall.
It is hard for a player to concede it is all over, the skills not gone but faded to the point where domination is unlikely
On the other hand, his one-day average so far this year of 44.28, and 44.85 last year, are in fact higher than his career average of 44.05.
One might argue that it's not the scores but his errors in judgement that are revealing. Certainly his batting lacks the assurance of earlier years.
This is not a contented player, the joy has been stolen from his game.
Tendulkar still merits a place in the team, but is he satisfied with that? It is cruel to keep measuring a man against his prime, but how much of a lower standard is acceptable for him?
Playing for money?
Eventually even the greatest players make deals with themselves. Where once only a 100 would do, now a 75 is enough.
Why he plays on, we don't know. But does he? We tend to say he has enough (runs, riches, records), but then athletes are driven to excellence only because their desire is never satiated.
Is he playing for numbers, and what numbers would those be? The Australian captain, Ricky Ponting, is going to own almost every record when it comes to centuries and runs scored.
But Tendulkar need not worry about statistics, for few will see the Australian as a greater batsman than him.
Tendulkar's exalted status is being whittled away
Is he playing for money? That would be difficult to believe. For him to just stay in the team for financial reasons would mean he has turned his back on everything he has stood for.
Is he playing because he knows little else, fearful of the unknown beyond the cricket field?
His life has been bat, bowl and field. Cricket is entwined in his DNA, it gives him his life's purpose. For men born to hear the crowd's applause, who have felt the intoxication of a nation cheering for them, it is hard to retire and just be another man.
Is he, at the age 34, clinging tighter to the belief that age is no barrier because he sees the good form of Jayasuriya (37), Hayden (35) and Ponting (33)? Does he remember that Lara - aged 35 in 2005 - knocked up five centuries (Tendulkar has hit one Test century since 2005 in 14 Tests).
It is hard for a player to concede it is all over, the skills not gone but faded to the point where domination is unlikely. It is easier to believe a resurgence is around the corner, any day now. Tendulkar has nothing to prove to us but perhaps he does to himself.
Already minor indignities are being heaped on a proud Indian. He is being "rested", when not quite tired, from tours where his form could be regained.
He has been asked by the Indian board to explain a passing comment, when in fact an old warrior should be asked (behind closed doors) to speak plainly and freely about what ails Indian cricket.
But Tendulkar, too coy anyway, will not speak his mind for no trust is left in the leaky world of Indian cricket. Still, the chiding from the board has delivered a message to the batsman - his status in Indian cricket has diminished.
His reputation as cricketer has gently fallen, too, as can happen when one of the world's finest batting practitioners does not display his skills.
The veterans did not perform in the Caribbean
It is being said, for instance, with slightly greater frequency that Lara is the greater batsman. This writer disputes that, for Tendulkar, while less damaging in his best days, was more consistent through his prime, and played under far more severe pressure.
But the Indian's average in the past two or three years could be changing minds.
Tendulkar never asked for a cricketing favour in his life. He made himself, he earned every run, he sweated to greatness.
The extraordinary sportsman arrives at his exalted position only because he adheres to the highest standards. Forget the media, board, former cricketers and team mates.
Tendulkar must now ask himself: is he adhering still to those standards?
Most Indians cannot look upon him unemotionally, because it is hard to be purely practical about a man who stirs up such passion.
But Tendulkar's decision must be devoid of emotion, a champion's cold evaluation of what he is and stands for.
Ironically, the day when selectors are able to make similar hard, unemotional decisions about India's great players will be the day when Indian cricket has really grown up.
There is something almost unbearable about watching Tendulkar struggle, like a proud eagle with a fractured wing. Yet he has also earned the right to struggle.
A friend, who knows Tendulkar, told me recently that for the great batsman to exit now would be unseemly. It would be far better if Tendulkar scored a century and then left, so we can remember the beautiful boy of our past.
It is a nice thought. But if Tendulkar scored a century, perhaps hope might flare within him that the end is still some distance away.
This debate is closed. Here is a selection of comments you sent.
Yes, I think it is time for Tendulkar to retire because he will bring more disgrace upon himself if he continues to play. One day he must face the fact that he has been "dropped" rather than "rested". It will be face saving for him if he retires at this juncture.
A. Vijaya Sarathy, India
It is very bad that someone judges your confidence, Sachin. You are a God of the cricket, and you will know when you no longer have the power to play. Who is anyone to say that Sachin has lost his career, or that it's the beginning of his end?
Rajesh More, India
Sachin is one of the greatest batsman - if not the greatest batsman - in the world. But in my opinion it is high time he retired, as his continuous injuries have faded the quality of his batting. You can see that from his performances over the last two years.
Syed Kamran Haider, Pakistan
Only one thing to say: "form is temporary, but class is permanent". I think Tendulkar has still got plenty to offer, he simply needs to let go of carrying the weight and expectations of India on his shoulders (this should collectively passed onto TEAM India - as in the case of Australia) and get back to playing cricket the fearless way, just like he did when he was a youngster.
It is high time for Sachin to retire from all forms of game. We have noticed recently that he is not really playing for team and the country at all. Instead he seems to be becoming a very greedy and selfish cricketer. Please Sachin, for God's sake we wish you will retire very soon.
It's true Tendulkar did not perform where it mattered most but the problem lies with the fact that the whole team did not leave up to its potential. Which other Indian batsman performed noticeably better than Tendulkar in the WC?
Rajul P, Uk
Sachin should retire whenever he wants. That is the least Indian Cricket can do for him after all that he has done for us. No other Indian in my lifetime has given me as much joy and pride than the little master himself. May the show go on!
Hari Ramanathan, Sultanate of Oman
Ganguly remains the best cricketer in the Indian team - I love watching him, he's a maestro, way ahead of the others.
I am sorry but this whole article is ridiculous. Sachin is only 33. Every player goes through a lean time. He has been injured for most of the last two years. Get a grip. Most batsmen come into their prime during their mid-30s. Whatever happened to loyalty?
Sarfraz Rafique, Uk
It is not the norm for Asian cricketers to retire with pride, and it looks Sachin is one of them. Leaving cricket in the current scenario will give more respect to this great batsman. If he does not retire now, he will end up looking like a loser.
Rizwan Ahmad, Islamabad, Pakistan
He should have retired a year or two ago. Since he has not done that, it would be best for everyone involved if Sachin called a press conference and announced that the next test tour will be his last. This would accomplish so many things: stop people from constantly asking about his retirement, and give himself a chance of going out with glory. Finally, he should write a honest letter to the Indian cricket authorities and tell them, in his opinion, ails Indian cricket. That will earn him credit for the rest of his life.
B K Raj, India
Excellent article. Great analysis done. Just hope some of the Indian writers and ex cricketers had the conviction and guts to endorse your stand.
Mr Brijnath, Will you eat your words humbly and accept that you were wrong... horribly wrong in judging Tendulkar? Are you judging him for his ODI career or his career as a whole? Either way, he'll make you eat humble pie... just watch!!!
Chandan K, India
Sachin is no more the Sachin of the past. However harsh, this is the reality, and we are not far off from the day when he says adieu.
One of the better written articles speculating Tendulkar's future. Tendulkar has earned a special place in every Indian's heart and it is fair to Tendulkar if the decision for his future is left only with him. He deserves this much at least after the kind of services he has rendered to Indian cricket. What I feel makes Tendulkar continue is an urge to show a glimpse of his past at least one more time, and win crucial matches/tournaments/series. He has to decide very quickly whether he has the same fire left in him. As a fan of his prowess, I will be very disappointed to see him fade away without making a last impact, which will leave an everlasting memory in our minds.
Ankur Agarwal, USA