We’ve seen the sight so many times: Sachin Tendulkar, deep in thought, biting his nails.
But when they flashed images of him doing the same in the Indian dressing room after being dismissed by Monty Panesar for the second time in the match, it made grim viewing. India, with the match on the line, were reduced to 52-3 and Sachin had once again failed -- he had been trapped lbw and been dismissed for 8.
It was the 10th innings in a row that Tendulkar had made less than 28. Four bowled and three lbw dismissals in that list. And once again the question started doing the rounds: Does he deserve a place in the Indian team on form?
Down Under, another great batsman Ricky Ponting is going through a similar conundrum. But unlike Tendulkar, he has come out and openly said that he is struggling. He has accepted reality.
"I'm a realist. I live in the real world and I know that if I'm not getting runs there's no chance at all (of playing the Ashes)," Australia's highest ever run-scorer told Channel Nine on Sunday. "I might not make the summer out so (if that happens) I definitely won't be in England.
"But we'll wait and see what happens at the end of the game. I've got no illusions or disillusions about where I'm at or where my cricket's at.”
So where is Ponting’s cricket?
Well, for starters, in the last 12 months, he has played 11 matches, scored 809 runs at an average 47.58. Put in the two centuries he scored and it doesn’t sound too bad. But in the current series against South Africa, he has scored just 20 runs in 3 innings at an average of 6.66. And that has been enough for him to feel the pressure.
But Tendulkar refuses to say a word.
The only defence he has at the moment is his record and the hope that he has enough class to turn things around. The master batsman’s record in the last 12 months has not been great – 8 matches, 379 runs, average of 27.07 and no centuries. And it gets worse -- in his last 10 innings, he has scored just 153 runs at 15.3.
With Tendulkar, though his career it’s always been about the country. In his book, country always comes first – so can he justify his spot in the Indian team if he isn’t scoring runs? Can he honestly tell himself that Ajinkya Rahane or some other youngster cannot do a better job?
If he can (it will take some convincing), he deserves to stay. But if he can’t that he too must be prepared to talk to the selectors or be prepared to let the selectors talk to him. For too long have the selectors hidden behind the argument that Sachin knows best.
But it’s becoming glaringly clear that he does not. The selectors need to set a date – give him one last chance to come good, on his own terms. And if he can’t, then he must bid goodbye – for himself and for India.
Just after getting his 100th hundred, Sachin Tendulkar had spoken about retirement: "When you are at the top, you should serve the nation. When I feel I am not in a frame of mind to contribute to nation, that's when I should retire not when somebody says. That's a selfish statement that one should retire on top."
But now, he is clearly not at the top. Indeed, he is scraping the bottom – just pride is keeping him afloat. His frame of mind can’t be very good either. One is tempted to ask so what will he do now, but instead the question we must all be asking is what the Sandeep Patil-led selection committee will do?
For most of their career, Ponting and Tendulkar have been locked in battles; the battle to be the world’s best; the battle for the most centuries but now the end is nigh. Which one of these greats will walk into the sunset first? Whoever does can be sure that the other won't be far behind.