Guest columnist Scott Oliver ponders the future without Sachin Tendulkar, and says cricket, and India will survive the loss, though his 'everyman' replacement is not evident yet.
Soon, it will have passed. A career unlike no other, played out under the scrutiny of no other; a career build on staggering numbers compiled, inexorably, in step with India's inexorable, numbers-based rise to cricketing hegemony (all those consumers' eyes to hawk our sugary drinks to!) and a global economic power.
Thus, a career always – it seemed from afar – with something of the national psyche invested in it, something of India's sense of self.
It is a career with its own microsite for the Sachinophiles and Tendulkaholics to say their teary farewells. And soon it will have passed.
Then there will be a void, for despite the distinct talents of a Kohli and Pujara – buccaneering strokeplayer and single-minded accumulator: the twin poles of the Little Master's genius – neither has that everyman appeal of Sachin, the capacity to reflect back his nation's aspirations and self-image.
Oh, he will be missed. India is his cricketing family, of course, and they will feel the loss most acutely, but he belongs, at the same time, to all of cricket, and there will be the usual widespread, if short-lived, sadness with the passing of a great player. The game will be bereaved, but it will survive.
Nevertheless, amidst this state funeral of a retirement – and it has been speculated that the BCCI cancelled the South Africa tour as part of the choreography of their star attraction's departure – what ought not to happen is that people for whom the hoopla and the solemnity is all a bit too much then project those resentments onto Sachin himself.
A 200th and final Test in his home city, and against a fairly obliging attack, may feel as artfully stage-managed a pseudo-event as the IPL, but we should not assume he had anything to do with it. (Although, again, we should not yet be absolutely convinced he didn't. Let's call it the Lance Armstrong Rule.)
Ultimately, weighing up this send-off, we have to realize Sachin is a one-off, a sui generis cricketer. There's no precedent. No-one has made 100 international hundreds, nor played 200 Tests. So, many of these questions around the nature of his departure don't have answers. Certainly, they don't have easy answers.
Did he linger too long? Does an icon have the right to stick around? Can his value in recent times – that anguished pursuit of the hundredth 100, say – be measured solely in runs? Had we better not ask Kohli, Pujara, Vijay and Sharma?
With 'bad cop' Duncan Fletcher brought in to make tough calls and, like some UN inspector overseeing regime change, facilitate the painful transition to the eras of these young bucks, the umbilical chord has been cut with Laxman, architect of the greatest Test innings in his country's history, and Dravid, a statesmanlike colossus of a player.
Perhaps, too, with Sehwag. But was Sachin undroppable, even for Fletcher? Who knows. It's all redundant now. Instead, we are left with a final innings or two and cricket's most painful and protracted valedictory.
What does India want? Probably 401 not out.
Personally, I'd like to see him score 80-odd, not a hundred. It would somehow be more befitting, serve the game better. As with that most famous of faltering final steps, the 99.94, it is always good for cricket lovers, no matter how much they venerate a player, to be reminded of limits, to be aware of mortality, even among the immortals.
Soon, it will have passed: this cricketing life will have passed through nature to eternity.
<b>Scott Oliver (@reverse_sweeper)</b>