The World Cup is often a farewell tour for top players. Rohan Kanhai and Farokh Engineer finished their careers at the inaugural Cup in 1975. It was Imran Khan 1992 and Javed Miandad four years later. In 2015, it was Mahela Jayawardene. There’s a long list.
Every four years, players use the occasion for the final wave before disappearing into commentary boxes, coaching assignments, administration or sometimes, obscurity.
There’s something about a World Cup campaign that evokes thoughts of completion and a curiosity in other aspects of life.
Today the word ‘retirement’ does not automatically mean the end of a career. You can retire from red ball cricket but continue in white. You can retire specifically from one of three formats, or retire from all international cricket but continue playing T20 franchise cricket around the world. Then of course you can retire and soon — that ugly word — ‘unretire’, as Ben Stokes has done, and Shahid Afridi did half a dozen times.
South Africa’s Quentin de Kock has said he will retire at the end of this year’s World Cup, as has Afghanistan’s Naveen-ul Haq. Others say this will be their “last World Cup”, and considering their ages it is not difficult to understand why. Still others have spoken of or hinted at quitting white ball cricket, players like Moeen Ali and David Warner.
Just how important is it for a player who has served for long to get a proper farewell? A decade ago, Sachin Tendulkar was given the kind of send-off most players can only dream of. He was allowed to play his 200th and final Test at his home ground Mumbai, and in that two-match competition against the West Indies, the remaining 21 players in each Test were mere props in the drama that was Tendulkar’s one-man show.
As the finest batsman of his time, perhaps of all time when you also consider the range of formats he played and the number of grounds around the world he played on, Tendulkar might have felt entitled to a proper, significant, memorable goodbye. And he got it. No one complained. It was seen as the great getting his due. Sometimes, if you plan well as Steve Waugh did, you can get a farewell through a whole series, with standing ovations at every venue.
Of India’s golden generation, Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly retired in 2008, having announced earlier they were doing so and thus giving fans the chance to say goodbye. Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman retired five months apart in 2012 following a poor series in Australia, and choosing to make the announcement at their home venues in the presence of family and friends. They might have liked to walk off into the sunset after one final grand innings, but that was not to be. That Laxman did not get to play the World Cup was one of his biggest disappointments.
Virender Sehwag, one of the game’s most innovative openers, felt towards the end of his career that he should be allowed a farewell Test. He also wanted to bat in the middle order. Neither wish was granted, and he announced his retirement on social media from Dubai, two years after his final Test.
Jump before being pushed
To jump before being pushed is the wish of every professional. Some, like Kumble and Ganguly, interpret the writing on the wall correctly and leave the field on the shoulders of their teammates (Kumble), or after being allowed to lead the team one final time by the skipper (Ganguly).
Of the 13 players with over 100 Tests for India (one, Virat Kohli is still playing), these two and Sunil Gavaskar were (Tendulkar apart) probably the only to leave on their own terms. Gavaskar, 74, said last year that he hadn’t written to the cricket board saying he was retiring in 1987, and so hadn’t officially retired yet!
Whether they announce it or not, some of the finest of this generation will be playing their final match over the next few weeks. Sometimes the end comes gradually, as the runs or wickets dry up; sometimes abruptly when a defeat leads to a churning in the team. The World Cup is often a platform for the final bow.