Cricketing world needs to see Sachin Tendulkar come out all guns blazing

It is ironic that Sachin Tendulkar was as aggressive as he was in the 90s, when the world boasted of some seriously good fast bowling attacks, and yet in the 2000s when bowling stocks plummeted all over the world, he became much more circumspect © Getty Images

 

By Akash Kaware

 

In one of the more memorable episodes of the political drama The West Wing, when the erudite incumbent US President, Jed Bartlet, is trying to run a dumbed-down campaign for re-election to counter a vastly inferior, but more folksy and relatable opponent, one of his advisors rebuffs him for it over a game of chess. He convinces the President that his extraordinary intelligence is not a liability even if it makes him as liked as the smartest kid in the class. If he wanted to win the upcoming election, he had to make it about qualified vs not, intelligent vs not. He was a heavyweight, and he should not be afraid to mercilessly crush his opponents. Sachin Tendulkar, a cricketing heavyweight if ever there was one, could do with watching that episode.

 

Barring some amazing performances in the World Cups of 2003 and 2011, and an occasional innings here and there that turned back the clock, the second half of Tendulkar’s career has seen him transform from a marauding strokemaker to an efficient accumulator, a journey from Viv Richards to Sunil Gavaskar, if you will. The manner of run-gathering might be markedly different in the two halves of his career – while the first half was almost like a 10-year fireworks show, the second half has been more about angles and placement and using bowlers’ pace against them – but it is a testimony to his genius that neither his average nor his strike-rate have suffered much despite the change in approach.

 

Batting according to the situation, and being able to switch gears as and when required is an ability only the gifted are born with. And yet, taking the situation too seriously can sometimes make a batsman curb his natural instincts, which in Tendulkar’s case are a gift from the Gods, and need to be backed at all times. Since his revival following the tennis-elbow-induced slump that lasted well into 2007, he has been almost as fluent as the Tendulkar of old, but yet every now and again, for no reason at all, he disappears and is replaced by a tentative and defensive impostor, recognisable only by face, not willow-wielding.

 

The impostor shut shop on the third evening at Sydney when the close of play was a good hour away, played out about five maidens in a row and barely survived some nervy moments. He reappeared again once that elusive mega-milestone (or millstone?) was in sight on the fourth day after the real Tendulkar had played some glorious off-side strokes, and was inevitably dismissed on 80 off a tentative prod to slip off Michael Clarke.

The two contrasting avataars of Sachin Tendulkar

In each of his innings in Australia, Tendulkar has looked like million dollars when he came out playing shots, all guns blazing. And he has looked like a shadow of himself whenever he has tried to rein himself in. Sooner or later, he has to realise that he reduces himself to half the batsman he is, when he lets his defensive side take over his game. Painstakingly building a mountain of runs, which is what he aims for these days, is fine, but the rapidity with which a dominant Tendulkar can demoralise an opposition cannot be underestimated.

 

Virender Sehwag, who was once compared to his idol, has carved out a career for himself from the simplest of batting philosophies – see ball, hit ball. But now, it is Tendulkar who needs to take a leaf out of the apprentice’s book. In fact, Tendulkar could actually be a much better Sehwag than Sehwag could ever be a Tendulkar, simply because of a superior technique.

 

It is ironic that he was as aggressive as he was in the 90s, when the world boasted of some seriously good fast bowling attacks, and yet in the 2000s when bowling stocks plummeted all over the world, he became much more circumspect. Not to mention, in the 90s, he was often the boy on the burning deck. But in the noughties, he had support from a terrific batting line-up which should have allowed him to play with far more freedom. One wonders whether it was that gut-wrenching defeat to Pakistan in Chennai in 1999 that changed him, possibly forever. Every young batsman is taught by his coaches to respect the good ball. But Tendulkar has been showing bowlers way too much respect – a lot more than they deserve.

 

So here’s to the top-most item on my 2012 wish list. Tendulkar’s 100th hundred is on it, but way down the list somewhere. Top of the list is to see a destructive Tendulkar once more, before he bids goodbye to the international cricketing arena. A Tendulkar who does not bat as if the weight of the world is on his shoulders. A Tendulkar who remembers what a joy thrashing bowlers to all corners of a ground can be, both for him, and his millions of admirers. A Tendulkar who is not afraid to be the heavyweight that he is. For that is the Tendulkar who can win India matches, not the impostor.

 

(Akash Kaware is an Indian IT professional, who would’ve been a successful international cricketer if it hadn’t been for an annoying tendency to run towards square-leg while facing tennis, rubber or leather cricket balls hurled at anything more than genuine medium-pace! Watching Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid convinced him that breaking into the Indian team was not going to happen anytime soon and hence he settled to become an engineer and MBA, who occasionally wrote about cricket. A few months ago, sensing his uselessness and constant use of cricket websites at work, his company banished him to Canada. His hopes of playing international cricket have, thus, been renewed!)