Ross Taylor could not have expected a more perfect farewell. As the author of the final act in his last Test, as the focus of New Zealand’s celebratory huddle that held a bigger significance than the innings victory over Bangladesh to square the series 1-1 in Christchurch on Tuesday.
Taylor, 37, had finished with a New Zealand record aggregate of 7,683 Test runs. He had also equalled Daniel Vettori for most Test caps (112) for his country – Vettori played an extra Test for an ICC eleven.
But his teammates would forever cherish the former skipper’s second Test wicket that capped a career of over 14 years – an inviting off-break which No 11 Ebadot Hossain obligingly holed out to stand-in skipper Tom Latham. Taylor was given a standing ovation by the Christchurch fans when he came into bat with his family present. Yet, with Bangladesh nine down, Latham handed the ball to Taylor – he struck with his third delivery – to cede centre-stage despite his own dominant 252.
Cricketing farewells are as much about the player as it is for fans to enjoy that I-was-there moment, a chance to say thanks for the high points amidst the lows a career that has run its course often brings.
Australia great Steve Waugh burnished his image as a tough-as-nail cricketer, producing a gritty knock to deny India a series-clinching victory in the Sydney Test of 2003-4. Australia had felt Waugh’s impending retirement had made the team soft in that series, yet celebrated the crucial draw as victory. Four years later, it was during India’s Adelaide Test that Adam Gilchrist announced his retirement, convinced after dropping VVS Laxman that it was time to move on.
When Kumar Sangakkara, as Sri Lanka’s new talent, scored his first century at Galle against India in 2001, he had to make do with the edge of the ground for his media interaction. His retirement series, also against India in 2015, though was a big celebration. He quit after the second Test as scheduled, received a guard of honour from the Indian team, and spent far more time giving interviews than at the crease. The visitors won too, comfortably, but the P Sara stadium game will be known for Sanga’s farewell.
One can be certain that it will be a big event when England’s Jimmy Anderson calls it a day.
India though fares poorly when it comes to their cricketing stalwarts bidding farewell on the field.
Sachin Tendulkar was given a memorable send-off, carried on the shoulders of his teammates after that 2013 Test win over West Indies at the Wankhede Stadium and allowed to give an emotional speech.
Before him, discussions with national selectors helped Sourav Ganguly announce the final Test against Australia, the team against whom his inspirational captaincy had come to the fore, at Nagpur in 2008 as his farewell game.
Anil Kumble, India’s record Test wicket-taker, had retired in the previous game after the draw against Australia. It was at his favourite Ferozeshah Kotla ground where he took all 10 second-innings wickets in a memorable series-levelling win over Pakistan. Yet, it was a scramble by Kumble, after a hand injury while bowling had convinced him overnight and he could call over family members from Bengaluru.
Many other India greats have not had that opportunity. It points to the cricket board (BCCI) or selectors perhaps not having those conversations, or players not showing the confidence to discuss their final career plans.
The list, from the last 20 years, must start with Rahul Dravid. Though his three centuries stood out in a dismal England tour in the summer of 2011, he was convinced about retirement after a poor Australia tour that finished in early 2012. Then BCCI president was present at the media conference to announce his retirement, but that is a poor substitute for a proper farewell for India’s second-most prolific Test cricketer with 164 caps.
VVS Laxman too did not play another game after that tour, ending with 134 Tests. He describes the mental turmoil over retirement in his book ‘281 and Beyond’ leading up to the first Test against New Zealand in 2012 August, at hometown Hyderabad. His announcement days before the game led to speculation about his relationship with skipper MS Dhoni, though Laxman dismisses that in his book.
Virender Sehwag (104 Tests) may have struggled in the end, but being phased out in 2013 rather than ensuring a proper retirement meant his fans whom he had entertained in a great career did not get the opportunity to give that standing ovation.
Dhoni’s Test retirement was couched in much more suspense. On the 2014-15 tour of Australia, he gave no indication at the media conference after helping India draw the Melbourne Test, only for an announcement to come minutes later that the skipper had quit Tests.
Harbhajan Singh (103 Tests), the first Indian bowler to take a Test hat-trick who shouldered the bowling in an injured Kumble’s absence in the sensational comeback series win over Australia in 2001, played his last Test in 2015 but formally announced his retirement last month. Playing other formats, especially IPL, is a big reason for cricketers to not make a formal announcement.
Harbhajan admitted “the timing isn’t right”, which was more to say that he should have made the announcement much earlier.
Ahead of the Cape Town Test, skipper Virat Kohli urged transitions to happen naturally. He was backing middle-order anchors Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane following a question about the future of the struggling pair.
That question was not asked about Ishant Sharma (105 Tests), whose future career looked uncertain after India went with Umesh Yadav as the third pacer at Cape Town on Tuesday.
Be it career longevity – he is the senior-most active Test player after England’s Jimmy Anderson – injury comebacks, producing great spells over an almost 15 years and justifying the trust of every India bowling coach, the Delhi pacer has proved a soldier of Indian cricket.