Bangalore: Will Sachin Tendulkar be in the team for the 2015 World Cup? He will be 42 then, would have scored even more runs and even more centuries and even more 23s or 75s or 53s or whatever excites cricket statisticians and would have even fewer worlds to conquer than Alexander the Great. His fans would love him to play, the hosts can bank on another round of farewells and final appearances, and his commercial agents will cartwheel all the way to the bank.
But if he is not likely to play, then he has no business being in the Indian team to Sri Lanka this month. In some 36 years since the first tournament, the World Cup has become both a convenient starting point as well as the obvious finishing point for one-day cricket. The four-year cycle gives countries enough time to experiment, consolidate or revamp their teams. Tendulkar has already played six World Cups, and last year achieved his life's ambition of finishing on the winning side.
It would have been a good time to bid farewell to the shorter form of the game to focus on Test cricket and the lucrative IPL. Instead he has been allowed to pick and choose his matches, and the BCCI, so firm and so decisive when it comes to fringe players, is pusillanimity itself when dealing with the seniors.
Of Indian cricket's golden generation, Javagal Srinath, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, and most recently Rahul Dravid said goodbye on their own terms knowing that if they had kicked in their heels and stayed put, the Board would not have known how to react. There was never a proper entry policy, so it might be too much to expect an exit policy from the Board, yet the players deserve the courtesy of being told how and when. Just as the Board deserves to know from the players just what their plans are.
Sentiment aside, the end of the World Cup was the ideal moment for Tendulkar to have called it a day. He was 38, had to necessarily slow down, and there was no charm in hanging on. The one hundredth international hundred became a distraction, and when it finally came, against Bangladesh in the Asia Cup, it actually led to a defeat since too many deliveries were used up in the latter stages.
The 2011 victory made up for the 2007 World Cup disaster in the West Indies, but already in four years the team had moved on. Now, with three years to go for the next tournament, India must rebuild. Allowing Tendulkar to pick and choose would mean keeping a younger man on tenterhooks or finding at the last moment that a replacement is not ready to take over yet.
I have made the point before that Tendulkar is a creature controlled by his commercial interests - he is a cottage industry which supports the lives of many professionals, all of whom stand to lose if he stops playing. But clearly Tendulkar's interests are no longer the same as the country's, certainly not in One-Day Internationals.
It is a judgement call. Selectors must decide whether Tendulkar is sound investment for 2015, and if they feel he is not, he should be told gently. With the IPL entering the equation, it is not just patriotism that must be satisfied but the bank balance too. It was unfair of Tendulkar to have pulled out of the West Indies tour, for example, to get fit after the IPL.
This week has seen two leading contemporary players bid adieu for different reasons. The fast bowler Brett Lee is simply tired, while the wicketkeeper Mark Boucher may lose an eye in a horrific accident behind the stumps. If the 2015 World Cup is in his sights, Tendulkar should play on but without deciding when and where. If it isn't, he should be honest and inform the selectors. The chairman of selectors was his first international captain - that should make things a bit easier.