Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Sachin Tendulkar - Past and Present

The difference in Tendulkar's approach against Bangladesh and against Pakistan was poles apart. 

16 March 2012: Sachin Tendulkar scores his landmark 100th international century in the Asia Cup match against Bangladesh at Dhaka, but in doing so, has 82 dot balls in his innings and this defensive approach costs India at least 20 runs.

18 March 2012: At the same venue, Tendulkar plays with 'freedom' and scores a 48-ball 52 and does his part in a second-wicket partnership with Virat Kohli (183) as India overhaul the target of 330 set by Pakistan to complete their highest successful chase in ODIs. It's about the numbers at the end of the day, believe it or not! 

Against Bangladesh, Tendulkar scored 114 from 147 balls before he was caught behind off Mashrafe Mortaza's bowling in the 47th over of India's innings which ended at 289-5 in their allotted 50 overs. He took 138 deliveries to score his century, his second-lowest strike-rate to reach this landmark in ODIs. Tendulkar scored his half-century in 63 balls with a lofted drive over extra cover off Shakib al Hasan, but it took him 75 deliveries to score his next 50 runs; the break-up of which is  - 60 from 79 deliveries; 70 from 89 deliveries; 80 from 102 deliveries; 90 in 124 deliveries; and 100 from 138.  

While one can understand that Tendulkar would have been desperate to reach the three-figure mark again after a year and 33 innings and get the monkey off his back, it is no excuse for his slow scoring rate that ultimately proved to be a factor in India's loss. Those 33 innings included an away Test series against England; a home Test series against West Indies; and an away Test and ODI series against Australia.

Don't get me wrong; 100 international centuries is no small feat by any stretch of imagination and neither is the fact that Tendulkar is currently in his 23rd year of playing cricket at the top level, but what is less befitting is the manner in which the master batsman went about that landmark innings. It certainly wasn't among his better or more memorable knocks and neither was it a match-defining one as he crawled to the mark and was a pale shadow of himself. Tendulkar's 100th international century surely deserved better than that from one of the greatest sporting icons himself; especially as this feat is not only unprecedented, but is also more than likely to stand the test of time.

Another point to ponder - Tendulkar faced 147 deliveries when he scored the first-ever double century in ODIs, and that came against an excellent South African bowling attack. Enough said!

That the bowlers couldn't defend 289 should be a matter of serious concern for India's think-tank; but it would be safe to say Tendulkar would have scored at a faster rate against Bangladesh's weak bowling attack had he not been single-mindedly determined to get to that landmark. The pitch didn't have any devils in it and certainly wasn't a track that made run scoring difficult even at the start of the match though that wasn't evident by the manner in which Tendulkar and his partner-in-crime Virat Kohli went about the 
business during their second wicket partnership and their respective innings. 

In the end, India reached that total thanks to a late surge from Suresh Raina and captain MS Dhoni. Bangladesh though would have been thrilled to chase a sub-300 target, because at one time it appeared that India would score at least 310-320. And, despite the loss of an early wicket, Bangladesh had partnerships through the innings and the chase was anchored by Tamim Iqbal's 99-ball 70 and he was well-supported by Jahurul Islam and Nasir Hossain, who both scored important half-centuries, before Shakib and captain Mushfiqur Rahim contributed quick runs at the end to seal a memorable win for the underdogs. 

And, if it was hoped that he would retire from ODIs at least after the Asia Cup, Tendulkar had this googly up his sleeve when he told Times Now: "My belief is if I feel that I can contribute, if am mentally there and contribute to the team, then I should be playing. It is a very selfish thought to retire when you are at the top. When you are at the top you should serve the nation. When I feel I am not in the frame of mind to serve the nation, that is the time to back out." But, isn't the right time to exit when the question being asked is 'Why' and 'Why not'?

Tendulkar also said, "I have broken records here and there but the biggest dream has been to play for India." That is the dream for any cricketer, and the master batsman should understand that better than anybody else; especially when nobody in the BCCI or the selection committee has the courage to ask Tendulkar about his plans for the 50-over format or ease him out of the ODI team as has been in the case of Australia's Ricky Ponting. 

He has at least another season of Test cricket in him, but now may finally be the time for Tendulkar to hang up his coloured clothing.

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