In the summer of 1981, Bjorn Borg had won four consecutive French Open titles, five consecutive Wimbledon crowns. He was the ‘Ice Man’ with a fanatical following, he was untouchable, he was the greatest and he had the world at his feet.
Three months later, his Grand Slam career was over, following two losses to John McEnroe in the finals of Wimbledon and the US Open. After the latter, Borg walked off the court before the trophy ceremony and press conference straight to a waiting car, slid behind the wheel and drove himself away from Flushing Meadows. Just like that, he decided he had had enough.
Rocky Marciano retired at the age of 32 as undefeated heavyweight boxing champ with a 49-0 record – he walked away and to his credit never attempted a comeback. He had had his fill. It wasn’t planned but one day, seven months after his last fight; he decided he didn’t want to step into the ring again.
One of baseball’s greatest pitchers Sandy Koufax retired at 30 after compiling a 27-6 season in 1966 with the Dodgers. Arthritis in his left elbow ended his career prematurely. He just pulled the plug on his career and decided it wasn’t worth the pain.
For others like Steve Waugh, retirement wasn’t as easy. Walking away from the game wasn’t as easy. His statistics weren’t as lofty as they once were; the Australian selectors were on his case as was the media. But he was determined to go out on his own terms. He struggled, he survived, he flourished, he made them bow to his will and when that was done, he decided that a series against India would be his last. He also looked at things one day at a time.
For Rahul Dravid the decision was ‘easier.’
When he announced his decision to leave the game and hang up his boots, he was at ease with himself and his decision. “It wasn’t a difficult decision for me because I just knew in my heart that the time was right, and I was very happy and comfortable in what I had achieved and what I had done.”
But there is more to it than a bottom line. Playing a sport is, simply, what sportsmen do best. For some, it’s all they know. It’s who they are.
So when Sachin Tendulkar is asked the same questions regarding his retirement over and over again – the answers shouldn’t surprise us anymore.
The conversation in recent times has centred around the 200th Test and whether it will be Tendulkar’s last. The master batsman has maintained – as he always has that he doesn’t think that far ahead. “I haven’t thought so much about it. I will as I always have... take it one day at a time.”
Not a single hint dropped. But isn’t that how it has always been? Even when cricketers are batting in the middle, they are always breaking things down – match by match, day by day, session by session, over by over, ball by ball, run by precious run. Think too far ahead and you are dead meat. You lose focus and the opposition will gobble you up without a second thought.
Throughout his career, Tendulkar has focussed on the current; the present... so why now... in the twilight of his career, do we expect him to change?
There are times when athletes continue to play on for their own enjoyment – Lleyton Hewitt is one such athlete that comes to mind instantly. A former number one – he no longer flies in rarefied air – but he seems to be pretty happy on court and that’s enough for him.
The truth is that 200 Tests are a miracle to some, to others it is part and parcel of playing for 24 years and to still more it’s something that just happened. But it is something that has never been done before.