I find myself thinking of Sachin at the oddest of times. Today, for instance, I saw something on Brad Haddin's retirement, and I found myself asking if there was any other cricketer's last Test that I would've turned up for. Dravid, yes, but then Dravid is the kind of guy, given another chance, would retire in privacy again, and even if he were to know it would be his last, nobody else would.
But if Sachin decided to do it all over again, that is, play his last Test again, everyone would turn up again. The Indian cricket industry could run on Sachin's last Test forever. Sachin's last Test at 45. Sachin's last Test at 50. Sachin's very last Test at 51. "The Last of the Last of Sachin's Last Test": the 250th Test in 2025.
We are nearing two years since his retirement from Test cricket but it seems Sachin never went away from our active consciousness.
Kumar Sangakkara's retirement speech had the potential to take on Sachin's farewell but it was brief, almost restrained with a mere sprinkling of emotion. If anyone, Sanga the statesman could've rivalled the oratory of Sachin's 200th. It wasn't to be. Michael Clarke retired, almost unceremoniously amidst an Ashes bollocking, and if he made a speech, it was missed by most.
When it comes, Virat Kohli will give the greatest retirement speech of all time. Everything so far is ammo for that day. The different worlds of Kohli will merge and become one - west Delhi, south Bombay, MC-BC, NY-NY, London, Anushka Sharma, WROGN, Ravi Shastri, aggression, more aggression, Fingergate, Anderson, Outside off, In the middle, Malinga, Chasing under lights, Between the sheets, Sachin, shoulders, Mahi, Dhoni, Rohit, father, death, coach, play on, mother; the script for that day has just started to be written in earnest. It's a screenplay that will surpass cricket, his winnings, his losses, his accomplishments. It's a movie waiting to be made.
Kohli plays with this knowledge - the huge security of a free passage that will not be hindered by form or defeats. Team India is his for no less than five years, possibly six, maybe even seven. For now, till the next Indian superstar is unearthed, harnessed and cut loose, this is Kohli's world. And as and when the next star surfaces, he will start by being Kohli's apprentice; needing years to sharpen his skills under the captain's watchful gaze - for such is the way of Indian cricket, you're never ready till the boss is finished and ready to move on.
Kohli's world will be complete by 2016 after Dhoni's possible retirement from international cricket. By then, he and Shastri will have a complete say in most aspects of the team and its running.
But Kohli can enrich his cricketing journey way beyond that of both Sachin and Dhoni, and if he doesn't succumb to their failings, he could be, records aside, the most revered Indian cricketer ever.
So far there hasn't been any conflict of interest between Kohli and his Indian Premier League (IPL) team. If anything, it's always been Kohli and Team India, and then Kohli and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). Quite the opposite of Dhoni and Chennai Super Kings (CSK). Forget who are the RCB players in Team India. At the best of times, it's hard to tell, apart from Kohli, who the Indian players in RCB are. Good for Kohli. Can't imagine Vijay Mallaya as the BCCI president either, or appointing Kohli as vice president of United Breweries.
Unlike Dhoni, Kohli, so far, is very much at home in all three formats, as much a Test cricketer as the go-to one day guy. Unlike Dhoni, Kohli has started to score heavily overseas too, outside the subcontinent as well. All 15 of Dhoni's international centuries (six in Tests, nine in ODIs) are in the subcontinent. On the contrary, 13 out of Kohli's 33 centuries have been outside the subcontinent (seven out of 11 in Tests, six out of 22 in ODIs).
Where Kohli could surpass Sachin, if he does, is as a leader of men. Numbers never work with time travel and great cricketers, and even though comparing Sachin with any other player may never be kosher, I suspect it already is a sinful pleasure amongst atheists.
But what could truly define Kohli beyond both Sachin and Dhoni is if he chooses to have a voice against corruption in cricket. His greatest work could well be after his cricketing days.
Or will it be during his last Test? Either way, that's one retirement speech I won't want to miss. Who knows, maybe Dhoni and Sachin will carry him on their shoulders.
First published here