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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sachin Tendulkar: Weight of a milestone

Perth In early 2008, Sachin Tendulkar won India a triangular ODI series in Australia, scoring 117 not out and 91 in the two finals. The series had begun with transition talk, with the selectors dropping Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly.

Four years later, not far short of his 39th birthday, Tendulkar will take part in another triangular ODI series in Australia. When it begins, a week after the Adelaide Test, another transition may well have been set in motion. One or two of Tendulkar’s old pals may have announced their Test retirements.

Tendulkar last played an ODI on April 2 at the Wankhede. That match brought glorious culmination to the process sparked off by the 2008 tri-series victory. Tendulkar had been a vital cog in that process. With a World Cup finally in his kitbag, there was little left for him to achieve in the 50-over format.

The last time Tendulkar made himself available for an ODI assignment was in England last year. A toe injury ruled him out then. India had been whitewashed 4-0 in the Test series, and Tendulkar hadn’t scored a century. One Test still remains in the current series, but the circumstances are otherwise similar. India have lost all the Tests, and Tendulkar hasn’t made a hundred. The same hundred he didn’t make in England. The hundredth hundred.

Plenty of speculation

It’s hard to say what effect it’s had on the team. It’s not stopped the media, particularly the Australian one, from speculating endlessly, and asking the question to whoever turns up for a press conference, never mind if he’s already made a statement about it.

It’s hard to say what effect it’s had on Tendulkar’s game. In terms of form, that indefinable word, he’s never looked better. But the sequence of century-less Test innings has now reached 20. It’s the longest of his career.

The last time he went anywhere near as long was for 17 innings between December 2005 and May 2007. It was a different sort of drought then, since his form was distinctly worrying, with only two half-centuries in that period. While that puts some sort of perspective on his current situation, it can’t be denied that a Tendulkar century, at any point during this series, might have swung a session or two in India’s favour.

Consider the timing of his dismissals in his first three innings of the series. In the first innings at the MCG, Tendulkar was on 73, and had put on 117 with Dravid to take India to 214/2. Australia, batting first, had made 333. Three balls remained of Day Two. In the second MCG innings and the first at Sydney, India had sunk to dire situations. But he had crossed 30 both times, and MS Dhoni was 22 yards away. Post-Tendulkar, India folded without resistance.

In both Tests, Australia were willing to let Tendulkar drive, and he was ready to take the challenge on. The contest produced scintillating strokes but also, on each of those occasions, his eventual dismissal. Like most batsmen, Tendulkar was bound to have one failure in a long series like this. That happened at Perth. And so, after three Tests where he’s been in great form, he averages 41.50.

In a sense, Tendulkar on this tour has been the equivalent of Dravid on the England tour. His technique has thrived in conditions in which the majority of the lineup has appeared close to clueless. But Dravid made centuries. Tendulkar hasn’t, even if he might have wanted one a hell of a lot more — subconsciously, at any rate. In Tendulkar’s case, wanting that hundredth hundred, or just being affected by it, could have manifested itself in a million different ways.

Before Tendulkar approached the milestone, nobody even thought it made any kind of sense to add centuries from two vastly different formats. But now that the milestone has been deemed significant, it is. And once it assumed such proportions, no one could have remained impervious to the frenzy surrounding it.

Curtsey: ExpressIndia


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