The pressure had been piling up for a while but the final straw were his twin dismissals to Monty Panesar on his home ground in Mumbai. His record in his last 10 innings was abysmal for a man of his standing… 153 runs, no 100s, no 50s, no man of the match awards and a lot of criticism.
Sachin Tendulkar was feeling lost and disenchanted in the middle. He was nervous in the dressing room. He was nervous on the field as well. This was not good.
Even Sunil Gavaskar – a man who is respected and idolised by Sachin Tendulkar – weighed into the argument. Even Kapil Dev – regarded as many as the finest cricket India has ever produced – felt that Tendulkar needed to have the ‘talk’ with the selectors.
So with a heavy heart, Tendulkar picked up the phone and called Sandeep Patil, the chairman of selectors. Here’s how the conversation went:
Tendulkar: Hi Sandeep Sir, Sachin here.
Patil: Aarey Sachin, Kasa aahe tu? (Hi Sachin, how are you?)
Tendulkar: I’m good. But I felt… well Gavaskar Sir and Kapil Sir felt I should have the ‘talk’ with you, so here I am.
Patil (a bit afraid, after all he doesn’t want to be the selector who asked Tendulkar to quit. He remembers what happened to Greg Chappell in the Sourav Ganguly scenario): Yes, yes… we can always talk. You know how I am – am always open to talk to the players. But family comes first, so how are Anjali, Arjun and Sara doing? When are you going... home?
Tendulkar: Ah, they are doing well. You know how it is… I can’t take a break from cricket all the time. I miss them sometimes.
Patil: Yeah, I hear Arjun seems to be turning out to be a decent cricketer. Are you going... to give him special coaching?
Tendulkar (getting frustrated, he wants to talk about retirement): Well, See I don’t want to put any pressure on him. He is enjoying the game and that is what is important. Everything else that happens… will happen. That is what I believe in.
Patil: Yeah, who can forget what happened to Rohan Gavaskar. Pressure can kill talent I tell you. So what do you think of Che Pujara? Mala tyachi batting khoop awadli (I really liked his batting).
Tendulkar: A little like Dravid but his powers of concentration are really amazing. I wish I could concentrate like that. And good stamina too. He is hungry for runs – as hungry as Dravid… maybe even more… he has had to wait for his turn.
Patil: But technique is good for outside India too kya?
Tendulkar: Haan, haan. Khoop chaan mulga aahe. (He is a really good boy)
Patil: But I am really worried about Dhoni’s captaincy. He doesn’t seem like he wants to captain the Test team anymore. We have given him everything he wants – we even gave him Harbhajan Singh in the team but he still lost in Mumbai.
Tendulkar: Well, he isn’t scoring runs. He is even losing at home. His hair has a few more specks of grey everyday. But I think he gets no help from Duncan Fletcher.
Patil: Fletcher! Well, I can’t say anything to him without speaking to N Srini (BCCI president) Tula mahiti aahe na! (You know no) Or I just might get shunted out of my job.
Tendulkar: Haha. That’s there. Don’t tell Srini I said that though.
Patil (laughing): Certainly not. And how the new Nissan GT-R doing? When am I getting a ride in it?
Tendulkar (who is a big car fanatic): Kya new! July main li thi. But mast car hai. It can reach speeds of 300 km/hour. The engine output is 390 kW (530ps)/6,400rpm with maximum torque of 612N m from 3,200 to 6,000 rpm and it can achieve 0-60 mph (97 km/h) times as low as 3.2 seconds. I can only drive it in the early hours of the morning. That is my curse.
Patil: Wow. That sounds like some car. Kitne ka tha?
Tendulkar: Well, around Rs 2.5 crore and 45 lakhs as duty. I got it imported from Japan na. Kolkata aa rahe ho?
Patil: Yes, of course. I will be there. I absolutely love rasogullas and mishti dahi. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Anyway, got to go now. See you soon.
Well, yes, this is how we think it might have gone.
But think about it from Patil’s point of view: who would want to be remembered as the man who asked Tendulkar to retire. Did anyone ask Sir Donald Bradman to go? Did anyone ask Michael Jordan to go? Such decisions have to be taken by the players themselves. It would be unfair to put the onus on selectors when all this while Tendulkar has wanted to go on his own terms. So just because it suits him now, he decides to put the ball in the selectors' court.
The BCCI, on its part, has been saying that the decision is Sachin's to make and that he doesn't need any advice on when to retire. So can Patil really go against N Srini and the BCCI and ask Tendulkar the question; the big question? One reckons not.
For Tendulkar, the question has always been ‘when’ – it’s time he decides when he wants to call time on his career. And it's time he does it himself.