He’s a credit to cricket

These days Tendulkar is capable of crafting his innings better. Slam-bang has been replaced by circumspection, and it is to the little master’s credit that his game is still evolving. Tendulkar is still a huge force to contend with, writes Vijay Parthasarathy.

The centuries have started to dry up for Sachin Tendulkar, who in his pomp was variously regarded as the finest attacking batsman since Bradman, or (as some would have it) the greatest in history, period, so the effect of the nine short at Trent Bridge last week is all the more poignant. Accustomed as we are to judging on the basis of arbitrary parameters and landmarks — a 49 is not as fulfilling as a fifty, and 91 does not quite convey the punch of a 100 — we are, in that context, correspondingly outraged by a poor leg before decision.

That particular afternoon, Tendulkar appeared to be shaping up for a square cut but then, cramped for room, instinctively stuck his pad outside the line of off-stump. When the umpire’s finger went up he looked frankly disbelieving, but having registered his displeasure through the briefest of pauses, he went in peace — quite unlike the mercurial and equally unlucky Ganguly — and was subsequently seen licking on an ice-cream.

As spectators, we need his kind of perspective. Honestly, intellectual argument after argument is being produced to determine if Tendulkar is still capable of stamping his authority in foreign conditions — as if performance could ever be predicted. Some point at his history, attack favoured over defence, which they claim is bringing about his downfall. Can he silence the nay-sayers? Will he? The answer is probably no, not consistently — at his peak, Tendulkar wouldn’t have struggled for as long as he did against Ryan Sidebottom’s prodigious swing.

But certainly, these days he is capable of crafting his innings better. Slam-bang has been replaced by circumspection, and it is to Tendulkar’s credit that his game is still evolving. Tendulkar, the laboured batsman, is still a huge force to contend with. In fact, we should marvel that the wand still courageously sparks against a jading will, that it is still capable of producing complex spells, even the effort should cost more than before.

One frequent complaint about Tendulkar’s batsmanship is that too often he has let down India during the second innings when they are (more often than not) looking to save a Test.

The not-so-veiled implication is that he is not a team man. A quick look at the statistics reveals that only nine of his 37 centuries, and 13 of 44 fifties, have been made in the second innings. Only nine times has he contributed significantly towards saving a match.

So yes, it is true that India’s frequent inability to save or push for a win has coincided with Tendulkar’s failures as a batsman.

Yet, the obvious retort to that is, Tendulkar has done everything he could to set up a win through his attacking first innings knocks. Mukul Kesavan eloquently holds forth on Tendulkar, albeit in a slightly different context, in his book, Men in White: “Innings that subsequently seem decisive more often than not begin and end with the issue unresolved and the match in the balance. Subsequent performances by others in the team, bowlers, batsmen and fielders, build on the promise of the innings or betray it.”

Tendulkar has become only the third batsman to surpass 11,000 Test runs. Only Brian Lara and Allan Border have accumulated more, and surely it is only a matter of time before the batting record falls. Allan Donald, England’s current bowling coach, backs Tendulkar to overtake the now-retired Lara, their great left-handed contemporary. “There is a lot more cricket in Tendulkar,” Donald asserted. “He still looks so boyish. It’s a bit scary to notice how many hundreds he has notched up in Test cricket and not to mention those one-day hundreds... He’s just a credit to cricket. I know he has been through a bad trot with injuries over the last couple of years... It’s unbelievable how many years he’s stuck it out and achieved what he has. I hope he goes past Brian Lara’s record — he deserves it.”

From the time Tendulkar scored 119 as a 17-year-old against England at Manchester it was evident that this was a boy gifted with a rare level of focus and inclined toward greatness. Five centuries came before he had turned 20; he was at his absolute peak between 1996 and 1998. He topped the 1996 World Cup run aggregates and rounded off this period with a commanding performance against Shane Warne in the home series against Australia.

This is beyond statistics, however. Tendulkar’s greatness lies in the fact that his aggressive batting arguably revolutionised the sport itself. At the start of his career this self-described child of the one-day age scored at a rate many would consider dangerously rapid. Yet less than a decade later, four-an-over was standard for the Australians. Meanwhile, Tendulkar emerged as one-day cricket’s Bradman. There has since been no worthy second, forget equal.

Notwithstanding our complicity in the general treatment of Tendulkar as God, he has retained his composure. Today, when he is not so much a threat to opposition teams as a talisman to his own, opposition sides are likely to rate batsmen like Dravid ahead of him. But the effect of Tendulkar getting a few runs is electric; it galvanises the team like nothing else.

Compiled by V. V. Rajasekhara Rao; Graphics: R. Ravikannan-