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Posts Tagged ‘Ricky Ponting

The Boy From Bandra

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Sachin Tendulkar is on a different planet. Like Usain Bolt he’s left the competition to settle matters between themselves as he blazes ahead. Can we please have a bold 80-point newspaper headline saying ‘He Bats On’? Three lengthy breaks from cricket and two career-threatening injuries that needed surgeries are now years behind him and bowlers around the world are paying for the period where he was vulnerable, scratchy and out of sorts.

Tendulkar has been single-minded in his pursuit of excellence and in the past few seasons he’s looked like getting a big score almost every innings. From January 2008 there has been just one series in Sri Lanka—and a solitary Test against South Africa before that—where he hasn’t got to a three figure score and he’s scored one or more hundreds in all the other nine Test series’ that India has played since then.

Sambit Bal, the editor of Cricinfo, wrote a piece on Tendulkar and the art of stealing a single and concluded it saying: “Fifty Test hundreds are but a formality. A hundred international hundreds are there for the taking. Tendulkar, though, endures not in the pursuit of milestones, but because he can’t fall out of love with cricket. And above anything else that’s the reason why he remains the most-loved cricketer.”

Tendulkar has always been reluctant to take a runner as the single is a vital part of his batting and he has said it more than once that only he knows the speed with which he has played the ball and also whether he’s played it to the right or the left of the fielder. He judges a single to perfection. Opposition captains have said that on some days they know they are up against it when Tendulkar is scampering for quick singles and is alive to any possibility of an extra run.

During India’s 2007-08 tour of Australia Peter Roebuck in an article for the Sydney Morning Herald also wrote about Tendulkar’s mastery of pinching a run and it came pretty-close to defining how Tendulkar approaches a Test innings in his new enlightened avatar.

“Among modern batsmen, Sachin Tendulkar is the master of the single. In some respects, it is not much of a claim. It’s a bit like saying Roger Federer has the best ball toss around. Tendulkar has many other more colourful qualities: a blistering straight drive, a cart that is liable to land in the fifth row, a square cut that singes the turf, a fine sweep and a defensive stroke played with a sculptured left elbow.

Comparatively speaking, the single tucked to mid-wicket seems innocuous. But the true masters do not disregard the little things. Moreover, four singles amount to a boundary, and can be more safely collected. Also, a single taken from a precisely-pitched delivery is profoundly discouraging.”

A mere 2.8 per cent of Tendulkar’s Test dismissals have been a result of a run out—out of the 250 times he’s been dismissed in 280 innings just 7 have been run outs. And if one is feeling fair then half of them can be said to be his mistakes and the other half that of the partner and we can give an odd one to an exceptional bit of work in the field; which leaves you with three badly-judged runs in a Test career spanning 21 years.


The single also has other fascinating aspects to it. What it does to discourage the bowler is another story and a different side of the coin is what it does for Tendulkar in the middle. A four from the first ball can be the result of having been offered a gift first-up or a brilliant ball that goes for a streaky boundary. Neither of it does anything remarkable for Tendulkar’s confidence. On the contrary, a well-played-and-placed single reveals to Tendulkar the speed at which the ball is coming off the deck—unless it is a full toss—the bounce in the wicket and his own timing.

A couple of singles and watching a few balls from the other end are enough for the Master to assess the conditions and he is up and running. In this watchful initial period he makes the adjustments and decides the strokes for the day and also those to be kept in his back pocket for some other day. The day he got his and the 50-over format’s first double hundred (unbeaten) against South Africa he got the strike on the third ball of the first over by Dale Steyn. Sehwag had just got a reprieve as Steyn failed to latch on to a tough chance and a single followed. The next four balls of Steyn were all on a good length and he was getting the ball to shape away from the right hander. All four balls found the middle of Tendulkar’s bat, who played them off the front foot in the region between cover and the bowler for no runs. Playing four balls and watching four from the other end and he was set. He fetched 15 runs from the next six balls that he faced and the rollicking show started.

This is from an earlier piece of mine on how he started his innings at the Eden Gardens against South Africa when he got back-to-back Test hundreds: Tendulkar joined Sehwag and tapped the first ball he played, a 147 kph full delivery outside off from Morkel, to point for a single. That was the beginning of an assured partnership in which Tendulkar gave another display of his class and his mastery. He played the ball with that natural and intriguing intimacy that he has displayed in the last few seasons. He was solid in defence and gave no bowler even a hint of a chance. It was just beautiful batting.

I am leaving the single for now to look at the stratosphere that Tendulkar has made his home in the last three seasons or so. Just in order to have a frame of reference and make a comparison we can look at the other modern batting giant Ricky Ponting.

On December 26, 2007 India squared up against Australia in the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne and began their long tour of four Test matches to be followed by the last edition of the traditional tri-nation ODI series—the Commonwealth Bank Series.

Ricky Ponting and Sachin Tendulkar came to this series having had very contrasting two years prior to this much-awaited Test rivalry. Ponting was peeling centuries from 2005 to 2007 and perhaps had the greatest run by a batsman in the modern era. Three times in this period Ponting made a hundred in each innings of a Test and overall in 28 Test matches he made 13 hundreds and 12 fifties at a phenomenal average of 74.68.

Sachin Tendulkar had a miserable period in which he had two surgeries, made comebacks to the playing XI after lengthy breaks, and was even booed by his home crowd at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai against England, when he got out, ironically in the context of this piece, having scored just a single off 21 balls. In 22 Test matches in this period he made three hundreds and nine fifties at a modest average of 42.72. Two of his hundreds came against Test minnows Bangladesh and one against Sri Lanka in New Delhi.


On that day in Melbourne the bowlers did well but in the course of the Test match the batting let the team down and India lost the match by a massive 337 runs. Tendulkar made an attacking 62 in the first innings of that Boxing Day Test and Brett Lee got him on 15 in the second. Ricky Ponting failed in both innings making 4 and 3 runs.

At the end of the Test match Ponting had 9515 runs at an average of 58.73 with 33 hundreds and 38 fifties in 113 Tests. Tendulkar after that Test had 11366 runs at an average of 54.90 with 37 hundreds and 48 fifties in 143 Tests. Ponting’s exceptional period of the past few years and Tendulkar’s miserable run during the same time had narrowed what seemed like an unbridgeable gap till the end of 2002.

In November 2002, Tendulkar was 19 hundreds clear of Ponting and in the period that followed and established Ponting as a modern great he made 21 hundreds as opposed to Tendulkar’s four and the gap narrowed down to just two after Ponting scored successive centuries at Brisbane and Adelaide in the 2006 Ashes in Australia.

That was the closest that Ponting came as Tendulkar was about to embark on another streak of brilliance. A brilliance as captivating as his majestic and dominating batting in the 1990s—for some, and I am one of them, this period has been even more satisfying than his demolition of bowlers in his heydays. This is Tendulkar the batting Buddha; a Tendulkar as close to perfection as an ascetic blessed with benediction after decades of rigorous and loving pursuit of the Lord.

From December 26, 2007 Ponting has played 36 Test matches (65 innings) and made 2742 runs at an average of 42.84 with six hundreds and 17 fifties. And from the same starting point Tendulkar has played 29 Test matches (51 innings) for 2951 runs at an average of 65.57 with 12 hundreds and 11 fifties. The overall batting record for Ponting now stands at 12250 runs in 148 Test matches at 54.68 with 39 hundreds and 55 fifties. For Tendulkar it is 14240 runs in 171 matches at 56.96 with 49 hundreds and 58 fifties. So despite playing seven Tests (14 innings) less than Ponting the Master has still surgically opened up the gap.

In the ODIs there is no comparison as Tendulkar has been phenomenal and has played some career-defining innings. The first-and-only double hundred in a limited over game, a brilliant match-winning hundred while chasing in a final in Sydney and a 138 to win a tournament final in Sri Lanka. The magnificent 175 in a losing cause against Australia and a 160 plus in New Zealand are some of the highlights of his performance.

Overall Tendulkar in 442 ODI matches has made 17598 runs at 45.12 with 46 hundreds and 93 fifties. Ponting in 351 matches has 13072 runs at 42.85 with 29 hundreds and 79 fifties.

Tendulkar is busy ensuring that only the name of Sir Donald Bradman be taken in the same breath as his. And even there more and more former cricket greats are now handing over the title of the greatest batsman of all times to Tendulkar; as apart from the Don’s staggering Test average Tendulkar is head-and-shoulders above the legendary Australian in many other significant ways. The Boy from Bandra is more than a match for the Boy from Bowral.

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A Colombo Classic

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‘Match turning out to be a classic’ was what Justin Langer said after the fourth day’s play of the second Test of Australia’s 2004 tour of India. It was a four Test series and Australia had won the first Test in Bangalore by quite some margin. Ricky Ponting was unavailable for the first three Tests due to a finger injury and Sachin Tendulkar returned to Test cricket in the third Test in Nagpur after his first layoff due to tennis elbow.

Australia had not won a Test series in India since 1969-70, when Bill Lawry led them to a 3-1 win in five Tests and India was holding the Border-Gavaskar Trophy as they had drawn the previous series in Australia 1-1 and had won the one prior to that in India 2-1.

The feeling at the end of today’s play at the P Sara Stadium in Colombo was reminiscent in some ways to the one in Chennai at the end of the fourth day. The fifth day in Chennai was washed out and a green top at Nagpur sealed the series for Australia; but at the end of the fourth day in Chennai everything was tantalisingly poised. David Boon reckoned later that India would have chased down the 210 left for the fifth day while Geoffrey Boycott said that India should not mind the draw too much as over 200 runs on a fifth day surface was advantage Australia.

The fourth day had started with great promise for India as Australia was 150 for four; effectively 9 for four with Hayden, Langer, Katich, and Gilchrist back in the hut. The nature of the pitch and the state of the game made Mohammad Kaif say that India would prefer to chase less than 100. Kumble had destroyed Australia in the first innings taking seven for 48 and turning the game from 136 for no loss to 235 all out.

The prospect of Kumble and Harbhajan on a crumbling wicket with a handy lead gave enough hopes of squaring the series. Night watchman Jason Gillespie was standing with Damien Martyn and play going to the fifth day was not even a distant thought. Then frustration and more frustration unfolded for India as the fifth wicket partnership put on 139 runs, and more importantly, ate up about 56 overs. That partnership killed India.

Today in Colombo was a similar frustration for India, although at the end of it the match is tilted in favour of the Lankans and not precariously-balanced as it was on that sultry evening in October 2004. The Sri Lankans did their best to commit hara-kiri in the morning session with Randiv, Mahela, Sangakarra, Mathews and Prasanna Jayawardene falling within 24 runs. The score was 87 for seven; effectively 76 for seven.

The unbelievable collapse was followed by an even more unbelievable rearguard action that saw Lanka post 267 runs with Samaraweera getting 83 and Mendis 78. There weren’t many missed opportunities and Dhoni did try all sorts of bowling changes but made the big error of being defensive when the team should have gone for an all out attack.

The small session with the bat also left India bleeding as Sehwag departed for a duck and the poor series continued for Dravid and Murali Vijay. Unlike the Chennai Test, there is a good chance that this Test in Colombo would go on to be a classic even after the fifth day and that would be a great result for Test cricket.

Written by Deepan Joshi

August 7, 2010 at 1:47 am

Ecstasy For The Cricket Fan

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For a fan of the game a good day of Test match cricket is an adventure that is more exciting, intriguing, and entertaining than a season full of senseless versions of the shorter-form. Wednesday, the 21st of July 2010, was one such day; and it gave fans a double scoop of edge-of-the-seat cricket. This is how fans of Test cricket want to be spoiled.

Only that I wish that Australia playing Pakistan at Leeds was simultaneously available on some other channel when Ten Sports was beaming India against Sri Lanka.

India’s day in Galle began with seven wickets in hand and a mountain to climb. The wicket was good to bat on and Sehwag raced to his hundred as Sri Lanka chose not to begin with their main weapons. On his second last innings with the ball in hand, Muttiah Muralidharan was the sixth bowler to be introduced in the morning. India was 216 for five and Murali had the lone wicket of Tendulkar from the previous day against his name.

Dhoni and Yuvraj had got starts and an enterprising partnership was developing. Dhoni hit two fours in that first over from Murali and a couple of overs later Yuvraj smacked a six of Herath. That was the 50th over and at 238 for 5 India was not out of the woods but a recovery was looking possible. Then Murali bowled as if he had been storing venom since the morning and India was floored.

A ball from outside off broke sharply and snaked in to shatter Dhoni’s leg stump; 252 for six. An over later Murali came from round the stumps and drew Yuvraj forward to defend and there was just the precise turn needed for an outside edge to first slip. Dhoni and Yuvraj had put together 74 runs in 15.2 overs and given the situation of the match this was quite an aggressive stand with a run rate of almost five. To then have both batsmen out defending is a Murali marvel.

India bowled out for 276 with the phenomenal Murali claiming his 67th 5-wicket haul.

Lanka imposed the follow on and India was pegged back immediately. The first innings dismissal seemed to have been playing on Gambhir’s mind and Malinga exploited his dilemma brilliantly. Wrapped in front by an in dipper in the first innings Malinga sensed that Gambhir was on the lookout for that ball and this time he gave him one that went away an induced the error. Sehwag went in a similar fashion to his first innings dismissal; chasing a wide one which Mahela plucked out of air at gully.

Then the two guys who have the record for the highest number of century partnerships between them in the history of Test cricket showed just how assured India has felt on so many occasions when these two have been on the crease. Tendulkar and Dravid put together 119 runs for the third wicket in 40 overs and there was just about half an hour to go before the close of play when Malinga came on to bowl.

Malinga’s spell on Wednesday evening turned the Test decisively in Sri Lanka’s favour. With the ball reversing Malinga had Dravid flicking a full delivery with Sangakkara waiting for the uppish shot at leg gully. In his next over Malinga had Tendulkar turning the face of his bat to another full delivery expecting the shiny side to take the ball towards his leg stump but the ball somehow held its line and missed the bat to hit the Master’s pad.

Resurrection after that double blow became impossible as VVS Laxman was left stranded after India lost Yuvraj towards end of play and Dhoni early the next morning. Harbhajan had an extremely poor match both with bat and ball but the tail added some vital runs to give Lanka at least something to chase. Sri Lanka in Murali and Malinga had two strike bowlers who delivered at crucial junctures while India had no one who was consistently effective.

At Leeds Pakistan bowled Australia for 88 runs in helpful conditions after Ponting had won the toss and decided to bat. Mohammad Aamer and Asif took three wickets each and Umar Gul picked up two in an excellent display of swing bowling. Pakistan backed up the bowling effort by positive batting and made 248. Australia then came out to bat 170 runs behind in the second innings and Aamer started brilliantly by hitting an ideal length and line right from his first ball. He was unlucky not to have had Ponting given lbw off the first ball the Aussie captain played. The nineteen-year-old Aamer bowling at a lively pace and getting the ball to talk is pure delight to watch.

The bowling attack of Pakistan has looked far superior to that of Australia but their batting lacks experience and that is what cost them the game at Sydney in January. The batting and the anxiety that a raw bowling attack can have—in Sydney Australia was on the mat at 257 for 8 in their second innings. Just 51 runs ahead and Hussey standing with Peter Siddle and Bollinger to follow; the ninth wicket added 123 runs. Chasing 176 for a win Pakistan were bowled out for 139.

In the Galle Test match India, the number 1 Test team in the world at the moment, has looked extremely poor and despite one full day being washed out Sri Lanka had an easy win. Apart from a brief period on the third day the bowling attack was toothless—Herath and Malinga at number 8 and 9 scored 80 and 64 runs respectively—and the strong batting line-up has also not been good enough for a rescue.

It would now require a lot of character for India to come back in this Test series and hold on to their number one position. It would also be interesting to see if Pakistan can level the two-Test series at Leeds. This is a joyous time for the cricket fan.

Why Cricket Needs A New Game Plan

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They are as sick that surfeit with too much, as they that starve with nothing.
— The Merchant of Venice

When Christopher Martin-Jenkins used this Shakespearean beginning to cry out for less cricket in 2003 the world was not going through as acute a food crisis or as humungous a surfeit of cricket entertainment as it is now. Twenty20 was not even in the womb and a private enterprise like the IPL was nowhere in the distant horizon.

“The media have to take it on the chin: we make a lifelong living from the game and there are ways of sharing the load. But for players there is sometimes no way off the treadmill,” Jenkins wrote. In six years after that we have crossed many oceans and packed double the amount of cricket in half the time and the ‘whole cricket system is blinking red’ and needs urgent attention and a solid roadmap.

What Cricket needs is a convention that considers all issues and takes a comprehensive look at the state of the game; something that can be metaphorically-likened to world leaders trying to grapple with global warming and the threat it poses to our planet. Left unattended the game would flow towards instant gratification and instant super-stardom as the pot of gold for new generation fans and the younger players respectively.

Just see the number of injuries on the circuit and the number of careers that could have been great but are just footnotes now and you’ll get the point. Are the administrators in their hurry failing to take care of the goose that lays golden eggs? Fast bowlers are fast becoming a dying breed and we’ve already seen a few express ones bowing out of Test cricket.

In this milieu the discussion between Harsha Bhogle, Sanjay Manjrekar, Lalit Modi, and Gideon Haigh in Time Out for Cricinfo has been refreshing and heartening. Lalit Modi spoke about just a seven-week window for the shortest form and how Test cricket is the most important form of the game.

“Test cricket is, actually, the highest-paying entity for the board. Test cricket is actually our bread and butter, which people don’t understand. We are never going to compromise on Test cricket. In fact, our viewership is high for Test cricket. When I talked about doing something for Test cricket, it’s for other countries where Test cricket is going down. In India, our ratings are going up. We are tracking that year by year, it’s going much better for us, and in fact we get paid highest for Test cricket,” said Lalit Modi.

As surprising as the Modi quote may seem it can’t beat the one given by Sanjay Manjrekar: “The fact is that the IPL, at the moment, is the most popular cricket product we have. And it’s something we’ve got to respect. It has also shown Test cricket and 50-overs cricket what they are lacking.

I think it’s important to have more and more people getting interested in sport, more and more countries getting interested in the sport. For the last 10-15 years, we haven’t seen too many countries seriously getting into cricket. So that tells you a bit about 50-overs cricket and Test match cricket. Maybe Twenty20 and IPL can start doing that.”

That tells me just one thing: Sanjay Manjrekar has lost it.

Is cricket a trade that more and more people and countries should get interested in it? Maybe Twenty20 can foster greater understanding between the US and Afghanistan or between US and Iraq. And it would be great for humanity if the Taliban and the Coalition Forces meet each other on a cricket field and leave the battlefield for good. If that happens then I’ll be the first person to celebrate and embrace Twenty20 as the global unifier.

For the sub-continent it may prove to be the biggest boon—the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project can be negotiated at the toss— as Twenty20, generally, and IPL, specifically, may bring Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India together. You’ve also got the perfect advertisement ready: IPL achieves what the IPI could not.

The circle was complete when the US joined the league and thus brought all stakeholders in the War on Terror together under the gospel of Twenty20. Europe is easy with England, Ireland and Holland already playing cricket and the ECB can be given the responsibility to get new recruits. Afghanistan has already played the United States in a Twenty20 game on February 11, 2010. Maybe IPL is the way out from the human condition. Maybe.

Manjrekar sees the last 10 to 15 years as bleak for cricket because there have been no serious new converts but he forgets to check that cricket history is over 132-years-old and we all know why eight countries are seeped in a cricketing culture.

When people who have played Test cricket start saying things like we need more countries getting interested in the sport and when Test cricket’s premier bowler of the last two decades lavishes praise without context then it makes me wonder just how much money is the IPL generating for everyone to say it is the greatest thing to happen to mankind since the wheel.

Even if the shorter form is good and caters to the taste of the majority it would be worth considering that Shakespeare hit the nail on the head when he said: An overflow of good converts to bad.

Phenomenal Tendulkar Kills The Debate

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Sachin Tendulkar is his own competition and it seems like he is quite unmindful of the fact that his business is the intrinsically-competitive arena of international sports. He keeps pushing his limits to come up with goods that no one else seems to be trading in. Yesterday he scaled a peak higher than the Mount Everest. A peak that did not exist before he set out to conquer it in the afternoon of February 24, 2010; just two months shy of his 37th birthday on April 24—and 22 years after he had shared that record partnership of over 600 runs that brought two schoolboys to the forefront.

Would Neville Cardus have called this Little Master ‘A devastating rarity: A genius with an eye for business?’ I presume he would have said something even greater as Tendulkar apart from being the efficient and consistent run-maker is also a classically-beautiful player to watch. He is efficient like a well-oiled and calibrated machine; only that no machine can be so joyous or can spread so much joy as the Little Master. He dedicated his innings to you and me; to the fans saying that their support was crucial during days when there was no rain.

His adaptability puts him way above any batsman who has ever played the game. The only comparison that makes some sense is with the great Sir Donald Bradman, who played just one form of the game and more importantly played his cricket in just nine grounds against four oppositions. Tendulkar, as I had mentioned in an article before, played on 32 different surfaces before he first played a Test on a ground where he had played a game before. One would have to seriously devote an hour or two to count all the various grounds where he has played Test or One Day International innings.

On top of that he has also had to live the life of a man who can’t pass through anywhere in India without everything going berserk. Tendulkar can’t go and hang around in one of his businesses on the eve of a Test match. Hell, he can’t even drive a car in his home country or go for a casual walk in any part of India. I can say it with certainty that if he lands up in a quiet hamlet like Dalhousie, the residents of the hills having a devil-may-care attitude would all congregate in the small and tidy Mall of the remote hill station to mob this phenomenally-loved son of the Indian soil. And I mean the old grandmas as well.

He adapts to alien situations and surfaces as if they were his backyard and is completely at ease with two diametrically-different forms of the game: 47 hundreds in Test matches and 46 in limited overs. With the kind of form he was suffering from around the injury years during the middle part of the decade that has just gone, it is an astonishing achievement that his Test match hundreds have caught up and then gone ahead of his ODI tally—the ODI numbers were much higher a few years ago.

Yesterday he made an unbeaten double hundred in a 50-over match against a very good South African attack on a surface that was good for batting. He got the strike on the third ball of the first over that Dale Steyn bowled and he played the first four balls that were shaping away right from the middle of the bat for no runs. One run came from that ideal first over where Steyn could not hold on to a tough chance that Sehwag gave on the second ball of the over.

Tendulkar took the first four balls to play himself in and then he hit two gorgeous fours off Parnell in the second over and then another one to Steyn in the third over and the rollicking show started. The BBC said: Tendulkar, whose previous best one-day knock was the 186 not out that he scored against New Zealand in 1999, is already the leading run-scorer in Test and ODI cricket. But to have reached such a landmark, with a single in the final over, only serves to underline his class and add to the legacy that already surrounds arguably the finest batsman to have played the game.

Tendulkar raised his 100 in 90 balls with the help of 13 fours; all of them odd in the sense that each one of them stood out as a perfect stroke. In his last two Test matches Tendulkar got hundreds against South Africa but got out shortly after that but here there was no letting up. Immediately after getting to a hundred he pulled Kallis for a four and then smashed one straight over the bowler’s head that went like a projectile. Then he took care of Duminy by stepping out to get his first six and drilled a four again over the bowler’s head. Karthik played a wonderful hand and was gone in the 34th over having made a very fluent 79.

In walked Yusuf Pathan and he negotiated Parnell’s over safely but without adding to the scoreboard. India took the batting powerplay and South Africa brought back Steyn for the 35th over. Steyn bowled full and outside the off stump and Tendulkar had to stretch to reach. The second ball had been dispatched to the boundary and Tendulkar missed the third and the fourth but he changed his plan for the fifth ball and walked across to the offside to flick the full ball between square-leg and mid-wicket. This is the order in which the runs came in the five power-play overs: 9, 8, 17, 18, 11. In five overs 63 runs were made and Pathan went from zero to 29 and Tendulkar added 33 to go up to 157 and there was a wide.

Then there was a sensational partnership of 101 in 8.5 overs and the only one of the innings that Tendulkar did not dominate in terms of runs as Dhoni shredded the attack. He was cramping a bit but he summoned the energy to reach the summit.

A blog in BBC began by saying: “How does Sachin Tendulkar do it? How does a 36-year-old cricketer stay at the top of the game for 20 years? How does he retain this insatiable hunger for achievement after scoring more than 30,000 runs in the long (Test) and shorter (50 over) versions of the game?”

He just simply loves doing it; his passion and love for the game makes it possible. The genius is constantly learning and is always working on his game. In the last tour to Australia when he scored a hundred in the Sydney Test he was asked in the post-day interview about the jinx of 90s that had plagued him throughout the previous year. Tendulkar said ‘I was getting into bad habits and I needed to break them this year’. Simply brilliant.

Since that day Tendulkar has made 8 Test match hundreds and 5 One Day International hundreds. The ODI hundreds were all hailed as one of his best until he went on to upstage them; the 117 not out he made while chasing in the first Commonwealth Bank Series final in Sydney, the 163 retired hurt he made in Christchurch where he could have got a double but he took the decision to not take a chance with a niggle before the Test series. The 138 in a final against Sri Lanka in Colombo was another match-winning knock; and then that tremendous 175 that could not see his side home but was hailed as his best-ever hundred coming under the pressure of chasing 350. Now he’s got the first double hundred in an ODI; an unbeaten 200 against a good attack.

The last word must go to one fresh and insightful voice in the commentary box; that of former England captain Naseer Hussain: “I have never quite liked comparisons between great players, but after Wednesday’s game it must be said—Sachin Tendulkar is the greatest batsman of all time.

Better than Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting, the other two great players of my era. Better than Sir Viv Richards, Sunil Gavaskar and Allan Border. And I would even say better than Sir Don Bradman himself.”

The Unrivalled Tendulkar And The Pugnacious Ponting

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Daryll Cullinan during commentary in the first Test at Nagpur brought out an interesting statistic and shared it with L. Sivaramakrishnan and asked the former India leg spinner what he thought about it. Cullinan said that when Ricky Ponting scored his first Test hundred Sachin Tendulkar had 11 and since then Ponting has scored 38 hundreds while Tendulkar has made 35 (now 36) so who do you think is the better batsman.

Interestingly Cullinan did not say anything explicitly but made his choice apparent by his line of questioning in which he challenged the assertion of Siva, who picked Tendulkar, by things like match-winning knocks and scores on bowling-friendly wickets and performance in big matches etc.

It is essentially a subjective judgement, with all due respect to statistics, but one can use facts to build an argument like Cullinan did. I’ll pick the Test Cullinan spoke about, where Tendulkar got his 11th Test match hundred, and use a way different to the one he used to make a comparison. It was a Test match that started on January 2, 1997 and Cullinan played in that game which South Africa won by 282 runs at Cape Town. Tendulkar was a ‘23-year-old veteran’ and the captain of his team and he made 169; an innings that began in complete crisis and helped India avoid a follow on after SA had put 529 on board.

After the Cape Town Test, Tendulkar had 3284 runs in 47 Tests (72 innings) at an average of 50.52 with 11 hundreds and 15 fifties and 179 as his highest score. At the same juncture of 47 Tests (74 innings) Ricky Ponting had 2830 runs at 42.87 with 8 hundreds and 14 fifties and 197 as his highest score.

The age is an important issue here and Ponting was just a month or so shy of being 21 when he made his debut while Tendulkar was 16-and-a-half. Why is age an issue? At 21, the body of an athlete is better prepared for the rigours of international cricket and at 16 it is more vulnerable to them.

My point here is not destiny but the simple observation that cricket at the junior level is organised age-wise, unless someone is exceptionally-talented—a 22-year-old, in all likelihood, would hammer the attack if clubbed with the under-16 team. Shouldn’t the first 47 Tests of the career of Tendulkar, where he grew from being 16 plus to 23 plus, compare unfavourably with the first 47 Tests of Ponting, where Ponting grew from almost 21 to around 27? The records present a totally-different picture. Tendulkar took only a couple of seasons to dazzle like an exquisite, polished and rare diamond; a Kohinoor. And he got world-wide recognition early in his career. It is difficult to choose between Brian Lara and Tendulkar as they are both natural and brilliant in their own way.

Ponting was a late bloomer and an average player till as late as about the end of 2001 and it was only in 2002 that his batting started to flower. In 2004 Tendulkar had a freak injury and then another one and he went under the knife twice and that cost him the better part of three seasons—the comparison started only when Ponting began scaling the Everest and Tendulkar began falling in a bottomless gorge.

Coming back to international cricket after lengthy breaks and to get going again is a very demanding task and though Tendulkar found his mojo in 50-over cricket he looked a pale shadow of his former self in the Test matches. The rub of the green also went against him a few times and on one rare fluent day he got a howler from Steve Bucknor at the Eden Gardens; he had got a reprieve in the previous match in Mohali so it did even out in that sense. What caused Tendulkar and his fans the anguish was the fact that he was getting his rhythm going after a long period? There was an outcry in India with the 2003 decision that Bucknor gave in Brisbane also boomeranging. A newspaper summed up the mood with a big bold headline saying ‘BUCKNORED’.

Christian Ryan wrote an evocative piece headlined ‘An Australian sort of hero’, when Tendulkar completed 20 years in international cricket, describing the maiden first-class innings of Tendulkar in Australia: “From the beginning, the relationship was about something bigger than admiration and affection. When Sachin Tendulkar set foot in Australia he brought with him rain.”

Lismore, on the far north hippie trail of New South Wales, was the strange location for Tendulkar’s maiden first-class innings in Australia. Lismore had not seen heavy rain in months. And when the Indian team arrived on a Friday, November 1991, it poured all morning. The net session was cancelled but the three-day match began on the scheduled Saturday, November 23: “Conditions were grey overhead and green underfoot, which made predicting the ball’s flight path tricky. The bowling was top-shelf—Whitney, Lawson, Holdsworth, Matthews, Waugh, Waugh—and the batting a little gormless, all except for the one who was 18.
Under the Oakes Oval pines he took careful guard, his head still, his footsteps like tiny, precise pinpricks, going backwards mostly, unless the bowler overpitched. Fifteen hundred people saw this, the great Alan Davidson among them. Davo was dumbfounded: “It’s just not possible… such maturity.”

Tendulkar hit 82 that afternoon, when no one else passed 24, then 59 out of 147 in the second innings. When Australians hear Indians grouch about their hero going missing in an emergency and having no appetite for a scrap, it always comes as a shock.”

What would be the position of Cullinan if asked to comment on whether Australia had the best bowling attack for the better part of two decades; an attack having phenomenal bite. It is an answer that Ponting can’t give because for no fault of his he never had to face up to them. For that answer we can look at Tendulkar; and much as I hate doing this at Cullinan as well.

Cullinan has a batting average of 12.75 against Australia and against Australia in Australia it further dips to 4.42 with 10 as his highest score. Harbhajan Singh has a better record than that with four fifties and an average of 21.83 against the Aussies; Cullinan missed having a fifty against the Aussies by 3 runs. The Aussie attack had his number and was just too good for him.

The first time he came up against them Craig McDermott nailed him for a duck; the same McDermott who told South African fast bowler Allan Donald that Tendulkar was going to be the best. And the same Donald who first bowled at Tendulkar in an ODI at the Eden Gardens and said that it was blatantly clear (Tendulkar made 60 plus) that he was going to be a player to remember.

“He is No. 1 in my book—the best player I have ever had the privilege of bowling to. There’s Steve Waugh and there’s Brian Lara, who was wonderful in 1995, but Tendulkar is a class above, consistently special,” Donald said.

Sachin Tendulkar averages 56.08 against Australia with 10 hundreds and 11 fifties; and against Australia in Australia his average goes up to 58.53. The bowler who tormented Cullinan the most admitted to having nightmares about Tendulkar stepping out and hitting him for a six over his head from the rough outside the leg stump on wickets suited for spin bowling.

The genius leg spinner paid the ultimate tribute: “Sachin Tendulkar is, in my time, the best player without doubt—daylight second, Brian Lara third.” What can be bigger than what the Australian captain Mark Taylor said after the three-Test series in 1998 and the ODI series after it in Sharjah: “We did not lose to a team called India…we lost to a man called Sachin.”

On the instinct of Tendulkar, Ryan wrote: “Every bolt and screw in the Tendulkar technique seemed put there to aid the getting of runs. Tendulkar was a run-getting machine, except no machine could also be so graceful—or instinctive, for that’s what it was, instinct, which told him that the way to bat was to attack. He didn’t learn this. He knew it, inside himself. Runs were what counted.

…You occasionally hear it said wistfully that Tendulkar is the Australian Shane Warne could have been. It is a neat line but it undersells what they have in common. For if any two modern cricketers might be soul mates, it is Warne and Tendulkar, grandmasters of their arts. Bowling legspin comes as naturally to Warne as batting does to Tendulkar, which is to say, as naturally as the rest of us find breathing.”

Tendulkar now is a batting sage. To see him build an innings brick by brick, by keeping the good balls out and dispatching the bad ones to the boundary, is a deep and fulfilling joy that no amount of slam bam cricket can give. He is solid in defence but not dour; that phase where he just hung around and looked purposeless is long gone.

In the 50-over game he can still play the innings of a lifetime. Just look at his masterful performances after the 2007 World Cup; after six scores in the nineties he broke the jinx by an unbeaten match-winning 117 in the first Commonwealth Bank Series final in Sydney while chasing and made 91 in the second final at Brisbane to beat Australia at home. He made 163 not out and left the crease when he had a chance to get to a double hundred against New Zealand as he did not want to take a chance with a minor niggle flaring up before the Test matches. Then he made 138 in a final against Sri Lanka in Colombo.

Four match-winning knocks and three of them in tournament finals but it didn’t stop there and he produced another magical innings of 175 against Australia in Hyderabad that almost single-handedly carried India to the mammoth target of 350 and with a little more support it was an innings that would have seen India through.

Sunil Gavaskar, the other genius in the history of Indian batting, described how Tendulkar just practised the cradle movement on the morning India was to bat at the Eden Gardens; just the forward and back foot defence. Just that. Apart from the brief period, where physical injuries perhaps hampered the ‘psychological’ approach of Tendulkar, scoring runs comes as naturally to him as maternal affection to a new mother.

Ricky Ponting, the best exponent of the pull shot, has done much better in South Africa and in the middle part of this decade. Tendulkar has not had that kind of success against South Africa. The Little Master, though, is in a league of his own; a league that even the great Sir Donald Bradman didn’t mind sharing.

The Prodigy Of Prodigies

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“During the summer of 1997 The Times Magazine published John Woodcock’s personal selection of the 100 greatest cricketers in the history of the game. This immediately sparked a wide-ranging debate in the cricket world but it was universally agreed that no one was better qualified to undertake so daunting and essentially controversial a task,” said the back of the book that was published in 1998. Woodcock had covered over four-hundred Test matches for The Times alone.

The innings was opened by W.G. Grace at number one and Donald Bradman at number two followed by Gary Sobers. For the batsman at number 25 Woodcock observed that he ‘has all the credentials to become one of the two or three greatest batsmen in the game’s history, as well as one of the most engaging’. “At Perth in Western Australia early in 1992 Sachin Tendulkar made a century for India against Australia on a lively pitch with a brilliance that no other batsman in the world could have surpassed. He was eighteen at that time—the prodigy of prodigies,” Woodcock wrote.

Then he spoke about an innings in 1997 at Cape Town describing Tendulkar as a veteran of twenty-three and his country’s captain. He played an innings of 169 against South Africa that began in a crisis and lasted for five and a half hours and was virtually flawless. But only time will tell for how long he is able to withstand the pressures of being India’s leading batsman, the relentless idolatry that goes with it, and the worry of wondering, when he is captain and India are on tour, where their next wicket is going to come from.

Time has only served to confirm that Tendulkar, even after 20 years on the road, still has the capability to produce a timeless gem. The few injury-marred Test seasons and the 2007 World Cup where he was, for reasons apparent to no one bar Greg Chappell, made to bat at number four rather than his favoured and successful position at the top of the order are among the major disappointments.

Ricky Ponting did not make the cut as he was a late bloomer but Shane Warne, Brian Lara, Barry Richards, Sunil Gavaskar and Graeme Pollock along with other legends all found a rightful mention.

On India’s 2009 tour of New Zealand, former Kiwi all-rounder Richard Hadlee called Sachin Tendulkar as the greatest batsman ever to grace the game. Hadlee, 57, who became the first official inductee to ICC’s Hall of Fame on the first day of the Wellington Test, said he was in awe of Tendulkar whose achievements down the years “clearly had been phenomenal”.

Hadlee said comparisons with Donald Bradman should also drive Tendulkar as a player. “Well, Sir Donald Bradman has been regarded as the greatest player ever,” Hadlee said. “He played just Test cricket. He hasn’t played any other forms of the game. Clearly, that is understandable. But to see Sachin and other players actually adjust to different forms of the game and different conditions all around the world, even though the average is fractionally more than half of the Don’s is in itself incredible. You got to respect it and write those performances.”

Mike Atherton, in a November 19, 2009 piece for The Times spoke about the advent of the helmet and how it helped modern players and wrote that “to suggest that Tendulkar — or, indeed, any modern, armoured or, to use Vivian Richards’s phrase, “pampered” player — is the best ever is demeaning to those former greats who stood at the crease in the knowledge that their next ball could be their last.” Fair enough; but just one factor and not the factor that decides the art of batsmanship in its totality; a heavily padded and protected Mike Atherton averaged 37.69 and I don’t buy the argument that his average would have dipped dramatically if he came out without a helmet or gone up had he dressed like an astronaut.

In all Bradman came to the crease in an international fixture a total of 80 times in one form of the game and scored 29 centuries with a phenomenal average of 99.96. “Though his batting was not classically beautiful, it was always awesome. As Neville Cardus put it, he was a devastating rarity: ‘A genius with an eye for business,’” Matthew Engel is quoted in Bradman’s Cricinfo profile page.

There is a lot more to cricket than just the helmet and those are also factors that need to be considered if any comparison has merit in the first place. The Don played his 52 Test matches against four opponents in nine grounds—five grounds in England and four in Australia. Thirty-seven of those 52 matches were played against England and 15 against the other three oppositions namely South Africa, West Indies and India all in his home conditions. Sachin Tendulkar played on 32 different Test match surfaces before he first played a Test match at a surface where he had played a Test before—the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.

Sachin Tendulkar has played on close to 60 different Test match surfaces and the limited overs game has taken him to even more parts of the cricket-playing world. He may have come out to bat on 80 occasions in just about two or three seasons in the 1990s. From 1989 to 2000, Sachin Tendulkar played 79 Test matches and scored 6416 runs at an average of 57.28 with 24 hundreds. Ponting was a late bloomer; his 2001 tour to India was a very dismal one and his resurrection as a batsman began after it. In that tour Ponting scored 0; 6, 0; 0, 11 in five innings of three Tests. After that disastrous 2001 tour for Ponting his average in 42 Tests was a decent-but-average 42.96 with seven hundreds to his name while Tendulkar had 25.

The comparisons of Tendulkar and Ponting began only in the years after 2002 and 2003 and then in the injury-marred period of Tendulkar; where he largely-remained stationary while Ponting had more than a few out-of-the-world seasons. In November 2002 Tendulkar was 19 hundreds clear of Ponting and in the period that followed and established Ponting as a modern great he made 21 hundreds as opposed to Tendulkar’s four and the gap was narrowed down to two hundreds.

The gap stands at six today with Tendulkar at 45 hundreds and Ponting with 39; there is no comparison in the ODIs where Tendulkar leads with 45 hundreds and 93 scores of 50 plus with a batting average of 44.71 and a strike rate of 85.90 and Ponting has 28 hundreds and 74 scores of 50 plus with a batting average of 42.88 and a strike rate of 80.28.

In terms of adaptability, Sachin Tendulkar as an 18-year-old on his first tour to Australia made two hundreds; a 148 not out in Sydney and the much talked about and unrepeatable 114 at the WACA in Perth. In subsequent tours Tendulkar has made four more hundreds in Australia to go with five scores of fifty plus; he averages 58.53 in Australia. He has never come back without a hundred from a Test tour and Brisbane is the only Australian ground among the ones he has played Test cricket on where he does not have a hundred. In 2003 he got a shocker from Steve Bucknor at Brisbane; and then despite being in decent nick that tour was a disappointment for the Little Master until he reached Sydney and accumulated runs with the ascetic discipline of a monk rather than the flourish of a genius; an unbeaten 241 and then a 60 not out salvaged his tour.

Ponting, on the other hand, has had a miserable time in India and he got his first and only hundred in 2008; twelve years after his first tour in 1996. His average in India is a poor 20.85 and he has two fifties to go along with his only hundred. The home and away average of Ponting is 60.08 and 49.23 respectively but for Tendulkar it has been ‘equally-comfortable’ playing home or away with averages of 55.28 and 55.44 respectively. Clearly the Little Master is at home in all conditions.

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