Twenty years of Tendulkar
When I think of Sachin Tendulkar having played international cricket for 2 decades, I feel really old. It's been that long? Why, just the other day he was caning that Pakistani leggie wizard all over the park! A few days ago, he almost scored a test hundred, aged 16. After that, he was outscoring the rest of the batsmen on his first tour of Australia, aged 18.
In fact, very early on, I used to feel a bit stupid. Here was a chap just about 2 years older than me, playing test cricket when I didn't even get a chance to bowl in an intra-school cricket tournament although I'd been picked as a bowler!
It is pertinent to point out though that when I knew he'd flunked his class 10 exams and the rumour doing the rounds was that it was because of Shilpa Shirodkar, I was quite pleased with the way my life was progressing.
I had first come across Brian Lara in a newspaper match report where he thrashed the Indian bowling attack
(if a "pace" lineup of Sanjeev Sharma & Robin Singh can constitute an 'attack') in a tour game. In hindsight, it would have been so eerie had Tendulkar made it to that tour. We'd now be talking about two greats making their debut at the same time!
When he went past Lara and became the top run-getter in tests, I wrote about how I was in awe of his skills
Take a look at the list of youngest test players
, specifically the ones aged 17 or below. Aside from Sachin Tendulkar, Garry Sobers and Hanif Mohammed, no-one else really qualifies as an all-time great. Even tech start-ups probably have a higher success rate!
The main aspect of his career that has really stunned me is how he has managed to stay so level-headed over such a long period of time, without doing anything stupid (let's ignore the Ferrari fiasco for e.g.) or controversial. Contrast this to how rarely a day goes by without the likes of Yuvraj, Harbhajan or Sreesanth being in the news.
If I had to pick one knock from all his knocks that I've seen, I'd pick the century he made at Melbourne in 2000
. It seemed as though he was batting on a totally different pitch and against a bowling attack that was markedly inferior to the one that had blown away the rest of the batsmen. The only other times I've seen an Indian batsman do that were Rahul Dravid at Jamaica in 2006
and Virender Sehwag at Galle in 2008
So, is it time for Tendulkar to become a little more selective about the tests he plays in? At this point in time, assuming that Yuvraj is now almost a test certainty, Badrinath, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma are in the queue for a test middle-order batting slot, with someone like Cheteshwar Pujara being a 'dark horse'. How do the selectors find out if any of them (or even Yuvraj beginning to bat at #4) are good enough to even have a 5 year career, especially when the volume of tests that India plays is likely to reduce
Does Tendulkar have anything left to prove now? In fact, has he actually had anything left to prove now for at least the last couple of years? Would we grudge him if he throttled back on his commitments, so that he's fit & firing to help achieve what he seems to indicate would be a great way to sign off - India winning the 2011 World Cup
Could we make the same argument to have Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman also skip a few tests every now and then? Perhaps yes, but they don't play ODIs. So playing test cricket won't really stretch them physically or mentally. But that's not the case with Tendulkar, who plays tests and ODIs.