New Delhi: There was a certain buzz as Sachin Tendulkar walked to the wicket on a Sunday afternoon; nobody was saying it loudly but on the minds of thousands of adoring fans there was a question - has the batting maestro played his last international match in India?
For 24 years over 198 Tests, 463 ODIs and a single T20 match, every time he has come out to bat or made his way back to the pavilion he has been cheered in virtually every single cricket ground in the world. Therefore, the applause he got on Sunday in the final moments of the final Test against Australia was not unusual.
But there was little doubt that the day was different as the diminutive Master-Blaster emerged from the pavilion, turned his head to look into the sun and slowly made his way to the wicket with India needing 32 runs for a historic 4-0 sweep against Australia. Was it his last Test innings on the Indian soil?
Many would have hoped that he would hit the winning runs. But that was not to be as Tendulkar lasted only five balls, falling leg before to Nathan Lyon for one run.
A hush fell on the ground but as he made his lonely walk back to the dressing room the crowd suddenly was on its feet and cheered him again.
Exactly a month from Sunday, Tendulkar will turn 40. There is little doubt that his reflexes have slowed in the last couple of years. There have been too many failures against fast bowlers in England and Australia and even against spinners at home by the lofty standards he has set for himself.
There are flashes of brilliance as in the first Test against Australia at Chennai last month when he played a solid knock of 81. But he has never gone past 50 subsequently and his average for the series is 32.
Given India's cricket calendar, the next home Test will be in mid-2014 when Tendulkar would be past 41. Prior to that the Indian team is scheduled to travel to South Africa this December followed by a tour of New Zealand in early 2014.
He would probably be in the team for these overseas tours because many believe that he lends a solidity to a team that has lost some of its great players in recent months, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and in all probability Virender Sehwag.
But cricket pundits reckon that it was highly unlikely that we will see the great batsman play an international match in India. At the same time, they also utter a word of caution -- you never know about Tendulkar.
Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, at his post-match press conference, had a world of advice to the media: Do not speculate.
"Either I will tell you yes or no. You (media) had asked me the same question in 2005 also," he told a reporter who had asked Dhoni whether Tendulkar had played his last Test in India.
Pakistan's fast bowling great Wasim Akram said it's difficult to know Tendulkar's mind though he felt the Kotla Test could be the veteran batsman's last match on home soil.
"It looks like he has played his last Test on home soil. But it is tough to say anything about Tendulkar. It's difficult to day what he thinks and what is in his mind. You cannot speculate anything about him," Akram said.
Former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar said it's for Tendulkar to decide on whether he is available when India next play on home soil or not.
"He (Tendulkar) is the greatest player India has produced. I don't want to comment on somebody's personal career. He's the best person to judge about his career. It's for him to decide whether he's available when India next play on Indian soil," said Vengsarkar.
India's 1983 World Cup-winning captain Kapil Dev refused to speculate on the issue, saying that it's for the selectors or Tendulkar to decide.
"He might play for next three years or more, what's there for we, the formers players, to comment on this. It is up to the selectors for one series or more and it is upto Sachin to take the call. As far as we are concerned we will continue to admire whatever Sachin do in the 22-yard strip," said Kapil.