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Friday, April 1, 2011

Gritty Tendulkar put team above himself

Cricket coaches across the world will, in future, show their pupils videos of Sachin Tendulkar to teach them the finer points of batting. They would make a serious mistake if they do not include, in the must-see package, his innings of 85 against Pakistan in the World Cup semi-final at Mohali.

It is easy to bat when you’re at your best. It’s when you are struggling that, no matter how gifted you are, you simply don’t know what to do. Tendulkar’s innings was an education in how to respond to such a situation.

He began beautifully, hitting the pacers firmly through the covers, point and mid-wicket in the initial overs. The moment Saeed Ajmal came in, it was apparent that he was uncomfortable. The LBW decision that was reversed, and the attempted stumping, added to the sense of discomfort.

Even after that, he had a hard time reading Ajmal’s straighter one and his doosra, and, trying to play on the on-side, got an outer edge more than once. The only reason it did not result in a catch was that, having got the measure of the wicket – it was slow, with the ball stopping before coming on to the bat – Tendulkar was playing with soft hands. But the catches too were offered soon after, and were not taken.

The natural instinct of a batsman, at various points in such a knock, especially in a big, knockout limited overs game, is to hit his way out of trouble. The bigger the player’s reputation, the more likely it is that he will be tempted into doing this, in order to show the bowlers who’s boss.

Tendulkar did not do that. His mind doesn’t work like that.

To know how it works, come to his hometown.

There is a saying in Mumbai cricket, to be borne in mind by batsmen all the time: no matter how uncomfortable you look at the crease, just stay there and get runs for your team. How you look and feel doesn’t count; the runs do. So, struggle if you will, but play to win.

And, if you give your wicket away because people seated in the gallery or in the stands may not be saying the best of things about how you’re doing out there, you’ll have much, much worse to hear back in the dressing room.

Tendulkar knew, as wickets fell at regular intervals, that his presence at the crease was crucial for his team. He also knew that the way the wicket was behaving, even a score of 250-260 would be a fighting one, so it was important to hang around and accumulate runs smartly.

So he fought on, not entertaining any thoughts of ‘let me show them who they’re bowling to,’ but showing respect for good bowling and for the situation.

Some of the most talented players have been humbled by the great game in their quest for ego-driven glory; Tendulkar, on the other hand, believes in grit – that one quality emphasised by the Mumbai school of batting over all else – and not in mistaken notions about the projection of one’s cricketing stature.

In the end, those 85 runs turned out to be among the most valuable he has ever got for his team.

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