The final pointer to character: how a player retires from the game

Last year Virender Sehwag told this newspaper that the pain of being “deprived of a farewell game will always remain” in his mind.  

Has the Sachin Tendulkar retirement drama spoilt the modern cricketer or is he merely taking his cue from the poet Dylan Thomas: Do not go gentle into that good night…/Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Two recent reluctant retirees have been Shivnaraine Chanderpaul and Dilshan Tillekeratne. “I still have a lot to offer,” said the former while Dilshan said, “I hadn’t planned to retire when the series (against Australia) began.”

Last year Virender Sehwag told this newspaper that the pain of being “deprived of a farewell game will always remain” in his mind.

In the past, players called it a day at the end of a series, after being out of the reckoning for a while or owing to injury, and did it quietly, almost privately. Many didn’t get around to making any official announcement, and simply dropped out of the public eye. Great cricketers never retired, they merely lost their drive!

Farewell cheers

When Don Bradman came out to play his final innings, he was given three farewell cheers by the opposition, as was Wally Hammond in his final Test in New Zealand. And that was that. Of an earlier generation, Jack Hobbs left the same way, cheers and all. The first captain of independent India, Vijay Hazare wrote in his autobiography, “Although I didn’t officially announce my retirement, I felt I was through with Test cricket.”

That was after leading in the West Indies in 1952-53. All very civilised and low key.

When Steve Waugh announced at the start of a series against India that he was calling it a day at the end of it, he hijacked the competition and made it about himself. Sourav Ganguly and Tendulkar took a leaf out of Waugh’s book, exciting the marketing men and advertisers far more than the Australian did.

You can’t begrudge the players getting their pound of flesh, though. Many Indian heroes had to face the ignominy of being sacked, sometimes without even being officially told. Thus did Lala Amarnath quit, after the cricket board leaked the story of his successor being appointed in the middle of a home series. Amarnath was impressed enough with the tactic to use it when he was selector to end the career of Vinoo Mankad the great all rounder, after the West Indies series of 1958-59.

The stalwarts of the 60s and 70s dropped out without fanfare, and often without public announcements. Chandu Borde was dropped as part of the selectors’ youth policy, Farokh Engineer faded away after a pair in his final Test, M L Jaisimha after the West Indies series of 1970-71, Erapalli Prasanna, Bishan Bedi and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar (match-winners all) were finished after a mauling at the hands of Zaheer Abbas and company in Pakistan, Gundappa Vishwanath couldn’t make a comeback after Imran Khan-induced uncertainties on a later tour. Dilip Vengsarkar held on after losing his captaincy, but his career came to a natural standstill.

Reflexes slow down, motivation oozes out, the practice-match-travel routine is no longer attractive, families grow, interests in other areas widen.

Retirement is a natural conclusion to a sportsman’s career, even if occasionally the inevitable is delayed. Kapil Dev, for instance, went on till he had the world wicket aggregate record to himself, although he was clearly past his best.

Sunil Gavaskar alone beat the then system — deciding on the time and place of his last bow, and playing one of the great innings on a Bangalore turner against Pakistan, to boot. He invited a few journalists to his hotel room, and made the announcement. No fanfare. No special treatment.

Yet, a later generation often demanded and got both fanfare and special treatment. Tendulkar, requiring two more Tests to complete 200, had an entire series conjured out of thin air for him, including a farewell party that involved the whole country. Sourav Ganguly announced before a series against Australia that it would be his last, thus ensuring the kind of public reaction associated with the puja holidays in his native Kolkata.

Of the others of that generation, Rahul Dravid held a press conference as did V.V. S Laxman, after being picked for the home series against New Zealand.

Anil Kumble, realising his body couldn’t take the strain any longer decided to heed the message on his son’s T-shirt which read: “Its time to call it a day.” He was chaired off the field by his successor, M. S. Dhoni.

Virender Sehwag wondered why the board did not give him a proper farewell. His goodbye was the strangest of all. In Dubai, as a build-up to the T20 Masters League, he was reminded that no current player could play the tournament.

“I hereby retire from all forms of international cricket,” he tweeted after the ceremony, ensuring that the journalists scooped his own story!

Thanks to the three formats of the game, retirement by degrees is the modern way. And many expect a public farewell. Perhaps more than the cover drive or battling under pressure, it is the way he retires that speaks of a player’s character.

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 10:06:29 AM |

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