The Tendulkar conundrum

SANJAY RAJAN

S. SUBRAMANIUM

IT HAS been 16 years since he burst onto our collective consciousness as a curly-haired boy wonder who took on the might of Pakistan's lethal pace attack.

During this period, Sachin Tendulkar has borne the nation's high expectations. A creator of dreams, he was the beacon as Indian cricket changed face.

Sixteen years is a long time in international sport. In fact, a career span for a privileged few. Since he has been around for so long, it is still difficult to think of India kicking off a new season without the Mumbaikar around.

Tendulkar will miss the country's first two assignments — a tri-series in Sri Lanka followed by the tour of Zimbabwe — as he is recovering from an operation for his tennis elbow. It's still not clear when he will be match fit.

Injuries are a part and parcel of the game. And if you have had as eventful a career as Tendulkar's, it is only natural that the endless hours of work take their toll on the body. Though he has had a few injuries, nothing has been as serious as the recent one.

H. SATISH

The injuries — back (1999), toe (2001), ankle (2002-03) and finger (2003) — have seen him collectively miss 45 ODIs and three Tests, while the tennis elbow in 2004 has forced the Bandra Blaster to skip the Videocon Cup limited-overs series in Holland, the ODI series against England, the ICC Champions Trophy and the first two Test matches against Australia at home.

One needs to view this situation as a reality check; that at some point in the future his career — like all good things — has to come to an end.

It's here that Tendulkar could probably take a cue from Brian Lara.

The Trinidadian recently announced that he will be selective about his One-Day International appearances in a bid to extend his Test career, and the left-hander was granted permission by the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) to miss the Sri Lankan tri-series. This was, of course, before the contracts issue saw Lara, along with a few others, miss the ongoing Test tour of the Emerald Isle.

"I'm cutting down a bit in one-dayers, trying to concentrate on Tests to bring more length to my career. It's hard to put a time limit on it," Lara said.

Sachin Tendulkar could follow the example of Brian Lara by keeping away from the one-dayers.-AP

Two seasons ago, Australian spinner Shane Warne retired from one-day cricket so as to preserve himself for the `real thing'. The blond leg-spinner cited the shoulder injury in his bowling arm as the reason. Asked recently if he had no intention of reversing his decision of retiring from ODIs, the 35-year-old said, "that's a young man's game and I've had my time."

It goes without saying that the shorter version of the game is highly demanding, and considering that India's international itinerary is always packed with ODIs, it would not be a bad idea for Tendulkar to limit his limited-overs appearances to select tournaments in a bid to conserve himself for a longer period of time for the `real thing'. That way he can also go for that one title missing in his showcase: a World Cup trophy.

Lara, who has scored 9,354 runs (19x100, 57x50) in ODIs, is keen to play in the 2007 World Cup, which the Caribbean Islands will host.

Age might have played a key factor in Lara's decision. He is 36 and would rather focus his energies and enthusiasm on the longer version of the game (which, by his own admission, he enjoys more).

It's no secret either that, with 30 centuries, he is just four shy of Tendulkar, currently the joint-holder for the most number of Test hundreds with Sunil Gavaskar. This alone is enough to have Lara's competitive juices flowing.

In may be remembered that Lara was "rested" for the three ODIs against Pakistan at home last month, possibly by choice as West Indies' coach, Bennett King, pointed out, "I think we've got to be mindful of his longevity in the game and how we manage him so that we can get the best out of Brian for as long as he wants to play."

The careers of Lara and Tendulkar, who is four years younger, have more or less run parallel. The West Indian made his international debut (1990) a year after Tendulkar, has played in 117 Tests (10,818 runs) and 256 ODIs as against the Indian's record of 123 Tests (10,134 runs) and 348 ODIs (13,642 runs, 38x100, 69x50).

The Mumbaiite holds the record for the most runs and most centuries in ODIs, with Pakistani Inzamam-ul-Haq (10,933 runs) and Indian captain Sourav Ganguly (22 hundreds) a distant second in terms of runs and centuries respectively.

Naturally, each injury has worked on Tendulkar's mind and, by his own admission, has seen him make adjustments to his technique. "It probably changed my batting in patches. When I had my back injury, I had problems playing on the offside. With the tennis elbow, it is difficult to play all the shots. But I'm building my strength," Tendulkar said last year.

The back injury alone saw him miss 19 ODIs. It surfaced during the Chennai Test against Pakistan in 1999. The sharp pain in his groin and back led to his dismissal with just 17 needed for victory and after Tendulkar had contributed 136. The Indian tail collapsed immediately. "I should have did it myself... ," was how he reacted, tears flooding his eyes after the defeat.

If the back injury was bad, the tennis elbow was worse.

"There was a stage when I could not hold the bat properly, could not lift it at all. It was painful. Frustrating as well, as I wanted so much to get back to the game I love. I was clearly told by doctors that it was a terrible injury to have and that I would have been better off breaking an elbow. For, you know when a broken elbow is healing, which is not the case with a torn tendon," said Tendulkar about the injury that kept him out for three months, after it surfaced during the Videocon Cup in Holland last August.

After shockwave treatment supervised by the then physiotherapist of the Indian team, Andrew Leipus, followed by a long period of rest, Tendulkar returned for the third Test against Australia in Nagpur, and played without a break for some time.

Two months ago, Tendulkar underwent a surgery on his left elbow in London. He said he was progressing well and would consult the surgeon before resuming playing.

Though it is generally believed that such a surgery is one hundred percent successful, the Indian team's new physiotherapist John Gloster, who accompanied the Master Blaster to London, has gone on record saying, "Once you have got a problem like tennis elbow, it is not uncommon for it to come and go. It is not uncommon for it to be there and then go away and then come back again."

Tendulkar's circumspect approach in recent times has also been a topic of debate. But as the new Indian coach, Greg Chappell, put it, "He's had some down periods recently. He's had some injuries. He's perhaps had a bit of a crisis about what his role is in the team.

"I just need to sit down with him and work out where he's at and where he wants to go and what expectations and goals he has. Hopefully, I can motivate him and present him with some new challenges.

"There are other things going on in his life that he didn't have as a young player. All he needs is to feel welcome, wanted and to have a meaningful role in the team. I'm sure he can bounce back, maybe not to the great heights he reached before, but bounce back and play an important role."

What should Sachin do?

SOME comments on what is best for Sachin Tendulkar:

VENKATESH PRASAD, former Test speedster:

Sachin is mature enough to take his own decisions.

Yet, I think he should get a little selective of his one-day appearances in a bid to extend his career.

He has carried the hopes of millions of Indians in the last decade and a half. Believe me that can be demanding.

A rotation policy would give players — especially the seniors — time to rest.

There is a lot of cricket left in Sachin; the longer he stays, the better for India.

ROBIN SINGH, former Indian all-rounder:

Sachin's only 32, Lara 36. Sachin has got so much more to offer.

I'm sure the current lay-off (following the operation) will revitalise him. It is not necessary for him to move to `conservation mode.'

K. SRIKKANTH, Tendulkar's first Test captain:

Sachin knows best what is needed and what is not, as only he knows the extent of the tennis elbow injury and the discomfiture caused by it. The decision to be selective about ODI appearances is a personal one.

At the same time, however, it has to be a win-win situation for him and the Indian team in that he needs to be available when the country needs him and the team management should make the necessary allowances if the Little Master feels the need for rest.

V. V. KUMAR, former Test leg-spinner:

Considering the magnitude of the tennis elbow injury and that age is also catching up, it would not be a bad idea for him to get selective about his ODI appearances.

The body needs more time to recover when one is older, and though he is only 32, Tendulkar has been on the international stage for 16 long years.