World cup brings with it many things. Inevitably each edition plays host one last time to a group of great cricketers performing on cricket’s biggest stage in the hope of going out on a high. Expectations, invariably, sky-rocket from loyal supporters. Heroes are made of performing stars and winning teams are immortalized. Inglorious exits are met with wrath and burning effigies. Heads roll and scars linger till the next significant victory is achieved. Only a blessed few get to go out as world champs. Others walk into sunset alone and hurt.
It is a strange thing this retirement. Young men in the prime of their life otherwise are asked to leave just because a younger and stronger cricketer promises to deliver. A performer of grandeur, excellence and one of mass adulation and worship is replaced with the tone of a has-been. A retiring rock star on the other hand perhaps goes on a world tour for a couple of months one last time. Yes, test retirements sometimes are on that scale (Steve Waugh, anyone?), but how many of the great theatre artists or pop-singers are asked to terminate their professions abruptly?
Still world cups are different. Passions reach fever pitch and average ex-cricketers find the temerity to question colossal giants. Media fuel exits with the same exaggerated care they would a triumph with inane debates and over-the-top obituaries. Fans and media move on with the next game and the next victory but a great career is ended.
Cricket, with its changing fortunes and the many twists and turns, the highs and the lows, heart burns and unbridled joy—often in the same match—is rightly compared to life and its vicissitudes.
Retirement is anything but life-like. A routine retirement is an occasion where friends and family celebrate a career. Contributions are acknowledged by grateful peers and bosses.
In cricket, retirement is often demanded following a high-profile exit. Whilst selection is merit oriented and at the discretion of the cricket board, retirement is the individual's choice. Often, cricketers are pushed into it. Some give in and some retire only to be back very soon after. And some others retire in installments. Whatever the means, it is best left unto the individual. As with this world cup, this will be the last time truly modern day giants like Tendulkar, Kallis, Muralitharan, Ponting, Jayawardene, Chanderpaul will play in a world cup. All of them would want to go out as world beaters and nothing less.
As it might turn out, none of them might be around when it is the finals time on April 2nd. It would hardly count as failure as it is players like them who make cricket invigorating and such a pleasure that you and I worship every minute of it. Their biggest contribution is in leaving the game having inspired millions of others to take to it.
As the world cup gears itself perhaps for its own future in a few days’ time, these great set of players will put on their best performances in the hope of scaling the summit one last time. Cricket will go on with or without them as it should and invariably will. Some won’t get picked after this world cup and selectors and captains are entitled to their judgment. But retirement should be left unto the players themselves. May be, some might announce it a year later from their last competitive game like Sampras did. May be, some won’t. In either case, it is none of our business.