Some weeks ago, Sachin Tendulkar made a major revelation. He informed the cricket world that after India's forgettable experience in the 2007 World Cup, he was seriously considering retirement from the game. What stopped him from hanging up his boots was advice from Sir Vivian Richards and his elder brother. What happened afterwards is, as they say, history.
But here is an interesting and stimulating question: what if Tendulkar had gone ahead and retired? This bit of counter-factual history is worth exploring. Would he still have been regarded as the greatest Indian batsman of all time? Would he have still been considered among the greatest batsmen in the history of the game? Let's try and imagine that scenario.
If Sachin had called it quits in 2007, his record would have been something like this: 135 Tests, 10668 runs, 54.70 average and 35 centuries. In ODIs, the record would have been: 384 matches, 14847 runs, average of 44.05 and 41 hundreds.
Needless to say, the record would still have looked mighty impressive. But cricket isn't only about numbers and stats. The way a batsman has scored his runs matters as much, if not more, in the game. If Sachin had called it a day in 2007, he would have been seen as a batsman who debuted in 1989, dominated the 1990s, continued his good form in the early years of the new century but started to fade away from 2002.
He would also have been remembered as a player who could tear the bowling attacks apart but chose to become the team's sheet anchor and play within himself in later years. Besides, there would have been no first ODI double hundred, no World Cup victory, no century in the final of the tri-series in Australia, no famous hundred at Chennai in the aftermath of the 26/11 attacks, and no high-quality duels with Dale Steyn, etc.
What happened after the World Cup was the resurrection of Sachin Tendulkar. He not only regained his appetite but also starting achieving the sort of things which he hadn't earlier. The post-2007 period also saw the flair returning to the game of the Little Master. He was once again showing that dominant streak that characterised his batting in 1990s and made him a superstar.
But if he had retired in 2007, he would have ended his career with much less sheen. Yes, Sachin would still have been a legend and counted among the best, but he wouldn't have reached those unique heights of success that, to some extent, define his career. As Indians, let us all be grateful to Sir Viv for persuading him to continue playing cricket.