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Nothing More to Prove?
by Gulu Ezekiel
Jun 03, 2007
After nearly two decades of international cricket, Sachin Tendulkar continues to be the centre of fierce debate in Indian cricket circles. He no longer though retains the exalted status that he enjoyed till the early years of the millennium.

A spate of injuries and periodic stretches of lean scores have taken the sheen off the cricketer who rose to the status of a demi-god after his dazzling batting against Australia in Sharjah in 1998.

Those persistent injuries have seen him miss out on a large chunk of cricket over the last few years and have also blunted the edge of his bat which till the 2003 World Cup he used to decimate the best bowling attacks in the world.

The change in gears in his batting was first seen at Sydney in January 2004 when he eschewed all risky strokes and spent more than 10 hours at the crease in compiling 241 not out against an Australian bowling attack lacking Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. It meant the mammoth Indian total of 705 for 7 was extended to the third morning and cut down the time available for the Indian bowlers to get their opponents out twice. The Test was drawn and so was the series, something seen as a huge achievement at the time. Despite his uncharacteristic caution, there was little or no criticism of Tendulkar’s batting methods at the time.

The tour of Bangladesh has enabled Tendulkar to break out of one of the poorest patches in his international career where he had gone 17 innings without a Test century. After scoring his 36th in the first Test at Chittagong he told the media that after 18 years of Test cricket he had “nothing to prove.” That was followed by his 37th in the next Test at Mirpur. And yet there has been a buzz over his scoring rate. Both tons were scored on flat tracks against a mediocre bowling side and both came at a run rate in the 50s.

The pattern begun at Sydney was at its most infuriating in the third Test at Cape Town in January. The series was tied 1-1 and India had a golden chance to claim their first series on South African soil. Instead, Tendulkar in partnership with Rahul Dravid handed the advantage back to the bowlers when they crawled to 24 runs in 15.1 overs.

A mediocre spinner like Paul Harris was allowed to get on top of the bowling just as another unknown, Shaun Udal did when England snatched victory in the third Test at Mumbai a year earlier. And on both occasions it was Tendulkar who went into his shell. Tendulkar has not come out with a statement that he has decided to change his style and technique that saw him compared in his first decade (1989 to 1998) to the peerless Viv Richards, his childhood idol.

Interesting though that his early mentor, Sunil Gavaskar spent his first decade blunting bowling attacks with a rock-solid defence and towards the end of his career pulled a range of attacking shots out of the closest, most notably the hook. It was in the 1983-84 season that Gavaskar announced he was going to switch to a more carefree batting style and he certainly lived up to his promise when the mighty West Indians came visiting, determined to put behind them the bitter pill of their shock defeat in the final of the Prudential World Cup. That they certainly did, winning the Test series 3-0 and whitewashing India 5-0 in the ODI series.

Indian fans though rubbed their eyes in disbelief as Gavaskar took apart Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding Wayne Daniel and co. His century in the second Test at Delhi came at a run a ball and he followed it with a lightning 90 at Ahmedabad. There was also an unbeaten 236 in the sixth and final Test at Madras. Tendulkar on the other hand seems to have taken the reverse route. At a time when the scoring rate in Test matches is at its highest in over 50 years, his methods certainly need to be questioned—even if his own mind he has nothing left to prove.

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