There has been a national obsession with the state of
Sachin Tendulkar's health and fitness ever since his
back pain of 1999.
By an unfortunate coincidence, his more serious
injuries have invariably occurred with a World Cup
The back crisis erupted during the series
against Pakistan with the World Cup in England just
months away. This naturally led to intense speculation
as to whether he would be fit in time for the
mega-event in which he has always excelled.
Perhaps understandably Tendulkar kept under wraps the
finger injury which he suffered early in 2003 during
the disastrous tour of New Zealand with the World Cup
in South Africa round the corner.
He had publicly expressed his dismay and exasperation
with all and sundry enquiring after his health four
years earlier and this time decided to keep the injury
to himself and his family. That he emerged as the
highest scorer in the World Cup remains a tremendous
tribute to his courage and resilience.
It has hardly been four months since he returned to
the team late last year after it looked like the
tennis elbow ailment would be the most serious of the
setbacks. And now comes yet another surgery, this time
on the shoulder.
Apart from the finger injury and a bruised toe in
2002, Tendulkar's fitness woes have largely revolved
round parts of the anatomy which are prone to
wear-and-tear through constant use.
We are always being reminded that he has been playing
international cricket year round since 1989. However,
it needs to be emphasized here that ever since he was
12 years-old, cricket was an integral part of his
life. Even at that tender age he would put in many
hours of practice and often play in more than one
match in a day during Bombay's hectic cricket seasons.
One can only speculate as to how much his body went
through during those early years.
Of course more than just the body, the human mind too
can become jaded and stale in such circumstances.
Tendulkar has dismissed out of hand the question of
whether he is contemplating retirement. And only he
can answer how much that fire still burns in him.
To be sure his last cricket wish remains
unfulfilled--to be part of a triumphant Indian team
that lifts the World Cup. West Indies in 2007 will
surely be his last chance. He will have to get used to
the intense scrutiny over the state of his health. And
if he does get back later this year as expected, will
the shoulder too impede his stroke-play as he has
admitted the tennis elbow did?
It is a sad fact of Indian cricket that apart from
Sunil Gavaskar (and Vijay Merchant three decades
before him); no player has chosen the right time to
call it a day.
Tendulkar has Gavaskar among his greatest admirers and
advisors and surely the original Little Master would
have whispered a few words of wisdom in his ear. So
too his wife Anjali and brother Ajit.
My feeling is the World Cup next year will be his last
bow. Indian crowds have short memories. But when
Tendulkar makes his final exit from a cricket field,
let us hope we can all gracefully and gratefully stand
and applaud the end of a wonderful innings.