The game gives and the game takes away, and in coming to England again in 1948 Bradman knew what he was risking in reputation and what was expected of him. The game of cricket had nothing more to give Bradman. He had scaled the heights; and he had tasted every sweetness it had to offer. He must have though deeply of all this in Australia before he made his decision to tour, because so fittingly and without the slightest trace of conceit could he have uttered of is cricket career the sentiments Keats wrote in 1820:
Now more than ever it seems rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain...
-- Brightly Fades The Don by Jack Fingleton
Just replace Bradman with Tendulkar, 1948 with 2013 and it will still read true. The above paragraph appears in the first chapter of the book which mainly describes the doubts that were clouding Bradman’s mind in the post-war era – should he return to cricket or not?
In 1946, Don Bradman’s health was poor and he was dispirited. To work his way back into cricket, he began playing other sports quietly. He played a few rounds of golf and a game or two of tennis. More frequent games of squash rackets followed.
Then, he took to domestic cricket. But it wasn’t the Bradman of old. It was a 40-year-old Bradman trying to recreate the glories of his youth. It was a Bradman searching for answers and in that quest he turned to domestic cricket; he went back to the basics.
He broke things down and begun anew. Fingleton recounts how the footwork wasn’t as sharp as it used to be and how Bradman started to mellow – it was a new approach. He mixed more with players and his previously aloof approach was shelved. Bradman’s domestic season before he went to England in 1948 was pretty great – 1032 runs at an average of 79.38. But he was still unsure of whether he would tour England.
He had a family and a business to think of. But at the centre of all his concerns was excellence. Could he go on a tour and be the best he could be? In the end, his experience helped him through. Bradman made 2428 runs on tour – 508 of which came in five Tests.
“I was more sedate,” Bradman later wrote in his Farewell To Cricket. “I relied more on placing than on power and could not maintain for very long a period of solid aggression. On numerous occasions I threw my innings away rather than take the risk of breaking down. I did what I thought was more important at 40 - saw the tour through. (I realised) it was time to make way for a younger man.”
Tendulkar is at the crossroads too and he is pretty much doing the same thing. His retirement from ODIs could mean many things but for me, it is a decision that will allow him to focus solely on Test cricket. In April, Sachin will turn 40 too… his fitness levels are markedly better than Bradman but while the Indian star's body is holding up pretty well, his mind seems to be breaking down.
Ranji Trophy will give him the freedom to find his old self again. He can experiment a little – his experience gives him the leeway to – and finds answers to the questions that New Zealand and England threw at him.
His century against Baroda in the Ranji Trophy quarter-finals wasn’t vintage stuff. In fact, it had a very sedate feel to it. He played and missed countless times, he expressed anger and anguish in equal measure, kicked the ground, threw his head back after playing false shots. He wasn’t out there to dominate, he was searching for something and his struggles against a sub-standard Baroda attack had it’s own story to tell.
Tendulkar still hasn’t committed to the Test series against Australia (which begins on February 22). There is talk on the circuit that he will definitely play that series but at the moment, the master is engaged in a fierce question and answer session with himself.
There are certain parameters that Tendulkar probably uses to measure his form. His love for the game and how much he’s enjoying cricket, notwithstanding, it will be interesting to see how he measures up on the parameters that really matter before the Ranji season is through.
He will make runs – despite all his struggles against Baroda, he still managed a ton – but before the Australians come visiting, will he be able to make the reluctance go away? Will he be able to convince himself to dive in the deep end again? That is a question only he can answer.