Tendulkar: Far from the autumn of his career

Just as we were boarding the flight from Karachi to this bustling city on Saturday morning, a former India player wondered how long India would continue to play greats who don’t deliver. He gave Kapil Dev’s as an example of how India allowed legends to linger on. “Did he not play at least two years longer than he deserved to?”
Fair point. Especially since a quality paceman called Javagal Srinath was kept out of the Test side at home. However, Kapil Dev had claimed 25 wickets in Australia in 1991-92. His only real failure came in the Test series in South Africa but the Tests that followed were nearly all played at home where spin reigned.
Then again, even granting that Kapil Dev outstayed his welcome in the Indian team, there has to be a difference between his case and that of Sachin Tendulkar, who is one of the at least two cricketers being pilloried for India’s defeat in the Karachi Test ��� the other being Sourav Ganguly.
Of course, in the recent times, Tendulkar has not played the big innings when it has mattered but to assume that he has either lost his reflexes or his skills is to be mistaken. It is not as if the little big man has batted badly. On the contrary, he has looked in good touch in the third Test against Pakistan in Karachi.
The manner in which he batted in the second innings, punching, driving and pulling Shoaib Akhtar ��� bowling at full tilt ��� to the boundary, spoke not just for his determination but also for his reflexes. Those shots could not have been the last flicker of a dying flame, not by a long shot.
He had launched a fightback with VVS Laxman but that was cut short when he played inside the line of a ball that stayed lower than he expected. The manner in which he went down on all fours ��� and it was not the first time he was framed like this ��� suggested to his critics that he was misleading onlookers that he was bowled because the ball kept low.
It is silly, therefore, to even suggest that Tendulkar has reached the end of the road in his career. Three failures in Pakistan should be no reason for people to spark such debates but the fact is that the media and the people appear to be engaged in serious discussion on whether Tendulkar is actually over the hill.
Just the fact that he has been around for 16 years makes it seem like he has aged and those who are in a hurry to write Tendulkar’s cricketing obituary forget that he is just 33 years of age. There must be a minimum of three to four years quality cricket left in the man and it must be remembered that he is not the sort to linger on the stage that he has dominated so much.
I have often said that Tendulkar has shifted gear ��� deliberately, it would appear ��� to be an accumulator rather than aggressor that he was in the first decade of his wonderful career. With a set of wonderful batsmen around him like Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Ganguly, he has had the luxury to determine his own role.
Of course, Indians are an emotional lot, passionate about their cricketers and demanding too. There is nothing wrong with that. But to go after those who have played with pride and passion over a number of years but haven’t performed to their expectations in one series is a favourite pastime of a nation. And this must stop.

espnstar.com, February 5, 2006