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That seems to be the all-important question in India today. And I intend to answer it without actually answering it. It’s simple. I will point you towards some numbers and leave you to make up your mind.
In the TV debates that followed India’s embarrassing loss yesterday, very few former players dared to suggest that Tendulkar should resign. For most, the argument was that Sachin is a legend and he can decide better than anyone of us can.
Many others said it is only the last two series in which Sachin has faltered – too small a time span to rule against the master.
Then, the ever provocative yet often correct, Saurav Ganguly seemed to suggest that there are others in the team who haven’t exactly covered themselves with glory. But Ganguly refrained from spelling out names.
So what’s the truth?
Let us look at the performance of Sachin Tendulkar over the past two years, i.e. we will go back up to November 2010. Then look at his average and the number of centuries scored. I am sure that statistically this would be a long enough period to suggest, with some confidence, that he is losing his touch.
That number is 35.72 runs per innings ( in 37 innings) with 2 centuries to his credit. Keep this figure in your mind since this is the benchmark for the rest of the analysis.
Now since we are debating retirement, let us compare it to the other two legends who have actually retired recently – VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid.
Would it surprise you to know that Laxman had better figures than Tendulkar over the last two years that he played? He did.
Laxman has an average of 39.65 runs per innings over 47 innings with 3 centuries.
Now, would it surprise you that Dravid had even better figures than Laxman? He did.
Dravid scored an average of 42.63 runs per innings (in 47 innings) with - hold your breath – 8 centuries.
So then the question is: why is it that Tendulkar is still playing, even when the other two have retired?.
Some of you may be curious about Ganguly's record in the last two years of his career.
Even he scored at an average of 41.47 runs per innings (in 48 innings) with 4 centuries to his credit.
So if you compare Tendulkar to the other big three of the famed Indian middle order, it is clear that Tendulkar is staying put even when he has performed the worst among the four of them. Never mind the brickbats thrown at Ganguly for being the weakest test player among the four (which is a fact, by the way, if you go by overall test career stats). Never mind the obvious lack of grace with which Laxman was pushed out of the dressing room. Never mind the fact that it took just one bad series against Australia for Dravid to pack up his bags.
So should the selectors now ensure that Tendulkar’s career gets a dignified burial? Perhaps they should.
Will they? I am not too sure and here are the reasons for the uncertainty.
Lets apply the same principle of analysis to Sehwag and Gambhir – the established batsmen who can shoulder the additional responsibility if Tendulkar was to leave.
Sehwag has scored at an average of 38.14 runs per innings (in 35 innings) with 2 centuries. It is funny that both the centuries were in Ahmedabad. One against England in the first test match of the current series and the other against New Zealand in the test match played exactly two years ago on November 4, 2010. Nothing in between.
Now let’s come to Gambhir. He has scored at an average of 31.14 runs per innings (in 34 innings) with no centuries. Hmm.
So, I suspect there isn’t much of a case that the existing senior order is outperforming Tendulkar.
But what about the young turks?
Pujara who made his debut in October 2010 has had two years of test cricket but Kohli has not. Although Kohli now has more test innings under his belt. So just to complete the argument I have taken all their test innings till date.
But here the results are mixed.
While Pujara has scored at an average of 59.25 per innings (in 12 innings) with 3 centuries, Kohli has scored at 34.63 runs per innings (in 22 innings) with 2 centuries.
I am sure, by now some of you might be wondering why is it that the better players keep retiring and the poorer ones stick on – or at least that is what the numbers suggest.
Short answer is another number: the player’s age. It has a huge bearing on the degree to which a player can improve and what he can offer in the future.
Last time when the English cricket team whupped us, we just lost our top ranking. If they win this series - and it seems pretty likely right now - they will cause the demise of our Top order itself. But then, looking at the numbers, who could say it would be a bad thing!