How brown goes our Bradman?

THE chin part of Sachin, how up, as the Brown Bradman, is it going to be in Australia? `After' Lara, who? "Tendulkar has to perform more consistently on bouncy wickets in Australia to lay claim to be the best batsman of the world along with Brian Lara,'' superbat Barry Richards is on candid record as noting.

RAJU BHARATAN

Sachin Tendulkar now is going to be Lara-measured in Australia.-Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN

THE chin part of Sachin, how up, as the Brown Bradman, is it going to be in Australia? `After' Lara, who? "Tendulkar has to perform more consistently on bouncy wickets in Australia to lay claim to be the best batsman of the world along with Brian Lara,'' superbat Barry Richards is on candid record as noting. Remember, on the fastest (Perth) wicket in Australia, Barry Rich hit, inside a 6-hour day, 325 of his 356 against Western Australia for South Australia in 1970-71. As many as 9 times for Hampshire, in English County Cricket, did master opener Barry Richards raise a century before lunch. Maybe all but 2 of the 80 centuries, in Barry Richards' career, came away from the traditional Test scene. Yet, in just 4 Tests (vs Bill Lawry's Australia) that apartheid would let him play, the White Richards had, from 7 innings for South Africa, no fewer than 508 runs (ave. 72.57). A showing set off by 140 in his native Durban & 126 in the Port Elizabeth Test.

Which are the Lara scores Barry immediately has lined up for Sachin to match in India's 4 Tests vs Australia starting December 4? Obviously Brian Lara's recent Test feat (for the West Indies vs World Champions Australia) of 26 & 110; 91 & 122; 14 & 42; 68 & 60. If those were runs struck by Brian Lara at home, let Sachin use the 2-Test October 2003 series, in India against New Zealand, as his `Down Under' preparatory ground. Nor does the Barry buck stop here for Sachin. In the prestige one-day VB Series to follow Down Under, Sachin invites further spot comparison with Brian Lara in rivalling that dasher left-hander's recent Cable & Wireless scores (for the West Indies vs Ricky's Australia) of 23, 5, 4, 40, 80, 15 plus 75 (not out). Followed by 64 (not out), 116 plus 14 vs Sri Lanka. By no means a one-day Brian run flow beyond Sachin's VB Series reach. Yet the acid 4-Test rubber — preceding 7 ODIs at least — for India is going to be the World's Best-determining yardstick by which Tendulkar now is going to be Lara-measured in Australia.

How has Sachin fared, in Test cricket, since he caught a Tartar in V.V.S. Laxman during that miracle month of March 2001? Those 3 topsy-turvy Tests — so inspirationally seeing Sourav's India triumph 2-1 over Steve's Australia — represented the first time Sachin Tendulkar met his Indian Test telematch (in Venkatasai Laxman). Ten's 76 & 65 in the Wankhede Stadium Test; 10 & 10 in the Eden Gardens Test; 126 & 17 in the Chepauk Test witnessed Sachin, progressively in that head-spinning series, yield the palm to Laxman. But there the Laxman-Sachin comparison ends. All of us know how Sachin (by tailoring his batting to the conditions) began gradually forging ahead, again, with 74 & 36 (not out) in the Bulawayo Test, 20 & 69 in the Harare Test — in Steve Waugh-pinpointed Zimbabwe (during June 2001). True, Sachin was not at his most aggressive here. But at least he adapted his strokeplay to the milieu. Where Laxman `wobbled' the moment he ventured to advance on swift light feet!

Hard lines that Laxman's knee had to give way at this star-turn stage in his career. So that, in Barry Richards' South Africa (during November 2001), Sachin's 155 & 15 in the Bloemfontein Test, 1 & 22 (not out) in the Port Elizabeth Test, marked out Tendulkar as India's best attacking batsman still on pacier wickets abroad. That India surrendered the Bloemfontein Test by 9 wickets after that Brown Blaster 155 by Sachin is an eloquent commentary on the rest of our batting abroad. The December 2001 series following, in India, had Sachin all but dictating to Nasser's England with 88 in the Mohali Test; 103 & 26 in the Ahmedabad Test; plus 90 in the Bangalore Test. Actually Sachin, when on 26 and looking set for a hundred in each Ahmedabad innings, `walked'. Something Sunil Gavaskar had just refused to do in the December 1983 Chepauk Test vs Clive Lloyd's West Indies when within sight of his then record-breaking 30th hundred for India. Lloyd and his men even refused to shake hands with Sunny when he got to that historic ton. "Please yourself!'' said Gavaskar as he proceeded to that 644-minute 236 (`Sonny Tonny' in hand). Is there a Sunil lesson here, somewhere, for Sachin? Especially now that Brian Lara does not walk even when baited by Steve Waugh?

For his elfin part, Sachin next was to originate a new syndrome in Test cricket by habitually falling while poised between 170 and 180. Sachin's February-March 2002 scores of 176 in the Nagpur Test, 36 & 42 in the Kotla Test vs Zimbabwe demonstrated that, unlike Sunil, Ten had the gift of being bored by what he was achieving. In each one of the above 3 innings, Sachin faltered when a double ton, a ton and yet another ton were there for the Zimbo taking. Thus was the April-May 2002 Test series, in the West Indies, destined to Sachin-underline the Sunil philosophy — get all the runs you can while the going is good, for you never know when your luck runs out. Where today is Pedro Collins who so discomfited Sachin in the Caribbean? A class batsman always runs into one such Test bogy in his career. Indeed Sachin could only begin and end well that infamous Test series in the West Indies. Ten's sequence of 79 in the Georgetown Test; 117 & 0 in the Port-of-Spain Test; 0 & 8 in the Bridgetown Test; 0 in the Antigua Test; 41 & 86 in the Kingston hardly enhanced his world reputation.

Sachin's 0,0,8,0 `lean middle' here saw Collins on a `Pedroll'. Something you never could imagine in a Test case study of Sachin. This then is the kind of deadly rut into which Ten must avoid falling when in Australia. Sachin there must demonstrate that he can "spot the length and line'' of the Aussie quicks as resonantly as he did in the World Cup when he so sensationally abbreviated the international life and times of Wasim Akram. It was Ten's tone-setting one-day knock of 98 vs Pakistan here that turned the spotlight on Sachin, anew, as the World's Best. The swiftness with which Brian Lara since has recaptured lost ground — ascendantly through just one Test series — did make exemplary viewing. So it is not just Barry Richards whom Sachin has to controvert during the 4 Tests in Australia. Sachin has to remember that he is a precious gem, all set to be revalued in Channel 9 Bradman country.

Not even the fact that Carl Hooper (after the May 2002 Sabina Park Test) hailed Sachin's parting-shot 86 (in the West Indies) as "a gem'' could get Ten going straightway in the July-August 2002 series of 4 Tests in Nasser's England. Scores of 16 & 12 in the Lord's Test, followed by 34 in the Trent Bridge Test, suggested that the Windies experience was still preying upon Sachin's mindset. But with the 92 he struck in the second stanza (of the same Trent Bridge Test) Sachin was again to be savoured at his striking best. Maybe Sachin's even more dominant 193 in the Leeds Test, his 54 in The Oval Test, still meant that it had been but a mixed series for this wonder performer. For all that, Sachin was expected to explode against Carl Hooper's West Indies during those 3 Tests in India (October 2002). Sadly, Sachin yet again appeared to be letting down Sunil when the Windies bowling was money for jam. In fact, Ten's 35 in the Mumbai Test; 43 & 16 (not out) in the Chennai Test, then 36 in Kolkata Test raised momentary doubts about his timbre as a quality striker of the cricket ball.

Happily Sachin left his best for his final knock in that home series vs the West Indies. His 176 in the second essay at Eden, outclassing Laxman's 154 (not out), belatedly confirmed all those vintage Sachin shots to be intact. But missing, by now, was the consistency — in the highest tiers of world cricket — one logically expected from a performer of Sachin's bloodlines. The far from enviously green wickets encountered in New Zealand (during the tricky December of 2002 in the 2 Tests there) perhaps presented no landscape from which even Sachin could hope to fire from the hip. Ten's 8 & 51 in the Wellington Test; 9 & 32 in the Hamilton Test, were just about okay, considering that his finger, by this point, was cramping his style.

Still we Indians — even while disputing Brian Lara's neo-2003 slotting — could take a second look at Sachin's scores (through 26 Tests from end-February 2001) in 44 innings reading as 76 & 65; 10 & 10; 126 & 17; 74 & 36 (not out); 20 & 69; 155 & 15; 1 & 22; 88; 103 & 26; 90; 176; 36 & 42; 79; 117 & 0; 0 & 8; 0; 41 & 86; 16 & 12; 34 & 92; 193; 54; 35; 43 & 16 (not out), 36 & 176; 8 & 51; 9 & 32. Not champion Sachin stuff all the way perhaps. So much now to prove, Down Under, where they view Bonzer Tendulkar as the nearest thing to Sir Donald Bradman. Not until I pored over the above scoreline did I divine that Sachin's stand-out ODI run has meant a certain erosion of his status as a pedigree Test player. So that it is not just Barry Richards whom Sachin has to Lara-carry with him during the 4 Tests to come on faster Australian wickets. India itself needs refreshing evidence of how `Don', still, is the Brown Bradman.

Sachin long ago asked us to let him be as far as Bradman goes. We now well know that Sachin could not hope to get anywhere near as many as 12 Don knocks, from among Bradman's 37 scores of 200-plus, having materialised in Test cricket. Twice (while notching those 12 multiple tons) did The Don cross 300 in a Test match. In his record 974 (ave. 139.14) from 5 Tests during the 1930 tour of England, Bradman registered 334 (309 of them in a single day of less than 6 hours) in the Headingley Test; then 254 in the Lord's Test; plus 232 in The Oval Test. Like Bradman then, Tendulkar now is in the high meridian of his career. So might we logically expect Sachin, during the 4 Tests in Bradman's Australia, to eliminate the persisting streak of waywardness in his five-day scoring for India? Since it is by this 4-match series, in `testy' Australia, that Sachin is going, finally, to be assessed as a world-class batsman vis-a-vis Brian Lara. At a point in Sachin's career when Ten has already delivered so much, may we, like Oliver Twist, ask for more?