Sachin Tendulkar is concerned about the health of Test cricket, believing that dearth of quality fast bowlers around the world is a key factor for the same. Tendulkar, who faced some of the best fast bowlers in the world during his 24-year-long playing career Wasim Akram, Glenn McGrath, Curtly Ambrose, Shoaib Akhtar, Brett Lee, Alan Donald and Chaminda Vaas to name a few lamented the lack of on-field rivalries, something he feels has led to a poor following in Test cricket.

“Rivalries which people invariably looked forward to are no longer there because there are very few world-class fast bowlers right now. That element I am sure is missing. The quality of fast bowling can surely be better without any doubt,” Tendulkar told PTI.

“The standard of cricket has gone down which is not great news for Test cricket. The standard needs to go up and for that, I would again say that the root cause is the playing surfaces.

“I think it has also got to do with the kind of pitches that are provided. If we provide fair pitches where fast bowlers as well as spinners get help, then balance between bat and ball will be restored. If the balance is missing then the contest becomes weak and it fails to grab eyeballs.”

This isn’t the first time Tendulkar has expressed his worries over the fall in popularity of Test cricket. Tendulkar, the only man to score 100 international centuries feels lack of proper cricket pitches is another factor that can help reive the oldest format, pointing towards the type of surfaces used during the 2019 Ashes. Australia and England were involved in a belter of a series which ended 2-2 but not without some gripping performances with both bat and ball.

“I feel this year’s Ashes had some of the best Test pitches in recent times. Magnificent I would say. The only time they moved to Old Trafford, you saw that Test wasn’t as exciting as the ones at the Headingley, or the Lord’s Test or for that matter even the one at the Oval. I thought those Test matches were exciting,” Tendulkar added.

Tendulkar feels talents emerging from the IPL should first be given a longer rope in T20Is before being thrusted to play ODIs or Tests, although exceptions can be made for someone as adaptable and versatile as Jasprit Bumrah.

“I think if somebody has done well in the IPL, then he is fit to represent India in T20 Internationals. It is absolutely fair. But if somebody does well in the IPL and because of that performance he is picked for Tests and even ODIs, I think there would be a question mark,” he said.

“I don’t support that unless there is an exceptional talent, who can be good across formats. Jasprit Bumrah is one example. Otherwise normal players, if they do well in IPL, that performance should only be considered for T20 formats.”

As for rivalries, the one Tendulkar shared with former Australia legspinner Shane Warne is the stuff of legends and he recalled the historic 1998 Border-Gavaskar Trophy, where the two came face to face for the first time since becoming established named. In the first Test in Chennai, Warne dismissed Tendulkar cheaply, but in the second dig, the former batsman responded with an epic 155 as India won by 179 runs and eventually won the series 2-1.

“The series was built up as Tendulkar vs Warne battle. Somehow, I knew Warne would come round the wicket in that series. My homework started by getting Mumbai teammates (leg-spinner) Sairaj Bahutule and (left-arm spinner) Nilesh Kulkarni at the nets,” he recalled.

Tendulkar retired with 51 Test centuries and as tough it may be to pick one that stands out, the former India captain chose the hundred he scored against Australia at the bouncy WACA surface in Perth in 1992.

“I have never liked comparisons but if you ask me, that century at Perth on that track made me realise that I was ready to play any attack on any surface. It was like I announced my arrival at the international stage,” he said.

“Having said that, the Chennai hundred against Pakistan (1999), when I was battling back-pain or not hitting a cover drive during my double hundred in Sydney (2004) or those couple of spells against Dale Steyn in Cape Town in 2011, had their own beauty and challenges.”