The team’s interests must always be placed before personal goals is one thing a young sportsman is always taught and even after he becomes a sporting great, it is to be assumed that he will follow the adage.
But sometimes it becomes difficult to follow it particularly when the personal goal is a very important one, perhaps a world record. Of course if both can be achieved – victory and the personal goal – there is nothing quite like it.
One of the most controversial decisions in this regard took place at Multan in 2004. Rahul Dravid declared the Indian first innings at 675 for five about an hour before close of play on the second day.
At the time Sachin Tendulkar was 194 not out and it was reasonably assumed that he would be given time to reach his double century. Perhaps it would have taken about five minutes or just one more over and as such the timing of Dravid’s declaration came in for some criticism.
Quit unlike him, Tendulkar at a press conference made clear his disappointment at missing out on the landmark. As it transpired, there was a communication gap between Dravid and Tendulkar about the timing of the declaration. The point to note was that it was still early in the match which India won within minutes of the start on the final day.
This was not the first time a captain’s declaration had cut short hopes of a batsman getting to an important landmark. At Melbourne in 1971, Bill Lawry closed the Australian first innings at 493 for nine late on the second day with Rodney Marsh on 92.
Marsh was temporarily deprived of becoming the first Australian wicket keeper to score a Test hundred. Lawry’s decision was criticized particularly since a high scoring match ended in a tame draw.
Twenty four years later, in another Ashes contest, this time at Sydney, Michael Atherton declared the England second innings closed at 255 for two with Graeme Hick on 98. Atherton’s gesture was described as 'ungenerous' because there was so much time still left.
Australia requiring 449 for victory in about 8-1/2 hours saved the match quite comfortably with a closing score of 344 for seven. In retrospect another few minutes to allow Hick to get his hundred would not have made a difference to the result and the captain’s critics pointed out that he had batted far more slower than Hick during the same innings while compiling 67.
Some players have put personal decisions aside in their bid to achieve important landmarks. Geoff Boycott missed tour after tour to India making clear his dislike of playing in the subcontinent. But at the age of 41 he finally came over to this country knowing well enough that he might not be able to last much longer in the international game.
With the world record of most runs in Test matches beckoning, the master technician duly put Gary Sobers’ tally of 8032 runs in the shade during the third Test at New Delhi in the process also getting his 22nd and last Test hundred.
That done his heart was no longer in the series and after playing the next game at Kolkata, he decided to return home citing health reasons and a long and productive Test career came to a controversial end with Boycott soon joining the rebel tour to South Africa.
Another famous cricketer who said he would never tour India after an unhappy experience in 1976-77 was Richard Hadlee. Twelve years later, however, at the age of 37 and with time running out, he came over to this country to take his 374th wicket which put him ahead of Ian Botham as the leading wicket taker in Tests.
Kapil Dev is another giant who has been accused of playing for a world record and staying put in the team even when past his best. When he crossed 400 wickets in Australia in 1991-92, Hadlee’s world record of 431 came sharply into focus.
At 34 and after carrying India’s fortunes on his strong shoulders for a decade and a half, Kapil was a shadow of his former self. But he shrewdly cut down on pace and concentrated on line and length. By reducing his workload he also continued to take the odd wicket or two and there was no slide in either his strike rate or average.
But by this time everyone was convinced that he was playing only for the world record. Had he halted his playing career with 420-odd wickets, I suppose the same critics would have said that he should have continued playing till he got to 432 for it would have been a great honour for the country.
As it happened, he did get to 432, added two more wickets in the one Test he played in New Zealand in 1994 and ended his career with the world record under his belt. Certainly his continuing to play those last few Tests did not endanger India’s chances for victory as the opposition was pretty weak.
All this is against the backdrop of Sachin Tendulkar continuing to play Tests even though he is clearly past his best as confirmed by the mode of his dismissals and his career average slipping to 53 from the all time high of 57 plus the fact that he last got a Test hundred in January 2011 and in 38 innings since has only eight half centuries.
Certainly the severest criticism came his way in the course of the 100th hundred against Bangladesh, a game which India lost partly at least due to his tardiness in getting to the landmark.