Tendulkar at Fifty
When Sachin went to meet Don Bradman along with Shane Warne, he told him that his batting reminded him of himself, and his wife concurred. Viv Richards spoke for 45 minutes and dissuaded Sachin from retiring when he had a miserable run in WC 2007. Sachin writes: When your batting hero calls, it means a lot. That was the moment things changed for me and I performed much better. No wonder, Wisden rates Sachin second best after Don in tests and number two in ODI to Viv Richards. Early in his career, he had curls like McEnroe, whom he doted upon, but did not ape his tantrums.
For my generation, used to the stodgy batting of Gavaskar, with a draw serving as a surrogate for victory, Kapil Dev was a whiff of fresh air, giving us the elixir of joy by lifting the 1983 WC. But if any Indian cricketer took your breath away after 1990, it was Sachin Tendulkar. For Ganguly, his 114 in the fiery pitch of Perth in 1992, is the best he has seen from a callow 18. His 143 in Sharjah against Australia in 1998, is my most cherished moment from Sachin, caught as he was in the cusp of a desert storm. His 98 against the best bowling attack of Pakistan in WC 2003 is another blistering innings to savor and salivate. He scored a painstaking double hundred (241) at Sydney in 2003-04 completely eschewing any shot outside the off stump, which was proving to be his nemesis. The 2003-04 series in Australia was a watershed moment for India when India drew the series against the all-conquering Australian team. Sachin was the leading musketeer with Rahul Dravid ably stonewalling.
I had the privilege of sitting alongside Vishwanath in Chinnaswamy stadium in an ODI match against Australia in 1999. When I asked him, how he would rate Sachin compared to Gavaskar, he did not like the question. A few moments later Sachin lofted a McGrath delivery for a six over his head. Vishy said, Sunil could not have done it! That cleared the cobwebs of my mind about who is India’s greatest bat.
Sachin had his moments of discomfort against McGrath, as was Lara, who is always compared with Sachin. Sobers believes that Sachin had greater balance and tighter defense while Lara was far more exciting to watch. For me, Lara was a tad better than Sachin in tests, particularly in finals (recall his 153 against Australia at Barbados in 1999) , while in one-dayers Sachin was leagues ahead. Muttiah who had scalped him 13 times, feels that Sachin had difficulty against off-spin, while Lara can pulverize spinners. He was merciless against leg spinners like Shane Warne. He was also vulnerable to inswingers in the early part of his innings. Like a colossus with feet of clay, he did not meet the expectation of his fans in 2003 and 2011 WC finals, though he played a pugnacious knock against Pakistan in the semi-finals of WC 2011.
He would be remembered for his trademark straight drive past the bowler, the best I have seen of any batsman. Like Ponting in pull shots, and Lara lofting spinners, Sachin was the master of punching the ball past the bowler. When on song he could bat on either side of the wicket with exceptional fluency, unlike many great batsmen like Viv & Greg Chappell who were excellent on one side. Virat has inherited that flair from Sachin. He was plagued by multiple career-threatening injuries like tennis elbow. But he waded through them with great composure and discipline.
He never indulged in any lifestyle that could mar his career, unlike his buddy Kambli, who was considered as precocious as him by their coach Achrekar. He was very of driving fast on Mumbai roads, when they are empty, as Brett Lee recounts. In the Monkey Gate controversy involving Andrew Symonds & Harbhajan, his deposition tilted the case in Harbhajan’s favor. Gilchrist who had made some unsavory remarks against Sachin in this controversy in his autobiography later retracted. He was universally admired
I had the pleasure of shaking hands with him when he came to listen to Asha Bhosle at a Navy function in 2011. The audience was not aware of his presence till Asha asked Sachin to name his favorite number. The cool breeze of the Arabian Sea, the dulcet voice of Asha, and the presence of the all-time greatest Indian batsman, who carried the Indian hope and national flag on his helmet without fail, sitting by my side made my day. The warmth of his grip when I shook his hand, his striking fitness & humility still smothers my memory. At fifty, he still has not lost his elfin charm of a young man and would easily snuggle into the Indian team even at fifty!
Satya Misra is a cricket nut