My oldest memory of watching Sachin Tendulkar – an One-Day International in 1993-94 – is roughly the same period that I started watching Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf, both of whom have been retired a long time. I might simply reprise a cliché in saying this, but it speaks volumes about his longevity. Last year, as Tendulkar pulled Dale Steyn for six en route to a century at Nagpur in the World Cup, I was already watching Roger Federer gently slide into the winter of his own glorious career.
Coming back to Sampras for a bit, one of my worst memories of the legendary tennis player was of watching him lose in the first round on the lawns of Wimbledon, once his fiefdom, in 2002. It was the first time I had watched an invincible sporting champion hit rock bottom and images of his dejection and anguish remain vividly etched in my mind – images that came back to me when I watched James Anderson work Tendulkar at Nagpur in the recently- concluded Test match against England.
At Nagpur, having forced Tendulkar to shelve his ondrive after the said shot triggered a slew of early dismissals in the previous matches, Anderson probed an off-and-middle stump line with reverse swing. Given his newfound reluctance to play such deliveries towards the onside, Tendulkar attempted a cover drive off an incoming delivery and was castled.
Anderson had thus masterfully exploited the doubts in the mind of a champion batsman. Tendulkar’s purported age-related physical limitations have been dissected in many articles on his poor form but this series against England went much beyond that.
It may have also opened up a variety of opportunities for bowling attacks across the cricketing world. Sure, no team would dare take Tendulkar for granted but we cannot presume any longer that they despair of finding some possible way to get him out. As a batsman, he is now eminently beatable and bowlers are going to back themselves to get him out even if he does find his rhythm again.
Incidentally, Nagpur is actually a happy hunting ground for Tendulkar, much like Wimbledon for Sampras. He struck three massive hundreds, including a double hundred at the old Vidharba Cricket Association (VCA) ground, and added two more at the new stadium in Jamtha. After dismal trips to England and Australia, he would have backed himself to get the big runs on home turf. So it is in a way appropriate that his moment of reckoning arrived in the very battleground where he’d have hoped to reverse the tide.
In retrospect, Sampras is remembered as one of those champions who left on a high note, winning the US Open in 2002. But it is forgotten that he had sunk to the ground before that, and was only trying to salvage his pride with one last shot at glory. Not surprisingly, he never returned to defend that US Open title. The reality is that no account of Sampras’s career is complete without at least a passing mention of that first round exit at Wimbledon.
Tendulkar’s unsuccessful battle against Anderson at Nagpur may go down as that kind of moment in his career. Will he retire? Will he be dropped? Or, will he just carry on as if nothing’s changed? It really doesn’t matter anymore to me, because I have already seen a phase of his career that I hoped I wouldn’t have to.
To borrow the famous words of Roger Waters, the child has grown and the dream is gone. Alas, the great Tendulkar now stands conquered.
(Madan Mohan is a 27-year-old chartered accountant from Mumbai. The writing bug bit him when he was 8 and to date, he has not been cured of it. He loves music, cricket, tennis and cinema and writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake. He also writes a blog if he is not feeling too lazy at http://rothrocks.wordpress.com)