When familiarity breeds respect
Watching Sachin Tendulkar bat these days is almost like watching a re-run of one's favourite TV show. When the innings is over, one is hard-pressed to remember a single stand-out shot; not because there aren't any but because, having been essayed so many times over 20 years, nothing screams out. That pull, that cover drive, the slog sweep and those punchy drives invoke a sense of familiarity, which in this case, breeds not contempt but respect.
The match situation on Sunday controlled his style. Shakib was trying to trap him lbw but Tendulkar didn't oblige. He went back, took care not to get the front leg across and played the ball late. Now and then, Shakib would drop his arm rounder or get it higher and try to surprise Tendulkar with a variation in trajectory but didn't succeed. Time and again, Shakib would slip in the arm-ball and the one that would gently go on with the line outside off stump, Tendulkar played the former with the straightest bat possible and tapped the latter just past silly point.
It's not that his shots are risk-free, in the conventional sense of the term, but they rarely look cheeky or desperate. Yesterday, occasionally, he played the paddle shot and the slog sweep. When Tendulkar plays them, you realize they aren't employed for the mere sake of exhibitionism, rather, they come out of an extremely calculating mind. You can predict what he is going to do but somehow you don't think he can be stopped.
There were two errors yesterday. The second one was borne out of the circumstance. In the company of the tail and needing quick runs, he top-edged a pull but it fell clear. The first one revealed more; it was a bouncing delivery outside off stump and Tendulkar edged his intended punchy back-foot shot but first slip couldn't hold on to the tough chance.
What happened next was interesting. Two balls later, Shafiul Islam almost sent down the same ball that had caused the error. This time, Tendulkar got his hands high, got himself in a better position for the extra bounce and upper cut it over backward point for a four. It didn't feel like indulgence, neither did it feel like a statement. It just seemed as the ideal shot for that ball. There were no adrenalin-pumped moments that followed the shot as Tendulkar returned to cautious mode.
You could have bet that Brian Lara would have continued to impose himself yesterday, even, and especially, considering the match situation. His ego wouldn't have allowed him to bat out quiet periods against a Bangladeshi attack; he would have chosen to counterattack. Tendulkar's seems to be more complex; he doesn't like to fall prey to his ego. It's a feature of the almost-maniacal, critical self-control that accompanies the Bombay school of batsmanship. They rarely indulge themselves.
Tendulkar's has become such a scientific art these days that he has managed to eliminate risk and has almost made batting appear a routine. It's amazing how he has taken a capricious art and made it look a risk-free activity. It's where he started to drift away from Lara.
It was said, early in his career, that Tendulkar was a mixture of Gavaskar and Richards and at some point, he left the Richards persona behind and went the way of Gavaskar.
On the way to his 44th Test hundred, he crossed 13,000 Test runs and by the end of the innings, he had reached 13,075. Later, he said about the crossing, "I was aware but not that I was counting." You bet his fans are and they must be keeping a close eye on Ricky Ponting's run counter as well: 11,859 runs and 39 Test hundreds. They used to fret about Lara before; its Ponting now. The more the things change, the more they remain the same.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo