While Kevin Pietersen is one name that’s sure to attract plenty of attention during the upcoming series between India and England, the other stalwart who’ll be closely watched is Sachin Tendulkar. “When I play in November, I will re-assess things. I am 39 and I don't think I have plenty of cricket left in me. But it depends on my frame of mind and my physical ability to deliver,” said Tendulkar a few weeks ago.
While his followers all across the globe will sincerely hope that he finds his mojo during the series against England, thereby continuing to don the Indian colours for a few more years, the fact remains that the last few months in international cricket have been nothing less than an ordeal for Tendulkar.
Tendulkar got his last Test hundred in the first innings of his 177th Test – almost two years ago against South Africa at Newlands, Cape Town. Thereafter, he has played 13 Tests and scored 841 runs at an average of 35.04, with six fifties but no centuries to his name. His highest score since is 94, and it came against the West Indies last November at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium. Although his average is nowhere close to the standards he sets for himself, it’s still respectable compared to a few of his counterparts. But the more worrisome fact is his mode of dismissals post the 2011 World Cup.
Since his last Test century, Tendulkar has been dismissed 25 times in Test cricket. Of those 25, 13 of them are either bowled or leg before wicket (lbw). The fact that more than half of his dismissals since that period are a direct result of the ball beating the bat does not augur well. During India’s Test series against New Zealand two months ago, the ball crashed into Sachin’s stumps three times in as many innings. Moreover, it was a different bowler on each occasion. An article by Arunabha Sengupta concluded that perhaps too much is being read into Tendulkar’s dismissals. And although it’s too naïve to connect the rattling of the timber to the maestro’s dwindling prowess, one cannot deny the fact that it’s uncharacteristic of Tendulkar.
Even in the One-Day Internationals (ODI), he’s taken his foot off the pedal post the 2011 World Cup. Choosing which series to play and which not to notwithstanding, Tendulkar has featured in 10 ODIs, with 315 runs to his name at an average of 31.50. That the average is passable is largely due to his only century in the last 16 months that came against Bangladesh during the Asia Cup earlier this year. In those 10 ODI innings, three have been played against Australia and five against Sri Lanka, and Tendulkar has averaged 6.33 and 26.00 against these two teams respectively.
In this edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) too, Tendulkar has looked scratchy. He scored 324 runs, behind fellow teammates Rohit Sharma and Ambati Rayudu, at an average of just 29.45. This average is his lowest in five years of the IPL. He averaged 31.33 in 2008 (played just seven games due to an injury), 33.09 in 2009, 47.53 in 2010 and 42.53 in 2011.
The ongoing Champions League (CLT20) has been nightmarish for Tendulkar, scoring just 47 runs in his four games at an average of 11.75. Although not too much must be read into his scores in the tournament, the tentativeness with which he approached each innings is worrisome.
However, this is not the first time that Tendulkar is faced with such a quandary. He’s wriggled his way out of complex situations even in the past, and hopes of an encore still exist. But the fact that he’s decided to reassess the situation in November is something that cannot be brushed off. Perhaps the recent sombre run is finally playing on Tendulkar’s mind. It’s unlikely that a man of his stature will get bogged by the growing voices questioning his place in the side, and the decision will purely be performance based. It now remains to be seen if Tendulkar can indeed instigate a reversal.
His decision to feature in the Ranji Trophy opener against Railways ahead of the litmus test against England is a good sign. It not only shows good intent, but also presents a huge opportunity to iron out certain flaws that have contributed to his struggle in the recent past. The upcoming series will certainly determine the direction of Tendulkar’s future, and while England will look to capitalise on his pressure-ridden mind, they’ll also have to be wary of a man rearing to prove his detractors wrong.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/