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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Who Needs Tendulkar?

“Sachin, Sachin!” chanted the crowd at Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla stadium on Monday as India romped to another easy win over England.

“Why is everyone chanting for Sachin Tendulkar? He isn’t even playing!” someone laughed. Quick as a flash, a friendly spectator turned to say, “Well, we all love Sachin. That’s certainly true. This particular fan was wearing the colors of the Delhi Daredevils, one of the rivals of Tendulkar’s Indian Premier League team, the Mumbai Indians. However, the Little Master transcends all that. He is Indian cricket.

Raveendran/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Virat Kohli and Guatam Gambhir celebrated India’s victory during the second ODI between India and England in New Delhi, Oct. 17.

But both the national team and his Mumbai Indians are doing just fine without him. Since being sidelined after aggravating a toe injury during India’s winless July-September tour of England, Tendulkar has looked on as his Mumbai Indians team won the Champions League Twenty20 tournament for the first time, and now as the national team destroys the visiting English.

India followed up last Friday’s demolition of England in Hyderabad with an even more ruthless display on Monday, winning by eight wickets with the luxury of 80 balls to spare. Last week it was Mahendra Singh Dhoni who led the charge for India, but on Monday in Delhi it was Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir who put England to the sword.

Who needs Tendulkar, the man from Mumbai, when you have those two Delhi boys playing like they did? Gambhir ended on 84 not out, while Kohli, who grows in stature with every game, scored 112 not out – his seventh ODI century.

Gambhir and Kohli made the craft of batting look easy, knocking off singles and pairs at will, and smashing 26 fours between them to keep the Feroz Shah Kotla crowd entertained as the scoreboard ticked up to the 238-run target. For England, it was slow torture. The Indian batsmen were in such control they looked like they could’ve chased down any total England might have made. Even if Gambhir or Kohli had somehow got out, India still had the devastating Suresh Raina and Dhoni waiting in the hut.

England once again is struggling in India. The World Cup wasn’t a good tournament for the world’s No.1 ranked Test team, with losses to Ireland and Bangladesh followed by a quarter final exit at the hands of Sri Lanka. The current ODI side, led by Alastair Cook, is a new look outfit and definitely a work in progress, so this India tour will be valuable regardless, especially for younger players such as the impressive Jonny Bairstow.

Already 0-2 down, England could end the five-match ODI series without troubling India, let alone beating them. It’s a welcome turnaround for India after the torrid England tour. The whisperings of a crisis were premature. India is doing just fine without some of its most famous stars.

In fact, the absence of Tendulkar, along with other big hitters like Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Yusuf Pathan could be just the tonic Indian cricket needs. Not only do these older players need some rest from the endless cricket cycle, their time out gives others the chance to state their case and to shine. All this adds to the strength in depth. India’s new coach Duncan Fletcher, after a baptism of fire on the England tour, will soon have a welcome selection headache.

The current squad has done more than enough for now, and the Board of Control for Cricket in India has announced that it is retaining the same players for the remaining three matches of the ODI series against England.

The memory of the Test series defeat in England will be harder to shake. India won’t get the chance to prove the doubters in that department wrong till the four Test series in Australia, which starts in December. But in ODIs, India – after winning the World Cup at home earlier this year – has proved that it is the master, at least on its own patch.

Once he’s recovered, Tendulkar will no doubt walk back into the Indian team unchallenged. But even when he’s not playing, he’s helping Indian cricket by giving others a chance, albeit unintentionally. Yet again, it’s impossible to criticize the Little Master.

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