One made for one-day

Sachin Tendulkar gives Shane Warne the treatment on way to his maiden hundred in one-dayers, in the Singer World Series in Colombo in September, 1994.-N. SRIDHARAN

For sheer innovative and combative abilities, Sachin Tendulkar was an impeccable one-day cricketer and a captain’s delight in any situation, writes Vijay Lokapally.

It was optional training. Most of the players had decided to stay indoors. But how could you shackle Sachin Tendulkar? He saw the opportunity to enjoy an extended stint, though the opponent two days later was only Kenya, a fledgling international team. Even for this 50-over contest, Sachin was unwilling to allow complacency impact his preparation. It was this unflinching devotion that made him the cricketer he was.

There was a method to his cricket. He would not want to miss any of the action. He loved it. To bat and bowl and also contribute with his fielding made Sachin the ideal player to have. Captains drew strength from his presence. It took him nine innings to score his first half century in one-day internationals after beginning his career with zeroes against Pakistan and New Zealand. He grew as a worthy member of the one-day team with support from Ajit Wadekar, who influenced his approach in the shorter form of the game.

“He had the quality to fight and this is what you need most in one-day cricket. There is not much time to analyse and implement. Decisions have to be taken in a flash and you have to have the energy and potential to do that. Sachin had it. I noticed early his desire to be in the thick of action and it suited the team,” remembered Wadekar.

There were many instances when Sachin took the cue and responsibility. He grabbed the chance to open the innings in Auckland in 1994 when Navjot Singh Sidhu pulled out due to a stiff neck. When offered the job, Sachin accepted it, but also insisted that it should not be a one-match arrangement. Wadekar and skipper Mohammad Azharuddin assured him a long run and he justified the promotion with a sterling 82 off 49 balls with 15 fours and two sixes.

Was Sachin a complete one-day cricketer? He was one, without doubt. “I have not seen a player with such a fierce involvement. You just can’t keep him away from the action,” Kapil Dev had remarked. He should know, having experienced it first hand in 1993 during the Hero Cup. It was a delicate situation with South Africa needing only six runs off the final over. Even as Kapil prepared himself to bowl, skipper Azharuddin accepted wicketkeeper Vijay Yadav’s suggestion that a slow bowler could be used.

Sachin became the obvious choice.

With his competitive streak at its peak, Sachin swung the match India’s way. It made a huge impact on his career and of course established his credentials as a player who could handle any pressure with consummate ease. Sachin has often reflected on that wonderful night at the Eden Gardens and confessed it gave him the confidence to look at his cricket with a different perspective.

For Sachin, the transition from an accumulator in Tests to a plunderer in ODIs was smooth. His excellent reading of the game allowed him the freedom and space to plan his assault. The wide range of shots at his command meant he could take chances and get away with minimum risk. He gave a new dimension to batting in one-day cricket with match-winning and game-changing contributions.

When Tendulkar, the bowler, won the match for India, the Hero Cup semi-final against South Africa in Kolkata on November 24, 1993.-V.V. KRISHNAN

It was never going to be easy for Sachin to have his way. But he mostly dictated terms. He could beat a packed field and a concentrated attack by adeptly placing his shots for maximum returns. He could pace his innings well, mark his areas of strength and the bowlers to attack and set up victories at home and distant lands. It was never going to be easy because Sachin was the marked man. Yet, the consistency with which he delivered made him a special member of the team.

There were, however, two instances of Sachin not being able to lift the fortunes of the team. On both the occasions the bowler happened to be Glenn McGrath and both the occasions came in a World Cup contest. Sachin could not conquer McGrath at the Oval in 1999 and in Johannesburg in 2003. These failures surely rankled in an otherwise illustrious career. From his formative years, Sachin fancied himself as an all-rounder. Ready to bowl, ready to bat at any position and ever-willing to field in any position! “His enthusiasm was infectious really,” was how Sidhu described Sachin’s involvement. Apart from his legendary batting exploits, Sachin also took his bowling seriously. “As good as any in the business,” Wasim Akram had once commented on Sachin’s bowling abilities. He could bowl seam and spin; he could bowl off-spin and also slip in a leg-spinner. His versatility and keenness to experiment made him the most innovative one-day player of his time. And Sachin knew it too.

There were times when Sachin would need to be dragged out of the ‘nets’ as he was also obsessed with bowling there. He would finish his batting and pick up the ball to try and hone his skills. It was a sight to watch him make ferocious claims in the ‘nets.’ He was an ultra-competitive cricketer and never compromised his role.

By opening, Sachin attempted to give the innings a direction. The straight drive would indicate his form and he was at his best when challenged. He believed in setting benchmarks and the team always looked up to him in times of distress. For someone who took 79 matches to make his first ODI century, it was remarkable that he had scores of 175 (against Australia) and 200 not out (against South Arica) within the span of eight matches at 36 years of age.

Thirty-three of his 49 centuries came in a winning cause. For sheer innovative and combative abilities, Sachin was an impeccable one-day cricketer. A captain’s delight in any situation.