Sachin Tendulkar battled form and criticism to register a hard-fought 76. Arunabha Sengupta says that while the innings may or may not be indicative of his getting back into top gear, the Indian fans owe the great man a modicum of respect to deal with the lean patch.
It was not one of his best innings. Through a great part of the 155-ball knock, he struggled. The strokes did gradually emerge with time, in halting flows of restrained mastery, some glimpses of the old genius peeping out from beneath the shell formed under immense pressure.
He took a while to come to terms with the bowling, and some more to battle the slightly slower reaction time of the eye and limbs. But, some greatness did trickle through. He was out after a hard-working 76, but he did spend a lot of time on the wicket.
An innings by Sachin Tendulkar can never be claimed as a success unless it has three figures to show for the effort – and even then one cannot please all.
But, the great mandoes seem to be on his way to scoring runs once again. Given the amounts he has amassed in the past, it was perhaps just a matter of time.
Battling the demons
However, the struggle on Wednesday seemed to have a lot more to do than the bowling, the wicket and his own ageing body.
Every ball seemed a painful effort to swim through the streams of vitriolic criticism, to make his way through the barricade of scavenging slander-mongers snapping at his heels, to concentrate on the ball even as raucous calls for his head raised a cacophony, the same chorus that has carried on for a year.
This is perhaps the price one has to pay for raising expectations, for being more successful than anything the country has ever witnessed before.
It was not just the irrationality of the fans craving for a morsel of a giant carcass. It was not just the sensation seeking media who made his failures in the last few Tests take on the proportions of eternity. .
The chorus has been joined by reputed experts eager to make hay while the sun sets.
In 2007, Ian Chappell had famously advised Tendulkar to retire, ending up with all too visible egg on his face as the master went about his second coming, enjoying some of the best years of his splendid career.
Now, five years later, the same former Australian captain has voiced, “It’s up to Tendulkar to replicate Ponting’s decision and make sure the timing of his retirement is as exquisite as one of his flowing cover drives.”
When one has to make a living out of words, and especially when words are not really one’s forte, opinions are often driven from the gut or scooped crudely out of the visible layer of public perception. Informed analysis and logic come a very poor second.
There are hordes of Indian followers who have assumed that the fable of Australian team spirit over the Indian selfishness is gospel. To them, Chappell’s opinion that Ponting timed his retirement perfectly will act as a huge confirmation stimulus. Here is a great batsman who quit when he was still a force to reckon with.
However, at the risk of being criminally counter-intuitive, let me spoil the party with some facts.
· Ricky Ponting’s timing of his retirement could not have been more delayed. In the last four years, Ponting limped through his final 50 Tests scoring at 38.34.
· Of the last 17 series he played, he managed to score at an average over 50 in just three, not passing 35 in as many as nine.
· His batting average plummeted from 59 to 51 in the course of the last four seasons.
· Aside from that one series during which Indian bowlers were flogged by all Australian batsmen, his final few series averages read 16.14, 31.00, 17.50, 33.0, 24.33 and 6.40.
If this is equivalent to putting the team first and timing one’s retirement perfectly, we have to redefine the numerical system.
In contrast, Tendulkar has had a poor run since last summer. Since then the last four series averages have been 34.12, 43.60, 35.87, 21.00. Before that he was scoring centuries in South Africa against Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
This is by no means an attempt to justify the relatively lean patch Tendulkar has been going through. The intention is to point out the irrationality in the demands for his retirement and the baselessness of Chappell’s advice.
His last 10 Test innings have been unproductive. Yet, in contrast to Ponting’s 50 Test crawl to retirement averaging 38, Tendulkar averages 53 in his last 50.
So, if Tendulkar assiduously follows the Chappell counsel, he can afford to fail continuously for about two more years to ensure that his timing of retirement matches that of Ponting.
A little respect
Recently the greatest Indian bowler of all time came out in defence of the greatest Indian batsman urging the critics to give Tendulkar some emotional space. However, his words seemed to be too rational for the psyche prevailing in the temperamental cricket fandom.
It leads one to ask some pointed questions.
Are we not a bit too impatient to write off a great master, a bit too eager to believe the myths propagated by the media? Why does the Chappell pseudo-analysis appeal to us so eloquently while the voice of reason provided by Anil Kumble falls on largely deaf ears?
If we are so keen on mimicking the Australian approach to the game, there is one area we would do well to emulate – the respect with which legendary cricketers are treated in that great sporting nation.
Ricky Ponting played for Australia for 17 years. For a large part of that period he was their greatest batsman. The Australian public did not forget his contribution to the cause of the game and the country when he batted for the last time. He failed for most of the last four years, but he got the fitting farewell he deserved.
Sachin Tendulkar has shouldered the batting, dreams and hopes of India for twenty three years. He has been going through a lean patch at the very end of a many-splendored career. The current innings provides encouraging symptoms that he has found a way out of the slump. Or it may be not be so, and he can continue to fight for runs. Genius generally finds a way, but often time has the last laugh.
Whatever be the case, Tendulkar probably deserves a bit of respect from the hordes who call themselves ‘fans’. He has managed without it often enough, but as a supposedly sports-loving nation we perhaps owe the man this little courtesy.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix