Sport

Sachin Tendulkar and the five stages of grief

By Antoinette Muller 11 October 2013

Sachin Tendulkar will retire from cricket after his 200th Test match against the West Indies in November. It is one of the biggest retirement announcements in sport in the last decade. His records will remain for years to come and his legend will live on for eternity, but for the immediate future, the impending loss will require a period of grief. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

There are five stages of grief.  Denial comes first. For the purposes of this exercise, denial has been there for a long time. Even with the writing on the ball, graffitied for all to see.

When it was announced that the West Indies and India have shoehorned an unscheduled series into the dying embers of November, the rumour mill start to kick into gear. A slow and steady kick, just prodding at the notion that perhaps it was being set up for the end. But nobody would have wanted to believe that, there were too many other distractions to focus on. Denial.

Even when the rumour mill spluttered and coughed, suggesting that it would all be over soon, varying degrees of the question: “why on earth would Sachin Tendulkar want to retire?” would constantly be thrown around. There were many answers.  He just managed 81 in a Test against Australia. He’s still looking fit as a fiddle in his Mumbai Indians kit which now hugs him a bit more snuggly. No, Tendulkar wouldn’t retire, no way! He’d want to travel to England for that five-match Test series. He still has the hunger!

The denial has been there for years, but denial is a funny  thing. It can trick your mind into believing things that aren’t true, especially when it involves losing something which has played such a pivotal role in your life since you can first remember. Most cricket fans would have known Tendulkar, the mercurial batsman, for most of their life. Many would have known him their whole lives. Denial, such a robust emotion.

The denial is followed by anger. This anger has already started and it has many faces. Tendulkar is going to retire while playing the West Indies, a team who has not beaten India since 2002? Why would he retire like that? How dare the Board of Control for India hijack his last hurrah for no other reason than to package it as a massive pay day from broadcasting rights? He should have played against South Africa to show that he can still do it. “Why would Tendulkar retire?” must be the question still swirling around so many minds even 24 hours after the announcement parachuted in and landed with a thud.

Many great men have spoken with revulsion about retirement. When you have only known one thing your entire life and you have been exalted for that thing, walking away from it is so very hard. It’s hard for the person doing it and it’s hard for the spectators who have watched, worshiped and loved him for doing it for so long.

Feeling betrayed and let down by the decision of another, moving towards what is best for his body, mind and future, is not an unnatural reaction. Anger that the person who is leaving seemingly doesn’t understand the magnitude of their decision, a selfish, knee-jerk reaction which does more harm than good.

The anger is followed by bargaining. Perhaps the BCCI will try and rustle up a testimonial? Perhaps Tendulkar will still play the odd T20 game in the Indian Premier League? Maybe Tendulkar will play for the Indoor Cricket Team?  Maybe if the fans turn out in their millions to see him off, he will have a change of heart? “We’ll do anything to make you stay,” many will say. But bargaining serves no purpose once the dotted line of the deal has been signed and Tendulkar’s dotted line must have been signed a while ago.

After the bargaining follows the hardest part of grief; depression. It’s detrimental, like a ton of bricks to the chest every time the loss is  thought about. If the tour to South Africa goes ahead, it simply won’t be the same. There will be a Tendulkar-sized hole at the New Year’s Test match. A hole which, just three years ago, was oozing with the finesse of a batsman in his prime, of a player who looked like he simply wouldn’t give up.  A duel between the best bowler in the world – Dale Steyn – and one of the best players to ever have lived. For over seven hours, somebody who many had thought was over the wall, looked like a textbook had come to life.

Depression envelops both parties. It’s a sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach every time you have to confront reality, it’s over, but that’s okay.

Acceptance is the final, but most difficult step. Tendulkar must have known that it had been coming for quite some time. Perhaps it was his announcement that he would do so after he notched up 200 Test Caps that prompted the BCCI to take advantage of it.

If India do tour South Africa and when they tour England next year, there might be one more regular spectator tuning in to see how India’s young guns are doing. Hopefully by then, that spectator and his followers would have been able to accept the gravity of such a tremendous loss by then. DM

Photo: Worshipping at his feet. A supporter kneels in front of a wax figure of Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar. REUTERS/David Gray

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