Champion of champions

Sachin Tendulkar... a phenomenal cricketer with phenomenal achievements.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

During his record knock, Sachin Tendulkar was perfectly close to the pitch of the ball. He never missed a single and ran the twos even when he was past 190. He played good cricketing shots, no mindless slogging. In short, he was flawless, writes Vijay Lokapally.

Knocking in the ‘nets’ over, Sachin Tendulkar asked the curator of the Roop Singh Stadium in Gwalior, Ajay Sahasrabuddhe, “How is the main pitch?” The curator was precise, “Better than this.” The little master then lost little time in transporting himself into a zone, an exclusive domain of champions where they know what is best for them. It was a cracker of a pitch, and true to his stature Tendulkar produced a magnificent innings of 200 not out and then dedicated the feat to the nation.

History was waiting to be made and Tendulkar, 37, left his mark for all times to come. “My priority was to play a good innings, and I realised early it would be possible here. The pitch was a beauty,” he said.

A double century in a 50-overs-a-side match was always a possibility; only that it took 39 years to happen. And it did not come from the expected quarters, like Sanath Jayasuriya or Virender Sehwag.

Often it’s the players, both fellow and rival, who become the most excited spectators when Tendulkar plays, for he bats like no one else does. His gait to the middle, the quick glance to assess the positions of the fielders, the easy stance and the focus on the bowling arm are forever etched in the mind.

Some say he is better than Sir Don Bradman and many more aver he outshines Sunil Gavaskar. Tendulkar, however, does not like being compared with anybody. He continues to be in awe of Bradman and reveres Gavaskar. So just let Tendulkar be Tendulkar, a matchless batsman, a great icon in a nation that craves for heroes.

It is not that Tendulkar just picks his bat and steps on to the field to conquer the bowlers. His greatness has been built over years of hard work. He practises day-in and day-out, away from the glare of the media, punishing his body as he trains for hours on end. His knock in Gwalior gave glimpses of his peak form of yesteryear. He played some astounding shots that rekindled memories of his assault on the Australians in Sharjah in 1998.

Virender Sehwag, who defies the rule book with amazing consistency, and Rahul Dravid, an epitome of correct batsmanship, once shared their thoughts on Tendulkar. “I don’t try to bat like him. If I do, I would get out soon,” said Dravid. Sehwag insisted, “I can never bat like him, not even in my dreams.” When Tendulkar was told about this, he laughed. “That’s not true,” he said.

Man of the match... Sachin Tendulkar with the trophy following his magnificent knock in the second ODI against South Africa in Gwalior.-PTI

Dravid, a companion of Tendulkar for years and an icon in his own right, promptly sent a congratulatory message to the little master after his brilliant innings in Gwalior.

“It’s a phenomenal achievement. It’s not an easy thing to do, to bat full 50 overs at that kind of strike-rate because you have to take quite a few risks. You can get mentally and physically drained and the chances of making mistakes also increase. The fact that it had never been done before makes it so special for us all,” said Dravid of Tendulkar’s knock.

Dismissed in the 90s on 17 occasions, including thrice on 99, and unbeaten once, Tendulkar battled injuries and loss of form for a brief period with remarkable patience and calm. “It was a difficult period,” he confessed. But his faith in his abilities was the driving force and Tendulkar has always believed in making his bat speak in times of distress. “Cricket and batting is what I know,” he said.

“Cricket has been enriched by Sachin and I am so blessed to be able to play alongside him,” said Sehwag, a great admirer of Tendulkar’s batting. “He continues to baffle all bowlers. Look at the ridiculous ease with which he made those runs (in Gwalior). He was batting as well as I have known him to. My God, what shots he played! I have had the privilege of having the best seat in the stadium on many occasions — as the non-striker — and believe me, there can be no greater sight on a cricket field than Sachin striking the ball. I always believed he would get a 200 in a one-day match. Nothing is beyond his reach. I am waiting to see Sachin score a triple century in Tests. I know it will happen.”

“I had prepared well for the season,” said Tendulkar. Only a few know how hard he had trained to stay in shape.

Here’s a peek into his training session in Mumbai in preparation for the one-day series against Australia in November 2009:

He arrived early in the morning and left late afternoon. He was precise about everything — he began with a drill of hitting and running four. He did it 25 times and had to wait because his partner had retired owing to fatigue. The next drill was hitting and running three, followed by hitting and running two. For these drills, his partner was a youngster as Tendulkar visualised a tougher situation, like playing the ball to Ricky Ponting’s left at point and scampering for a run and then playing to his right for another run.

The next exercise was facing the bowling machine at 90-plus. Tendulkar, visualising facing Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson, ducked and swayed against short balls from 18 yards and dug out yorkers hurled from 16 yards. And then he practised the upper cut, the flick and so on. This was just one of the many such sessions he had alone.

Now, recall the 175 against Australia in Hyderabad. Also bring to mind the unbeaten 200 in Gwalior. It was vintage Tendulkar — no edges, no mis-hits, all shots played from the middle of the bat. The lean patch was well behind him; he looked far more confident and was so sure of himself. “Yes, I was very, very confident,” the maestro confirmed.

“I enjoyed his batting as ever,” praised Sehwag. Tendulkar’s feet movements were fast and precise, his shots were superbly controlled and his front and back-foot play absolutely flawless. He had clearly overcome his injuries and as a result was psychologically in a special zone.

Did he make a slight change to his style?

“Not really,” said Tendulkar. He was able to extend his arm while playing the shots. The drive and even the lofted shots demonstrated his freedom at the crease. The elevation he commanded was sensational as his sixes landed a good ten rows into the stands. Tendulkar was far more decisive, he was perfectly close to the pitch of the ball. He never missed a single and ran the twos even when he was past 190. He played good cricketing shots, no mindless slogging. In short, he was flawless!

Saeed Anwar’s 194 in Chennai was a sensational effort considering the attack he faced and the weather condition which was very humid. And at that time there was no power play too.

“With the advent of the second power play, you can use it to your advantage but it’s not easy at all. A lot of things have to fall in place and only Sachin has the skill to make that happen. He is amazingly confident now,” said Dravid, who rushed home to watch the knock after Tendulkar had crossed 150.

Scoring 200 can be planned if you get to bat through 50 overs, Dravid observed. “You can give yourself a chance but it depends on your ability to play at that stage. Tendulkar did it because he is an attacking opener,” he said.

The maestro has set another benchmark. Now that Tendulkar has shown the way, one can expect the likes of Sehwag, T. Dilshan and Chris Gayle to have a crack at the world record.