Former Australia coach John Buchanan tells Derek Abraham that the Indian legend is the best technical batsman he has ever seen and was key talking point during team meetings.
Q: When did you first hear about and watch Sachin Tendulkar?
A: His legend began almost before he graduated into international ranks due to his achievements as a schoolboy. His initial and then continued footsteps into cricket history, only enhanced his status.
Q: Did you witness his coming-of-age knock in Perth in 1992? Or the 148 in Sydney a few days earlier?
A: I was aware of these innings, but I was not involved too closely with cricket at this time.
Q: Tendulkar reserved his best for Australia. During your time as head coach of the Australian team between 1999 and 2007, did you ever find your bowlers, especially Shane Warne, confused over how to bowl to him?
A: Sachin was always a key talking point for us whenever we were playing India. How to dismiss him; how to keep his scoring and scoring rate to a minimum; how we could reduce his influence on the eventual outcomes of games.
Q: Were team meetings dominated by talk surrounding Tendulkar?
A: As above, he was a key to success against India.
Q: What was the bowling unit’s plan against Tendulkar? What were the instructions given by you?
A: The plans changed over the years and in different countries. We would always consider the bouncer with appropriate fields. We would look to our left-arm quick bowlers to angle the ball across him, if we had such a player in our side. In the latter years of his career, we felt his footwork was not quite as assured against pace as it was earlier, so we would try to unsettle him with shorter deliveries and then search for a LBW. But like all great players, if there is a weakness to their game, the athlete has the ability to cover these till their vulnerabilities are reduced. Sachin was a master at ensuring opposition teams bowled to him where he wanted. His 200-plus innings in Sydney was a fine example as we believed from what I have said above that Sachin was susceptible cover driving at balls where there was extra bounce and angle away from him. He was so disciplined that he did not play one cover drive (or at least it seemed that way) till after he passed 200!
Q: Ricky Ponting scored a blinder in the 2003 World Cup final? During the break, did you or anyone in the team feel India could chase 360? And Tendulkar’s fall, in the first over, killed the contest…
A: We knew it was a very good score made on a wicket that was difficult early. However, due to the attacking play of Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist, the foundations were laid for Ricky Ponting and then Damien Martyn. When we took Sachin’s wicket relatively early, the game was certainly not over, but we knew it would be more difficult to chase down our total, albeit there were plenty of batting firepower in the side.
Q: Tendulkar went through a torrid time in the mid-2000s. His tennis elbow injury prompted many to claim his career is over. And during the same time, Ponting was going great guns and closing in on Tendulkar’s run tally in Tests. Did you expect Tendulkar to fight back the way he did and play on for another seven to eight years?
A: International cricket is an unforgiving environment. It is great testimony to Sachin’s skills, his determination and his pure love for the game that he was able to overcome this period of his career.
Q: Tendulkar played many an amazing knock against Australia. Which one is your favourite? And could you also throw some light on that epic 241 not out in Sydney in 2004? After all, he refrained from driving through the off side.
A: Rather than reflect on one particular innings as he played many against us in Test and One-Day Internationals, my memory of Tendulkar is of a superb technician. For a man of small stature, he was able to get quickly into good position against all types of bowling on all surfaces. He timed the ball rather than bludgeoning it. In my mind he was the best technical batsman I have ever seen, especially in the period 1999-2004 when I was coaching. I did believe after that period he was not quite the same masterful batsman, although still ranked as one of the best in the world.
Q: Had Tendulkar hired your services and requested you to help him stretch his career by two years, what regime/drills would you have asked him to follow with regard to his batting as well as mental make-up?
A: I think what enabled Sachin to continue as long as he did, apart from what I have said, is that he knew how to prepare himself technically, physically, and tactically. I would have sought to understand his approach and work out how I could best support it.
Q: As an Australian, what was your reaction when Don Bradman said Tendulkar reminded him of himself? And what about his duels with Warne?
A: Bradman’s comments are legendary and show immense appreciation and respect for Sachin.
Warnie is a great of the game, and one of the greatest leg-spinners of all time. That Warne always wanted to be able to capture Sachin’s wicket was a clear measure of the esteem Warne held for Tendulkar.
Q: Has Tendulkar timed his retirement perfectly? Or do you, like many others, think his twilight was a tad longer?
A: It is not for me to say. It is always a sad day when a true great of sport retires as we will no longer be able to witness first-hand the specific playing skills that history records in the record books.
Q: In 2007, you had said Tendulkar’s footwork had become sluggish, especially early in his innings, making him vulnerable to short-pitched deliveries followed by a fuller one. He didn’t agree with you. Did it sour your relationship with him?
A: I reiterated that above, and I still believe that to be the case. One important aspect for an athlete is to not necessarily agree with external commentary, especially around technique. They may or may not agree privately, but rarely will an athlete admit to an on field weakness publicly.
Q: Have you had a heart-to-heart talk with him any time?
A: We have only had brief exchanges as I was coaching a side in competition against him. I always kept to myself during tournaments, series, events as it was my job to analyse our opposition and keep the Australian team solely concentrating on what was directly in front of them.
Q: Finally, where do you place Tendulkar in the pantheon of greats? Does he figure in your list of the ‘Top 5 batsmen’ you have watched?
A: Sachin is the best technician I have ever seen. I began listening to cricket in the late 50’s and watching cricket in the early 60’s, so I cannot comment on many great batsmen who have played the game. I also coached domestically from 1994/95 to 1999, and then with Australia from 1999-2007, and briefly in IPL 2008 & 2009. My view of Sachin is that he is definitely near the top of the top five in the period I coached, if not at the top; and compared with batsmen of all time, he must rank in the top five or close to it.
(The writer is Principal Correspondent at DNA, where the above article DNA)