It is amazing how we seem to get impatient with our cricketers, more so with Sachin Tendulkar. On Sunday, I was part of a television show that devoted much time to discussing how his batting had gone on the decline. It was silly, even painful, to be discussing Tendulkar’s batting as being on downslide.
Barely 60 hours after the show was canned, Tendulkar was picking up a wonderful century against Pakistan in the fourth one-day international at Ahmedabad. It was his 38th hundred in limited-over internationals and proof that his reflexes or skills are hardly on the decline.
Having said that, it must also be pointed out that it would be foolish to look at this innings as his cocking a snook at critics or impatient fans. It must be seen purely as one more step in his quest for excellence and nothing else. It was simply another masterly effort from a genius.
As a nation, we expect a lot from Tendulkar – and it must be admitted that he has been the reason for such enormous expectations. Yet, the time has come for the fans to tone down their expectations and relish the present version of Tendulkar who has preferred to cut down the risk element from his game, embracing a percentage play.
Just as whole generations of India’s film-goers, fed on a diet of Amitabh Bachchan’s angry young man prototype, did not relish the idea of his playing the brains behind the action rather than the perpetrator of action in Aankhen, people have found it hard to accept Tendulkar’s evolution (and I use the word deliberately) to a more sedate role.
Tendulkar is in the process of discovery and, while it may not be a great spectacle often, we must learn to enjoy his evolution. It is one thing to yearn for the glory days when he would stamp his presence by putting rival attacks to sword in a cavalier fashion. It is another thing altogether to realise that he cannot be doing that all the time.
There are a few who point out, however hesitantly, that the joy has gone out of his batting in the recent past – when Virender Sehwag took over the entertainer’s mantle – as he settled down in an accumulator’s role. “There was a time when a Tendulkar knock was seemingly effortless. Not any more,” they said.
They don’t seem to take in account the fact that time has taken a toll on his body. In the past six years, he has had to contend with injuries to the back, heel, fingers and – more recently – a tennis elbow.
“He chooses what he wants to do,” I said on the show, citing how he played a gem of an attacking innings in the Kolkata Test against Pakistan before Steve Bucknor ruled him out caught behind when there was ample daylight between bat and ball and how he chose to try his hand at intense defence in the next Test in Bangalore.
Tuesday’s innings in Ahmedabad was another good example of how Tendulkar can pace his innings to a nicety. My own take is that he can shift gears with as much ease now as always in the past but he takes stock of the situation before he decides what his role would be.
A mistimed six off Shahid Afridi was enough proof of his enormous power; the reverse sweeps were ample reflection of the fact that the will to innovate hadn’t died; the almost childish delightful manner in which he scampered sharp singles was a fair indication of how much he loves to tease the opposition fielders.
His battle with the Pakistan bowlers made for great viewing. He employed the reverse sweep and used his feet admirably against Danish Kaneria, driving the leg-spinner to frustration. He was a bit more circumspect against Abdul Razzaq and Shoaib Malik. The heat got to him and he cramped as he kept his date with a century.
Sachin Tendulkar was one of a kind. He remains just that.