Daily Archives: 3 October 2008

Fab Four Retirement — Can we please not debate this again?

[This article was submitted by Pranav Ram Gandhi, a regular reader of i3j3Cricket]

Here we go again, get ready cricket fans, its time (once again and again and again) to discuss the retirement of one of the Fab Four. This time it’s the Prince’s turn: Sourav Ganguly.

The question at hand: Since Sourav Ganguly was not selected for the Irani trophy, should he retire? Has the board struck a two-test deal for him to go out gracefully?

This time around the debate is about Sourav Ganguly. In a few months it will be about Rahul Dravid and V. V. S. Laxman and then it may be about Sachin Tendulkar. So in the interest of saving a discussion for the future, let me just pen down (hopefully for the final time) the story on the retirement of any of India’s Fab Four. Will they? Wont they? Should they? Shouldn’t they?

Vijay Merchants’ famous “Retire when people ask ‘why’ and not ‘why not’” statement when asked on why he was retiring set a trend in sport on how a certain sportsperson chooses on when to retire. For those of us who were too young to know what the esteemed batsman was referring to, on his sudden retirement announcement he was asked why? He responded that he would rather retire when people were asking him “why and not why not”

A noble thought, no doubt but is this the Golden Rule that all sportsmen must follow? Can this be the measuring stick of making ones’ decision? Let’s take a look and see how many of the greats truly stick by the same philosophy? The list is pretty well balanced.

The Merchant Conformists:

Bjorn Borg retired at a stage when most people believe he had a few grand slams left in him. He walked away from the game and never looked back. A few years later he tried to make a comeback with a wooden racket in a time of graphite power. Needless to say, the comeback was a disaster. But his original retirement still stands as his official one. Most at the time did ask why.

Shane Warne and Glen Mcgrath retired at a time when most people believed that they could have easily continued to be the leading bowling combination in the world. A big deal was not made of their retirement simply because they had played so much cricket. However, no one doubted their ability to still play at the highest level. Both performed superbly in the IPL, which was played well after they retired. There were a few that asked why, you can still perform we all said.

Justine Henin shocked the world when she retired as the number one women’s player in the world.
Others on this list include Michael Schumacher and Barry Sanders (American Football Player).

The Merchant Non conformists:

Kapil Dev stretched on his career just to break Richard Hadlee’s record of the total number of Test wickets. At a private party, a senior Indian cricket official (who shall go unnamed) said, “It is so embarrassing, Kapil is bowling so slow that the ball is not even reaching the wicket keeper. But what can we do? He just wont go.”

Michael Jordan retired, then came back, then retired again, then came back again and then retired again. The first and second retirements were in line with the Merchant philosophy, the third one, not so…

Muhammad Ali even came back one too many times. His last comeback at 37 led to an embarrassing defeat to Larry Holmes.

We now have the possibility of Lance Armstrong making his 3rd comeback. His second comeback from retirement was a stunning success. What will the 3rd coming hold in store for all of us?

Right time:

So what is the correct time to retire? When the press, media and most importantly the public push a sportsman to retire they have one of two reasons. Reason 1- You should retire now before you ruin your legacy. Reason 2- You are hampering the team’s success (in case of team sports), so please retire and get out of the way of the younger players.

Let us examine these reasons:

Legacy: The word legacy is so sacrosanct in sport that no one wants to tamper with it. If you have been great enough to have a legacy, why run the risk of ruining it right? I have a question for the legacy protectors: When Michael Jordan came back a third time and played with the Washington Wizards did he ruin his legacy? Is he no longer considered the greatest player ever to play the game of basketball and one of the greatest sporting icons ever? Is Kapil Dev not considered to be one of India’s greatest cricketers? What do we remember about Jordan? Is it his last shot in a Bulls Uniform in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA finals or his tumultuous two years in Washington? Is our image of Kapil Dev that of a struggling bowler who had a tough time in his last few tests? Or of him lifting the 1983 World Cup at Lords’?

Are the non-conformists at the risk of ruining their legacy? Not a chance. If you are great enough to have a legacy, no one can ever take that away from you. Muhammad Ali will always be the greatest, Michael Jordan will always be His Airness and Sachin Tendulkar will always be one of the greatest to play the game. That is one thing you can never take away from these men.

Younger players: There is a school of though that elder statesmen stand in the way of younger players and can often hamper the teams’ success. This question poses a dilemma. In the case of Kapil Dev, for example, this was a valid criticism. The team was suffering and no new bowlers were getting an opportunity. Yet there is another side to this as well. Sourav Ganguly was ousted and basically told by almost everyone outside of the West Bengal region that his time was over and that he should just retire. He went on to make one of the great comebacks in Indian cricket.

So who is to judge? Looking at the above examples, how do we know whether it is time for retirement, or it’s a slump in a long great career? The answer is that we don’t. Nobody really does. Not even the sportsperson themselves. For them to accept that they can no longer play at the highest level is more often than not unfathomable. In 2007 Sourav Ganguly was India’s highest scorer in Test cricket, and the world’s second highest scorer in Test cricket. He averaged 46.33 in his last 15 tests, well over his career average of 41.75. Sachin Tendulkar is averaging above 50 in his last 15 Tests while V. V. S. Laxman is averaging 53.40, which is almost 10 runs over his career average of 43.80. So do you really expect these batsmen to hang up their bats and call it a day? Do you really expect them to think that they can’t do it anymore and that they should retire? That is not happening my friends; they will argue that stats prove that they are still performing.

The only thing that might get the thought brewing in their heads is the recent tour of Sri Lanka where all of them struggled and two younger players in Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir performed. However, I think it will take a lot more than one lousy tour to convince them that the end is near.
So what does that say for the Fab Four? Is their legacy in jeopardy? Not a chance. Sourav Ganguly will always be one of India’s greatest captains, a god on the offside, and the man who changed the way India plays cricket on the field. Rahul Dravid will always be The Wall, India’s greatest number three batsmen, and a class act. Laxman will always be the prettiest Indian batsman to watch, his 281 will remain in the folklores of Indian cricket and he will always be the man that the World Champion Australians “did not know where to bowl to”. And there will only ever be one Sachin Tendulkar. Enough said!

In conclusion, are they hampering the team? Should they be dropped? Should they call it a day? You will have ten people arguing for and ten others arguing against each one of these dilemmas. At the end of the day, they are going to retire when they want to. So leave them alone. Let us stop wasting paper, airtime on television, your time and most importantly my time in this wasteful and directionless discussion.

— Pranav Ram Gandhi