Sachin’s changing hues
- IPL spot-fixing case: Net widens, police watching 3 more players, other bookies
- IPL 2013: Imperious Brad Hodge powers Rajasthan Royals to qualifier
- Sonia Gandhi, PM Manmohan Singh slam BJP for disrupting Parliament, stalling bills
- IPL spot-fixing: 'Bookie' Vindoo was close to BCCI chief's son-in-law, say cops
- Jessica Lall case: Shayan Munshi to face perjury trial
About a fortnight after he became the first batsman in ODI history to score a double ton, Sachin Tendulkar walked on to the Brabourne stadium turf with a couple of tons of weight added to his usual load of expectations. The Mumbai Indians' were about to play their opening match of IPL III, but in the stands, they still spoke about Tendulkar's last ODI knock and how he had methodically taken the South African bowling attack — led by their express pacer Dale Steyn — apart.
With Rajasthan Royals' 150kph man Shaun Tait marking his run-up, the fans in blue reached out to touch wood, hoping their day at the game coincided with their hero's special knock. Tait's first ball to Tendulkar darted at the stumps clocking 149.4 kph. But within a split second, it ricocheted off the bat, took a 90 degree turn, and raced to the square-leg fence. The next ball saw the same sequence of events: Tendulkar had eight runs from two scoring shots and MI flags were being waved all around the ground.
In terms of sheer physical effort put in, the batsman and bowler involved in this much-hyped showdown are miles apart. Tait's routine of running in hard, bending his back before giving that final thrust with his strong shoulder ends in a grunt. In reply, Tendulkar responds with a small step back and a subtle roll of the wrists, ending in a boundary and heartbreak for Tait.
That cricket has been increasingly unfair to bowlers isn't a secret, but of late Tendulkar is making this blatantly obvious. By using the pace that bowlers so excruciatingly generate to his advantage, the man who completed 20 years in cricket last year has evolved a fresh, energy-efficient approach to batting that suits his nearly 37-year-old body which has endured countless X-rays and MRI scans.
In one-dayers, in the space of a year, he has scored four marathon knocks (163, 138, 174 and 200) and at the halfway stage of the IPL, he wore the Orange Cap for being the highest run-getter — his first six coming after having faced 142 deliveries in MI's fifth game. Making the liability of a fragile frame and growing years into an asset, he has not only extended his stay on the field without comprising on his strike rate, but also increased longevity in the shorter versions of the game.
Very early in his career, Tendulkar put his signature on the no-holds-barred pull, the lofted shot aimed at the sight screen, the whipped flick through mid-wicket off length balls, the booming cover drive, and that famous straight punch that almost grazes the stumps at the non-striker's end.
Nowadays, he either uses old favourites judiciously or tweaks them slightly, concentrating more on placement and less on power — a case in point being his two boundaries off Tait. Unlike before, they weren't whipped but guided. Similarly, on the off-side, he doesn't quite launch into thumping drives, but lets the deliveries slide off the face of the bat. Short balls aimed at the throat are nonchalantly directed over the slips and while facing spinners, he rarely goes for the fierce sweep, opting instead for the more refined fine paddle.
"Sachin is the greatest thinker of the game. Now that he is getting older, he is pacing his innings very well, which was evident during his double hundred," says former Indian captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi. "There is a slight improvisation in his shot-making, but more importantly, he conserves his energy by planning his innings meticulously."
Yuvraj Singh, a self-confessed Tendulkar fan, has also noticed a few changes. "Injuries were a hurdle for him in the last few years but he has managed to overcome them. Paaji has transformed himself from being a big-hitter to a very intelligent batsman," says the batsman who has shared dressing-room space with him for the last decade.
During his innings of 200 in Gwalior, Tendulkar hardly played a shot that could be categorised as a slog. Much like Tait two weeks later, Steyn was then at the receiving end of Tendulkar's subtle touch. Steyn had been dispatched for seven fours by Tendulkar that evening, but the one shot that showcased his restrained aggression came after he had passed the three-figure mark. After missing a couple of balls outside off-stump, Tendulkar didn't charge down the crease in desperation, but instead moved sideways to flick a yorker length ball to the square-leg fence.
In the same innings, he scored heavily on the point boundary too. He didn't play the big drive or the slash but repeatedly guided deliveries on the off-stump from rookie pacer Wayne Parnell between point and third man.
India's new bowling coach Eric Simmons talks about Tendulkar's gameplan. "His batting that day was a fine example of using the pace of the bowlers. If I had been the South African coach that day, I would have told the bowlers to slow things down in order to make Tendulkar use his own power to send the ball to the fence. In a long innings, you need to conserve energy and that's what he was doing. The South African bowlers just didn't get it," he says.
At the start of his dream 2009-10 season, Tendulkar played a knock that might have made him consider changing his approach. At Christchurch on March 9, 2009, he turned back the clock with an innings straight out of the 90s. He charged down the pitch to slog pacers over long-on, he launched into overpitched balls with fierce power, he pulled the short balls wildly and there was a distinct possibility that he would reach 200.
That's when an abdomen muscle twitched and Tendulkar retired hurt unbeaten on 163 with five overs to go. As Tendulkar walked back to the pavilion in pain, the '200 dream' seemed to be finished.
But within a span of eight months, he got close to that unconquered peak again. Playing against Australia in the fifth ODI of the series at Hyderabad, he was batting on 158 with 10 overs to go. But at the start of the 48th, by which time he had reached 175, Tendulkar realised there was a thin line that separated the subtle from the cheeky. While trying to paddle-scoop pacer Clint McKay to the vacant fine-leg area, Tendulkar top-edged to short square-leg.
This time, the heartbreak didn't result in Tendulkar changing his approach, and three months later, he was raising his bat at Gwalior after reaching a target that he had narrowly missed a couple of times before.
Former Pakistan skipper Wasim Akram, who bowled at him when he took guard in a Test match for the first time as a 16-year-old, says that with his experience, Tendulkar can manipulate the ball any way he wants. "Sachin picks the line and length of a delivery earlier than most others, which is his real strength. And he has a number of strokes for every delivery," he says.
For now, Tendulkar seems to bank on his deft touch to score runs. For bowlers though, it must hurt as much as a wild slog — if not more.
This decade In numbers
* The numbers suggest that Sachin Tendulkar is batting better than he has at any point in this decade.
* Since January 2009, Tendulkar has scored his runs at an incredible average touching 62, and a strike rate of just under 100.
* If the period is changed to the last 12 months, from March 2009 to March 2010, his average shoots up to 72.37 and his strike rate to an incredible 100.78.
* In this 12-month period, he has scored four centuries. The only other year in which he scored four centuries was back in 2001.
(With inputs from Shamik Chakrabarty)
The tap over the slips
Where he once would have gone for the hook or even the fierce slash over point – a shot now patented by Virender Sehwag – Tendulkar prefers to just guide the ball over the keeper and slips. Playing the delivery well after it has gone past him, Tendulkar has been connecting more often than not.
The glides square of the wicket
Length balls from fast bowlers are guided just behind point or square-leg, depending on the line they've been bowled down. This shot he plays when the ball is adjacent to his body, and uses the pace of the bowler.
The paddle sweep
One of the enduring images of Tendulkar's battles against Shane Warne are his down-on-a-knee slog-sweeps, picking up the leg-spinner from the rough outside leg-stump to dispatch him over mid-wicket. Nowadays, he plays the paddle sweep much more than before and even his full-blooded sweeps are directed to square-leg or fine-leg.
The tweaked pull shot
Tendulkar used to play his pull off the front foot – remember Andy Caddick sent to the stands at the 2003 World Cup? — and had stopped playing it altogether as the strain on his lower back increased. Now, even when he does occasionally play the pull, he makes it a point to go back and across, reducing the swivel and helping the ball along rather than generating all the power.
- Paddy shortfall blamed for mystery death of procurement officer
- 'Bookie' Vindoo was close to BCCI chief’s son-in-law: cops
- Net widens, police watching three more players, new set of bookies
- Suspected Islamists behead soldier on London street
- Malegaon 2006 case: NIA names four right wing terror suspects
- BJP invokes 'sarcasm, ridicule' against PM