January 14, 2022: The most difficult decision in a sportsman’s life is when to retire, or in everyday terms as to ‘when to hang up one’s boots.
The time has now come for three of India’s cricket long-time heroes, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, and Ishant Sharma. All of them have given yeoman’s service to Indian cricket both in India as well as overseas. Their names are etched on the billboards of most of the historical international cricket venues around the world for their distinguished batting and in Ishant’s case his bowling performance.
Leaving the field gracefully has always been an issue in Indian cricket. One marveled especially at the Australians, who even though they were still performing well, would announce their retirement without a hiccup. A similar attitude was also seen in England, New Zealand, and even in the West Indies. The reason that many of them cited was ‘that people should ask why rather than when’. Most also felt that one had to step aside to allow the next generation in, or else how would the future progress come about.
These words were well-received earlier. However, at present, the idea of saying farewell to a sport that is one’s passion and source of income makes it very hard for a cricketer.
Age is now no longer a concern. The modern fitness and health regimes have prolonged the life of a cricketer. In the past, anyone past 30 years was looked upon as one heading into the veteran zone, and for one to make a debut nearing that age was highly improbable.
Many of the greats of Indian cricket fell victim to the subject of retirement. One can understand the reason and that was because having given their blood, sweat, and tears to cricket, it was not an easy call to make.
Timing one’s departure from the sport is a decision which at most times is very scary. In cricket, a cricketer from his school days to the International level goes through the ups and downs that the game provides and the arduous journey that each one faces is what makes an end difficult to digest.
The digital world and live cricket coverage have given life to many of the former cricketers. Several of the well-known cricketers have captured the television and multi-media world by becoming commentators. Others have also become a leader and performance-related speakers and coaches. Cricket, off the field, is now more than just a game and one can make a career as a specialist coach, umpire, and get involved in the business-related areas of the game.
In the past, after retirement, cricketers were soon forgotten, and many went through hardship and depression. They went straight from the glamorous world to one of obscurity. There were very few opportunities in the cricketing world and most had to find a source to keep their home fires burning through a job. Therefore, quite understandably, although they chose to play, they were weeded out at most times unceremoniously.
The present cricketers, although they may have a longer tenure, the plethora of cricket at all levels and formats of the game, keeps them pursuing a journey without a thought as to what the future holds for them.
The journey of the three such stalwarts, Pujara, Rahane, and Ishant Sharma, one feels, has the curtains coming down on their careers as Test cricketers. One does feel for them, especially for what they have contributed to the progress of Indian cricket. However, none of them saw the writing on the wall as to what position they were putting themselves into.
Ajinkya Rahane, once relieved of his vice-captaincy, Cheteshwar Pujara being questioned about his technique and Ishant Sharma on his loss of speed and fitness were asking for the inevitable to happen.
Cricket has this aura about it that one feels one is just one inning away from reviving one’s form and reputation. However, understanding where one stands if it does not work out is what a modern-day cricketer will need to evaluate.
The problem of retirement is not so much for the Indian International cricketers but many of the domestic cricketers. The latter are cricketers in the present times, amateurs on paper, but professionals. Indian cricket revolves around them and with the increase in the amount of cricket being played because of the three formats of the game, cricket is their only occupation. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit them hard and even the premium tournament of Indian cricket, the Ranji Trophy, has not been held for the past two years. The match fees are what each one of them relies on and many must be now contemplating an alternate career.
Should they retire or not would be the million-dollar question in their minds. The pandemic has brought a complete recession in the Indian cricketer’s life even though huge financial collections by the BCCI are being reported through the IPL and India’s International cricket engagements.
The time has come for Indian cricket to bring in newer, younger faces. At present, the focus is a lot on the World Test Championship and collecting points to qualify for the final. The Indian selectors need to see beyond it and look at the future.
In the meanwhile, the selectors should also send a clear message to some of the senior Indian cricketers that it is time for them to call it a day.
The Indian team suffers when the older and newer are both under pressure to perform. This was quite evident in the recent Test series in South Africa.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal.)