RECORD-BREAKING batsman Sachin Tendulkar, who turns 40 tomorrow, has no plans to retire despite media speculation and recent form suggesting that age is finally catching up with the “Little Master”.
Test and one-day cricket’s greatest run-scorer approaches the game with undiminished enthusiasm and insists he has much to offer despite slipping from the dizzying heights he reached earlier in his 24-year career.
“People have been talking about my retirement since 2005, but that does not worry me at all,” Tendulkar chided reporters at a promotional event in New Delhi last week.
“Your job is to write, my job is to play. I will stick to my job and you stick to yours.”
Tendulkar, afforded almost religious status in India, burst onto the world cricket scene as a 16-year-old in 1989 and has played a record 198 Tests and 463 one-dayers, scoring an unprecedented 100 international hundreds.
He was singled out by Don Bradman but the Australian legend’s Test average is one of the few marks that Tendulkar has not been able to threaten, with his 15,837 runs coming at 53.86. Bradman averaged 99.94.
However, questions over his future mounted when he struggled for a year to score the ton he needed to take him to 100 centuries. He finally achieved the landmark against Bangladesh in Dhaka in March 2012.
Tendulkar, who decided not to play Twenty20 internationals after just one match in 2006, announced his retirement from one-day cricket last December in a bid to prolong his glittering Test career.
But his form in the five-day format has also dipped by his own stellar standards. He has scored just 1,145 runs in 21 Tests at an average of 31.80 since being part of India’s World Cup-winning team two years ago.
And Tendulkar has not added to his tally of 51 Test centuries since making 146 against South Africa in Cape Town in January 2011.
But despite his struggles with the bat, the veteran is refusing to follow fellow modern greats such as compatriot Rahul Dravid and Australia’s Ricky Ponting into retirement.
Sunil Gavaskar, the first man to reach the 10,000-run milestone in Tests, suggested last year that Tendulkar’s reflexes were on the slide. Former Australian captain Steve Waugh also feels he is past his best.
“He is not playing up to his standards,” Waugh said last week. “But he himself has to decide (on retirement).”
When India succumbed to a Test series defeat against England at home in December, former skipper Sourav Ganguly backed calls for Tendulkar to quit.
“He is getting a long rope because of what he has achieved,” Ganguly was quoted as saying by London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper. “As somebody watching it from outside, Tendulkar is not performing.
“And I think if I were Tendulkar, I would go (retire).”
But Kapil Dev, another ex-India skipper, says Tendulkar is fit and hungry for success even after so many years of gruelling cricket. “Sachin passes on both counts. He could go on for years if he wanted to,” he told AFP.
Six months ago, Tendulkar admitted in a television interview that retirement had crossed his mind, but said he would take it series by series before making a final call.
“I am 39-plus and it is not abnormal for me to think of retirement,” he said. “I will go by what my heart says. At this moment, my heart says I am OK.”
There has been speculation in the media over whether Tendulkar will play in India’s next Test outing — a three-match away series against world number one side South Africa starting late in the year.
There is even talk of organising two home Tests against an unknown opponent before the tour of South Africa to enable Tendulkar to bow out with 200 appearances in a farewell series.
But few would be surprised if the player, described by former India coach Gary Kirsten as cricket’s “greatest role model”, bats on at the top level.
As many as 102 cricketers have played Test matches after hitting 40, the oldest being Englishman Wilfred Rhodes, who was 52 when he took on the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1930.
Tendulkar, who last year accepted a government offer to take up a nominated seat in India’s upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha, has never revealed what he wants to do post-retirement.
“It is going to be hard because I have not experienced anything close to what I might go through when I retire,” Tendulkar said in a recent television interview.
“I cannot relate this moment with any other moment in my life.”