The ‘R’ Word: Perfect timing for Gavaskar, not so much for Kapil, tragic for Wadekar
Sunil Gavaskar was immaculate in his timing as his fans craved for more. Sachin Tendulkar improvised in the nick of time to make it a memorable postscript but Kapil Dev was two years too late. Retirements could often be delusional but no one did it better than Gavaskar, who, by the end of 1986 had announced that Pakistan series at the start of 1987 would be his last in Tests and that he would hang his boots from all forms of competitive cricket after the Reliance World Cup later that year.
For a generation that worshipped Gavaskar and heard though their transistor sets Ravi Chaturvedi, Suresh Saraiya or John Arlott describing the beauty of his strokes, it was unacceptable. But as Lord Relator had penned, “It was Gavaskar, De Real Master” had that sense after scoring an educational 96 on a Chinnaswamy snake pit.
A product of the post liberalization era, Gavaskar’s heir apparent Tendulkar had way more at stakes with the satellite TV boom in India, at time when Indian cricket realised its true value under the late Jagmohan Dalmiya.
Tendulkar blossomed, the board flourished and cricket became a mania. Tendulkar survived generations and his journey from cult status to ‘God’ was a heady one. His retirement happened just when murmurs began to surface about his waning ability and for someone blessed with exceptional intelligence, he knew that he was nearer to the end in 2013.
He informed the BCCI in advance, giving the board an opportunity to provide a fitting platform for its ‘Kohinoor’ to take his final bow amid an overwhelming sense of emotion, which was organic at one level. It was a script that everyone, from 8 to 80, wanted.
Despite being one of India’s greatest cricketers, Kapil Dev was a pale shadow of his former self when retirement approached. He was already struggling with a dodgy knee after being hit while bowling against the West Indies and hobbled out of the Nahar Singh Stadium in Faridabad.
A few days later, he announced his retirement on a Diwali day, but everyone knew that he was two or three years too late. Javagal Srinath at his prime didn’t play a Test match in India — between 1991 and 1994 — as captain Mohammed Azharuddin and manager Ajit Wadekar had a sense of compulsion to see that the legend went past the then highest wicket-taker Richard Hadlee even though his speed had dropped to early 120s.
Wadekar was a classic case of the proverb “success had many parents but failure remained a perennial orphan”.
The man who led India to twin series wins in West Indies and England in 1971 became a villain after a 0-3 series loss in England in 1974.
The national selection committee didn’t even let him go on his own terms, dropping him from the West Zone squad barely months after he was an India captain. Wadekar knew that he had to call it a day. In recent years, Sourav Ganguly’s announcement was sort of an anti-climax.
After everything was done, suddenly on a Durga Puja day, Ganguly announced after a press conference, “One last thing lads… This series is going to be my last.” But that wasn’t all. Then skipper Anil Kumble, during the next Test in Delhi, announced that his shoulder was no longer supporting his intent of performing at 100 percent. He retired with immediate effect.
Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman played their last Test match together in Adelaide during the disastrous 2011-12 tour of Australia. Two very private people, Dravid announced it on the day of Holi and it wasn’t a surprise considering that he had suffered a massive dip in form during that series.
Laxman hung around and has said in his autobiography that he was in no mood to prove himself time and again and just days before a New Zealand series, he announced his retirement. Well for the keeps, he didn’t get through to his then skipper who was known to be inaccessible over telephone. Mahendra Singh Dhoni still is, as the world once again saw on August 15, 2020.