There's yet another Test series around the corner - the cue for yet another round of 'Sachin Tendulkar's swansong' debates. Jimmy Anderson, in his column for Daily Mail, writes, "... this may be Tendulkar's last Test series ..." 'May be' is right, Jimmy, because that call is the man's alone. No matter that the maybes have accompanied every Test series featuring India since the end of the 2011 World Cup.
It's been a funny ride actually. For a long while, there was another question running side-by-side with the retirement one. Namely, where will Tendulkar score his hundredth international hundred? Will it be at Lord's? The MCG? Not quite. Has to be either Eden Gardens or Wankhede then. After all, in the minds of the Nostradamuses, there was no way Tendulkar could reach his century of centuries at, say, Dhaka. Of course, it would come in a heroic winning cause against top opposition and not, woe betide, Bangladesh. Pity, it didn't work out that way.
So now we're left with just the one question - the biggest in Indian cricket circles: When will Tendulkar retire?
As far as I can tell, the majority fervently believes the decision should be Tendulkar's to make. 'Master', as the Mumbai cricket fraternity calls him, should be allowed to play when and where he wants to, and quit the day he feels he has had his fill. Then there are the bad guys, the ones who speak in favour of the team and not the man they admire. This lot wants Tendulkar to do what is best for the team - play, but when he is asked to, not when he asks to.
For the record, I belong to the second category, but that's not important to this article. In any case, it's the other band that will have its way because neither the BCCI, nor the selectors, look like they intend to have that chat with Tendulkar anytime soon.
The reason Tendulkar's been on my mind a lot recently is somewhat different. I'd like to discuss his recent performances in Tests and whether he is doing a disservice to himself, and his team, by playing on. Is it to round things off with one last big effort? Can't be - there have been enough of those. Then? Who knows? What we do know is that in a period where the Indian Test team has plumbed depressing depths, Tendulkar has averaged 34.64 from eight Tests. His highest score is 94, one of three half-centuries he has scored. Forget England and Australia and the 0-4 washouts (where Tendulkar did all right), against New Zealand at home recently, Tendulkar managed 19, 17 and 27 - memorably losing his stumps on each occasion.
The reactions have ranged from the 'Endulkar' variety to the '...poor by his usually high standards...' I don't know about 'Endulkar', but 19, 17 and 27 are poor by any standards, made worse by the mode of his dismissals.
Has he lost interest? I don't believe that to be the case - his passion for the game is not suspect. So have his reflexes slowed down? Maybe. Playing against Railways in Mumbai's Ranji Trophy opener, Tendulkar proved three things during his 137-run knock. One, that his hunger for runs hasn't subsided. Two, that he can still dominate the bowling. And three, that he is fit. What he hasn't proved yet, though, is whether he can do against Anderson, Bresnan, Broad or Finn and Swann what he could against Krishnakant Upadhyay, Hardik Rathod, Anureet Singh and Murali Kartik. He certainly couldn't against Boult, Bracewell and Southee, and this the English attack is yards ahead of that New Zealand one.
Should he get a few 100s, or even 40s or 60s, guide the newcomers a bit, show the enthusiasm we have come to expect even 22 years into his international career, everything will be fine. In fact, it will be great, because with Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman gone, at least one experienced hand in the middle-order, especially at No. 4, is a blessing. It will be even better if Tendulkar, an in-form Tendulkar, can hang around for a while longer while the youngsters in the Test team settle down a little.
But what if he fails? Forget his legacy and the harm it might do to his image; can the Indian team afford to have a 40-year-old scoring around 30 in the line-up?
The answer - and I know the risk I am taking by saying this - should be 'no'. But then again, it is likely to be 'yes'. Till the Master takes that big call himself.