The Napoleon of Centurion

Pic. AP

We have been in awe of Sachin Tendulkar's sills, ready first of all to be enchanted by his youth, then to be respectful of his mighty figures, and now to be assured that, whatever Bradman achieved, whatever Gavaskar did, he stands on his own, writes TED CORBETT

IS there anyone, no matter how experienced, how qualified, how seasoned, who dare to measure the greatness that lies within Sachin Tendulkar? I doubt it.

In an era of sublime batsmen — Lara, Kallis, Dravid and Ganguly, the Australian top five, none of whom need to have their names spelt out — Sachin has no equal.

For 13 years Test and one-day batsmanship has been defined by his deeds. We have been in awe of his skills, ready first of all to be enchanted by his youth, then to be respectful of his mighty figures, and now to be assured that, whatever Bradman achieved, whatever Gavaskar did, Tendulkar stands on his own.

Kenya have taught us all what can happen when a sports team seizes its chance, takes advantage of a team that does not fully concentrate and has no other target in mind. Here, the Kenyans have sent back Aravinda de Silva on way to their upset win over Sri Lanka.-Pic. AP

He is not just the richest of cricketers but the most richly rewarding to watch.

In the early 21st century we can easily recall the achievements of another generation only recently past: Lloyd and Richards, the Chap<147,1,7>pell brothers, Martin Crowe, Javed Miandad, Gower and Botham, Azharuddin and Zaheer Abbas; all touched with angelic grace and producing figures to astound us. None measure up to the prowess of Tendulkar, the supreme batsman.

We knew it when the World Cup began and now we have had all our adjectives confirmed, all our dreams realised, seen his muscular batsmanship reach heights we only guessed at, seen, best of all, his courage, his imaginative use of the unorthodox, and wondered once again at his pocket battleship strength.

Here is no Viv Richards using his boxer's power to whip the ball to whatever part of the field took his fancy; here is no David Gower, harnessing his lithesome elegance and timing to ease the ball hither and thither.

For, let us make no bones about it, Tendulkar is small yet, like those Amazons of the tennis circuit Venus and Serena Williams, he can stand away from the ball and yet hit it powerfully. Into the crowd as he did against Pakistan in that never-to-be-forgotten win or around the boundary ropes as he did in the England game. There has never been another batsman like him. One of a kind; and what a one!

The poet Chesterton's phrase "The legend of an epic hour'' from The Napoleon of Notting Hill fits him precisely. Tendulkar is more properly The Napoleon of Centurion, a ground that ought to have a memorial to his deeds but before he raced to that magic score against Pakistan he had already made this tournament his own.

South African captain Shaun Pollock as he watches his batsmen perform in the climatic stages of the match against Sri Lanka.-Pic. REUTERS

He seems to have realised quicker than most that the old tactic of a 15-over bash at the top of the innings would not apply against the white ball on these sluggish South African pitches.

Sixty runs has been the mean average for the overs of field restriction in this event and that is how Sachin went about scoring his runs. How right he was too.

By the time the preliminary matches had been completed, after 24 days of controversy and confusion, Tendulkar stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Remember Shane Warne's departure under the shadow of a drugs charge, Rashid Latif's threat to sue, New Zealand's decision to drop out of the match in Nairobi, England's long battle to have their Zimbabwe match moved to South Africa, arguments about the failure to post four fielders in the ring, the ban on Waqar Younis for bowling beamers, Pakistan's fight during a football game, South Africa's inability to interpret the Duckworth-Lewis rules. The stories are endless.

Happily, they are all forced into the shadow by Tendulkar's dynamic batting. As the preliminary matches ended his statistics took the breath away.

He began on the fourth day of the World Cup with 52 from 72 balls off Holland; a pipe-opener that went almost unnoticed as the host South Africa led by Shann Pollock slaughtered Kenya. (If only we had known then that Kenya were not the mugs of the competition but the first round heroes; would we not at this moment be sitting on our own Caribbean island, soaking up the sun and wondering how we might spend our ill-gotten gains.)

Ramnaresh Sarwan is a Caribbean batsman to be watched. He has the seeds of greatness in him.-Pic. AFP

From that moment he made a steady progress of sizeable scores: 36 off 59 against Australia, 81 off 91 against Zimbabwe, 152 off 151 versus Namibia, 50 from 52 against England and finally, gloriously, 98 from 78 balls delivered by Pakistani bowlers brought victory and a certain place in the Super Sixes.

In total six innings, 469 runs, at 78.19 with a century and four fifties — not to mention a strike rate of 93.80 — meant that as the teams regrouped for the next stage it was being called Tendulkar's Tournament.

When we set his last few weeks in context we are not disappointed. Overall in World Cups Tendulkar has played 27 innings in 28 matches, been not out three times and scored 1,528 runs with that 152 not out against hapless Namibia his highest score. He averages a colossal 63.67, he scores at 88.63 for each 100 balls he faces and he has four hundreds and 10 fifties.

Surely there is another World Cup in his life which means that one day he will retire — yes, even gods have to put their feet up at some stage in their lives — with figures beyond the dreams of youngsters starting on their one-day careers.

Just as a reminder, Tendulkar has played 309 one-day games, batted 300 times, scored 12,015 runs with his highest score an undefeated 186, an average of 44.50, 34 centuries and 60 fifties. He collects those runs at 86.43 runs each 100 deliveries.

I will throw in his Test statistics just to show what a big man lies inside that chunky body. In 105 Tests he has batted 169 times, scored 8,811 runs, including 31 centuries and 35 fifties at an average of 57.59.

So as the preliminary matches in the 2003 World Cup ended, Tendulkar had scored 20826 international runs and 65 international centuries and, not just in the opinion of the sub-continent, was sitting so high on Mount Everest that his rivals appeared to be making their way through the foothills. And, even in this World Cup, there is so much more to come.

Perhaps even success for India if the rest of the side can back up that great man's towering success.

The figures are not as impressive but he bowls and fields as enthusiastically as he must have done in his teen years when he set out on this great career in the rough grounds of Mumbai. He has captained India too and one day he may do so again.

The Aussies have talent and depth in their team as was evident when the unsung Andy Bichel wrecked England. Brad Hogg too, is doing his job as a spinner well.-Pic. AP

We were easily deceived in the early stages of this event, the first World Cup with truly shocking results and the only one in which there has not been just surprises but the sight of a team of minnows in the second stage by rights.

Kenya have taught us all what can happen when a sports team seizes its chance, takes advantage of a team that does not fully concentrate and has no other target in mind.

There will always be a special place for Kenya in the hearts of World Cup lovers. They beat West Indies at Pune seven years ago and we sighed and wondered what Lara and Co had been thinking about.

Since that day they have been in the shadows, there have been problems with finance and at the beginning of this World Cup they were, it seemed, a busted flush.

Instead we found a well-drilled team with a more than competent captain with the ability to bowl out good sides and chase down reasonable totals. Their finest batsman Steve Tikolo has hardly made a run but, astonishingly, they were able to carry him and wait for his runs to come.

Early results led us to make poor assessments of ability. We thought West Indies must be a champions as they held out against South Africa but neither qualified and it is difficult to decide which side has been the bigger let down.

South Africa may have to rebuild from the bottom but they are hampered by their policy of affirmative action which has brought several promising young black bowlers to the front before their time.

West Indies have young cricketers of genuine talent who, if they are nursed properly, will be a considerable force before long. Ramna<147,4,1>resh Sarwan and Ricardo Powell are just two batsmen you might be prepared to sacrifice your holidays to watch.

We all knew that Australia were the favourites and in the preliminaries only England made them sweat although they occasionally had to call up a special effort. Their ability to find a match-winner was no surprise; their team is packed with such men of steel, like Andy Bichel, the patient waiter ever ready to serve when asked.

They are not just awesomely talented men but knowledgeable cricketers too, ready to snap up half chances before other teams have seen the opening. They know the rules, the Laws and the conditions to the extent that they can exploit each gap. I bet the South Africans, who once again were caught napping by their own rigid application of formulas and their own inability to translate facts — even those typed on a sheet of paper — are wondering how they can turn their automatons into thinking cricketers like the Aussies.

New Zealand, carried away by the success of their seamers on their own green pitches, picked the wrong side early on. They made a hasty decision not to travel to Nairobi. Threats by terrorists reminded them of bombs going off near their hotels in Colombo and Karachi and it is difficult to say they were wrong to keep away. But they soon tried to give back word. ICC would not listen and it is difficult to say that body <147,5,0>was wrong too.

Eventually the Kiwi triers stumbled into the Super Sixes with Sri Lanka and Kenya, much better looking qualifiers. I have these driven New Zealanders picked out as the side most likely to beat Australia if anyone can but if form continues as it has there will be only one winner of this tournament.

Australia for the third time, the only side to pull off a triple, the best team in the world at the moment.

New Zealand has the drive to upset the best in the business. Here, the Kiwis are overjoyed at the exit of Brian Lara.-Pic. AFP

Now, as Australia, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Zimbabwe are into their Super Sixes encounter, it is time to ask if the 2003 format has worked. I am afraid that the answer is a resounding no.

The organisers cannot make the right teams win and the decisions by England and New Zealand to skip games in countries they felt were dangerous has spoiled the tournament even if individual performances caught the imagination.

But before the next World Cup — in the impossible conditions of the West Indies where flying from island to island alone will present cricketers, officials, mediamen and fans with more problems than anyone can contemplate — there must be a review of the method of arriving at a winner.

A last six without England, Pakistan, West Indies and South Africa is no sort of advertisement for the game and there is worse to come.

Because of the carry-forward points system it is possible for Kenya to reach the semi-finals without winning a match. They have already shown their calibre by limping into the Super Sixes with a pathetic batting performance against West Indies in their final match; how will it look if they stumble into the semi-finals and are then bowled out for the lowest total in the trophy's history?

Let's hope the organisers come up with a simple knock-out formula next time. Then even the slowest of us will understand what is happening and there will be just as much room for surprises.

So thank heavens for Tendulkar. He may be a millionaire many times over and he might, if he chose, retire and live in luxury for the rest of his days.

But the best of this extraordinary cricketer is that, having played all the matches on the calendar, he rises every morning keen to play, looking forward to carrying that hefty bat to the middle and certain, as he has every right to be, that he can make even more runs.

Long may he reign!