Bearing the Scars of 17 Years

Sachin Tendulkar, under the guidance of trainer Ramji srinivasan, exercises at the MRF Pace Foundation.-V. GANESAN

The Pakistani bowlers had made the early inroads on the decisive day. Sachin Tendulkar was out there in the middle, in a familiar role. And the Test was in the balance.

In the cauldron of the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, Tendulkar was fighting more than one battle, one in the arena and the other within his body. He was piloting India as the host chased 271 against a varied and incisive attack led by Wasim Akram. Tendulkar was also in absolute agony as pain shot through his back. He willed himself on.

Great sporting tales, even epic stories of courage, often end on a tragic note. Tendulkar carved out a masterpiece, a spirit-lifting innings of 136 in the first Test of the 1999 series. But it was Pakistan which finished at the right end of the humdinger by 12 runs.

Yet, in defeat, Tendulkar had emerged a winner.

Contemporary cricket's senior-most international, Tendulkar's body does bear the scars of 17 years of playing the game at the highest level. But then, he has fought the fires that threatened to consume him with the heart of a champion. From a back problem to a troublesome foot, finger and knee, a tennis elbow and an inflamed shoulder, he has endured them all. He keeps coming back.

Tendulkar's fitness concerns, in particular the elbow and shoulder injuries, have robbed him of continuity in batting. The stop-start-stop mode has affected the flow in his game. He has had to script his way back from lengthy breaks and play himself in before having to sit out again.

A key ingredient of batsmanship, rhythm is not just about striking the ball from the sweet portion of the willow, but moving into a state where the body and mind are in harmony.

The man who held the Test record for the most number of successive appearances since debut — 84 — before Rahul Dravid went past him (a swollen right toe kept him out of India's tour of Sri Lanka in 2001, ending Tendulkar's astonishing sequence) has not been a part of several key matches, particularly since 2004 when the tennis elbow surfaced.

The shoulder injury (a posterior labarum tear), which necessitated a surgery in London in March this year, kept him out of the seven-match ODI series against England at home and the tour of the West Indies. His rehabilitation has been a carefully measured one.

Tendulkar made a trip to the MRF Pace Foundation, where he received attention from former India physio and now a Board consultant, Andrew Leipus. The Mumbaikar also flew to London to get an opinion from Dr. Andrew Wallace, who performed the surgery.

The good news is that the maestro is batting without any discomfort although it remains to be seen whether he can fire in the throws from the outfield or bowl spells of more than three overs in a match situation. However, India physio John Gloster is confident. "I worked with him closely during his rehabilitation and he can now bowl and throw without any discomfort."

No injury has hurt Tendulkar as much as the tennis elbow, which surfaced during the Videocon tri-series in Amsterdam, involving India, Australia and Pakistan, in 2004.

Ahead of the injury, Tendulkar constructed two major Test innings, unbeaten efforts of 241 and 194 in Sydney and Multan. His effort in Sydney saw him use the bottom hand extensively. As a result, a majority of his strokes were on the on-side.

He, subsequently, attempted to bring his top-hand into play to stroke more frequently through the off-side. And the use of the top-hand can lead to tennis elbow in batsmen. There was a view that Tendulkar should be wielding a lighter willow, weighing between 1100 and 1200 grams, to ease the burden on his elbow as he ventured into top-handed strokes.

Tendulkar missed the ICC Champions Trophy and the first two Tests against Australia at home. He returned just 8 and 2 in his comeback Test in Nagpur, scored five in the first innings in Mumbai before conjuring up a match-winning 55 on a minefield in the second.

When the South Africans arrived, he faltered, averaging only 27.50 in the two-Test series. He embraced sunshine in Dhaka, equalling Sunil Gavaskar's 34 Test hundreds. Importantly, Tendulkar enjoyed a productive series against Pakistan at home collecting 255 runs in three Tests at 51.00, and also going past the 10,000-run mark.

Yet, his tennis elbow continued to bother him. He missed India's tour of Zimbabwe after coming under surgeon Wallace's scalpel in May 2005. Tendulkar, then, roared back against the visiting Lankans in both forms of the game. The arc lights were on him following his record 35th Test hundred in New Delhi.

In Pakistan, Tendulkar sparkled in the ODIs after a lacklustre Test series. And against England, he clearly struggled averaging just 20.75 in three Tests.

Apart from his more serious fitness worries, a minor knee injury saw him rested for the ODIs when Zimbabwe toured India in March 2002. And a hamstring strain kept him out of the one-dayers when the Caribbeans came to India later that year. An ankle sprain forced him to miss the first four games of the seven-match ODI series in New Zealand, 2002-2003. A painful finger prevented him from touring with the Indian team for the ODI tri-series in Bangladesh, in April 2003. Tendulkar underwent surgery in Baltimore for a torn finger ligament.

He has continued to battle on with injuries. It is hard to keep this little big man down.

S. Dinakar