A fitting end to a glorious career. There's something unbearably romantic about the idea. Diehard fans always love their heroes to walk into the sunset in a blaze of glory, head held high in pride. It's psychological. The heroes leave a void, fans want it filled with a sense of longing. A great performance in the last match is a parting gift from the idols. It's for keeps.
How one wished Ricky Ponting hung up his boots with loads of runs in his last series! How one wished Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman called it a day after leading their sides to victory in hard fought matches! How one wished Sachin Tendulkar announced retirement after that one big match-winning knock!
Unfortunately, they disappoint. Maybe they get the timing all wrong. Maybe they don't read the writing on the wall. But if you are a player, it's difficult to see any wall, forget the writing. Being a sportsman all your life you feel you are still game for the challenge. After all you have overcome so many of them in your lifespan as a player.
Perhaps luck plays a role. The hunger does not die, neither do the skills evaporate nor the reflexes get duller, it's luck that deserts the players- and sportsmen need a lot of luck. Rahul Dravid had a dismal series in Australia, getting bowled repeatedly to deliveries he had been handling with ease for years. The man with an impeccable technique abruptly developed huge holes in his defence.
VVS Laxman was easily not very very special in his last Test series. It was against the Aussies he built his formidable reputation as a batsman. Ironically, it was his performance in Australia that brought an end to his career. In the end, he had to quit the game with the fear of being axed from the Indian hanging on his head. Cricket can be a cruel game.
Ponting's case is similar. The bat has just stopped being the magic wand in his hands. Runs have dried up in the last few seasons. And he no more looks the inspirational veteran among a bunch of reverential youngsters. His performance in the on going series against South Africa is certainly not something that does justice to his incredible talent - more than 13,000 Test runs is no mean feat.
Has he lost his game? Did Dravid and Laxman lose theirs? It's not possible. A Tendulkar cannot simply forget how he played his cricket overnight. It cannot be that their reflexes are failing them - they won't be in the team in the first place if they were that bad physically. With age the appetite for runs goes down since the big players have nothing to prove now, to themselves and to the world, some would argue. People like Ponting, Dravid, Laxman and Tendulkar not hungry for runs? That could be the worst argument put up against the greats.
Somehow they just run out of luck. That it happens when there are questions about their age is coincidence, nothing more. Would age still be a question if they were scoring runs the way they used to? Dravid scored heavily in the 2011 England series. Did we hear questions about his age then? Would anybody mind Sachin hanging around for ten more years if he resumes his prolific scoring? Age is not an issue, it never was. But the string of poor performances is a message from somewhere to the player that your time's up, it's pack up time.
Ponting has got his message as did Dravid and Laxman. Maybe Tendulkar has got it too. But it's for him to take the call. Perhaps he is waiting for that one last great performance before he says goodbye. His loyal fans would like him to go that way, not as a quitter. They want a memento from his last appearance which they will treasure for life.
Don't let the retirement of Ponting weigh on your mind Sachin. Play your game, make that last match memorable. You owe it to your fans.