Sachin Tendulkar: Good pitches can produce entertaining Test cricket

Birthday boy Sachin Tendulkar spoke to Sportstar on various aspects of the game, especially the uncertain future due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sachin Tendulkar poses after winning the Laureus Best Sporting Moment award in Berlin, Germany on February 17, 2020.   -  REUTERS

Sachin Tendulkar was flooded with interview requests ahead of his 47th birthday. That he managed to oblige close to 32 journalists only speaks for his popularity; even seven years after retirement.

Tendulkar spoke to Sportstar on various aspects of the game, especially the uncertain future due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Excerpts from the interview:

Test openers have become far more aggressive today. Your thoughts?

We all know Mark Greatbatch started the trend of aggressive batting in the 1992 World Cup. I followed it up in 1994 when I started opening the innings.

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I think I managed a similar strike-rate. Sanath (Jayasuriya) and (Romesh) Kaluwitharana took it a notch a higher at the 1996 World Cup. It had become the norm to go and slam the ball from the first delivery.

How about the trend in Tests?

The trend continued with batsmen like Mathew (Hayden), Viru (Virender Sehwag), Chris Gayle and Adam Gilchrist. I remember Gayle started playing big shots in a Test match in South Africa. It was the fourth or fifth over of the innings when the field set for Gayle was a long-on, deep square leg.

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The field was well-spread with just one slip. Gayle carried on with the aggressive style. We wondered how long he would succeed by hitting the ball over the top. But he did it relentlessly. At one stage, David Warner also batted in a similar manner in Test cricket (against India at Perth in 2011).

Do you believe the days of defensive openers are over?

Cricket is seeing a lot of changes due to the T20 format but at the end of the day if you have a solid technique you can score runs in difficult situations also. And more consistently. You can go into every match with a slam-bang theory in mind. You can’t just always throw your bat around. The batsman slotted at number three should also feel confident when the openers are batting.

Can he be waiting at the steps with a feeling that he may be required to walk in any time because the batsmen in the middle would be looking to hit every ball? It doesn’t work that way always. We have had some splendid batsmen who have left the ball well, blocked the ball well and then, if they came across a loose delivery they were able to put them away.

Do you think there is a decline in fast bowling?

I think a lot of it has to do with the pitches. I won’t generalise international bowling and say it has declined. There will always be factors behind the rise and fall of certain aspects of the game. Pitches were different when I started. They were different as my career progressed. We could see the changes towards the end of my career.

Would you say pitches are the reason for the state of cricket in any era?

You can say so. Pitches do dictate the trend of cricket we get to see. I am sure if you have good pitches you can produce entertaining Test cricket. There are talks that Test cricket is dying and how to revive it.

How do you look at it?

Can we reduce the number of days? Is that the solution? It is not the quantity, lesser number of days, but the quality that we need to improve. If you reduce the number of days for Test cricket I would look at it as a longer version of a limited-overs match. What we should do is produce good sporting tracks for the bowlers. That to me is the most critical part of dealing with five-day cricket.

Why do you say that?

Because in T20 and limited-overs cricket the batsmen are constantly attacking the bowlers. They attack relentlessly in both the formats. Remember in both the formats, there is a restriction on field setting.

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The hands of the bowlers are tied. So there has to be one format where you give the bowlers something to look forward to. The bowlers also look to be on the top and that won’t happen if they don’t get sporting pitches.

What kind of pitches would you suggest?

We can have seaming tracks. We can have tracks that allow the ball to turn. Look, you can’t prepare a flat track and expect good cricket. It would be rare that you would get entertaining Test cricket on flat tracks. We have two formats that are in favour of the batsmen so why can’t we have one format in favour of the bowlers. You have to balance it out.

Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid having a look at the pitch ahead of the first Test against West Indies at Feroz Shah Kotla Ground in 2011.   -  S. Subramanium

 

The new generation is watching T20 and ODI cricket more. In T20, the batsmen looks to make the best out of every ball. In ODI cricket a total of 300 is no more a winning score. It’s just about okay total. The game has tilted too much in favour of the batsmen with two new balls, no reverse swing, an extra fielder has now been brought into the circle.

Are you suggesting that cricket is increasingly loaded in favour of batsman?

What is there for the bowlers to feel encouraged? Let the batsmen feel some pressure. Let them also experience some testing pitches. Let the batsman make runs on pitches that can test his skills. Let him survive when the ball is seaming or turning.

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I would love to see such a contest which challenges your skills. On a dead track, the batsman knows well he won’t get out until he plays a stupid shot. The bowler also doesn’t look to explore because he knows it would prove expensive. So the competitive flavour goes out and it becomes an uneven playing field. The bowler then looks to adopt a negative line because he too has to survive and keep his place in the team.

How is it all impacting Test cricket?

If Test cricket is dying it is precisely because of lack of sporting pitches. It is imperative for the survival of Test cricket. You want to see thrill in every ball. You want to see how differently the bowler is going to respond. When a batsman looks to score runs even as he tries to survive will create challenging Test cricket.

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I have played that kind of Test cricket. If you leave little bit of life in the pitches very few of the matches would go to the fifth day.

Can you recall one such sporting pitch in a Test match?

Of course. The one at (Headingley) Leeds in 2002. We won the match by an innings. We had centuries from myself, Rahul (Dravid) and Sourav (Ganguly). Believe me, it was a difficult pitch.

Indian maestro Sachin Tendulkar acknowledges the cheers from the crowd after completing his 30th century against England, on the second day of the Third Test at Headingley, Leeds on August 23, 2002.   -  N. Sridharan

 

We got runs but we did not allow England to score runs. Seamers (Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar, Sanjay Bangar) got wickets and spinners (Anil Kunble and Harbhajan Singh) did well too. It was a complete package of good Test cricket. You watched good batting and equally good bowling. I want to see such pitches more and more in Test cricket.

Should junior cricket become more competitive? Maybe have matting pitches?

No. Just make them play on good pitches. Everything boils down to keeping a good surface. I have a suggestion to improve junior cricket. I have said it earlier too. We need to introduce a 14-a-side cricket in schools and junior colleges. What it ensures is that batsmen don’t score runs against part-time bowlers and bowlers don’t boost their tally by taking out tail-enders. Of course, you will take 10 wickets but then those ten wickets will be of good batsmen.

Similarly, you score runs off the best bowlers. The batsmen get to play a variety of bowlers – left-arm spinner, off-spinner, leg-spinner. In normal circumstances, one of them may have to sit out or maybe a seamer may have to miss the game.

What is the essence of your interesting suggestion?

What I am suggesting is that let them all get to bowl in this 14-a-side cricket. To me what is important is that each young aspirant should get an opportunity to showcase his talent in a competitive match. If a batsman gets a century, he would have faced a right-arm fast bowler, a left-arm fast bowler and three variety of spinners. The batsmen will not be facing tired bowlers at any point and the bowlers will also be up against charged-up batters. At all times, there will be 11 men on the field and the coach will decide who will bowl when. I am sure it will improve the standard of cricket.

What will be cricket’s fate after the lockdown is over?

It will be competitive. Personal hygiene would be paramount. We will see if saliva can be applied to the ball. We will see if the huddle would be removed. The high fives will happen or not.

I don’t know if it will reduce the swing of the ball or increase it if you don’t apply saliva. It will impact the movement to some degree. How much precisely I don’t really know. Let us not be speculative. It will be inappropriate for me to say at this moment if the ball will swing or not, it will bounce or not.

Your views on coping with lockdown?

It is the need of the hour to stay within your house, maintain hygiene, not put pressure on the authorities by flouting directives on social distancing. I have not stepped out even once since the lockdown was announced. These are exceptionally challenging times and we have to support the authorities, the police, the health workers and those engaged in delivering the essentials. We have to be together in the fight against COVID-19.

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