May 27, 2007

Indian Cricket

Whither Tendulkar?

Nishi Narayanan
Sachin Tendulkar fends a bouncer en route to his 37th hundred, Bangladesh v India, 2nd Test, Mirpur, 2nd day, May 26, 2007
 © AFP
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Sachin Tendulkar's recent failures to dominate average attacks are often exaggerated by the weight of his reputation: a slow, passive century from Tendulkar would still be a solid knock by someone else, it is said. There must be truth to it but the manner in which he crawled to a century today has left even that argument open to doubt. Today's was a solid, honest Test century - for a debutant, not for someone playing his 137th Test.

Coming in at 281 for 0, Tendulkar never looked like he was batting in a side pushing for a declaration on a flat wicket where their bowlers would need the maximum time to get 20 wickets. He ended up with an unbeaten 122 off 226 balls, his strike-rate faster than only Sourav Ganguly among Indian batsmen.

What does one expect of a No. 4 walking in at 281 for 0, when the team know they will have to bowl on a flat wicket in extremely tough conditions? Tendulkar has, not unfairly, been put in the same bracket as Ricky Ponting and Brian Lara over his career but surely neither would have scored at a strike-rate of 53.98 in a similar situation? A strike-rate that only increased after what appeared to be a clear message to hurry up, during the tea interval? As the table below shows, Tendulkar faced nearly half the total deliveries bowled while he was out in the middle but scored only 40% of the runs, which is hardly what you'd expect from the leading batsman in the team.

Tendulkar's contribution to the score while he was at the crease
Runs Balls % of runs scored % of balls faced
Sachin Tendulkar 122 226 39.35 49.23
The rest 188 233 60.65 50.76

The contrast is stark when his contributions are compared to those of his partners: both Dravid and Karthik scored far more runs than Tendulkar, though Tendulkar faced more than half the deliveries during each stand. His approach when batting with Karthik was particularly perplexing; Tendulkar was already on 49 when Karthik came in, yet he scored at a niggardly 2.87 runs per over in that second-wicket stand, even as Karthik scored nearly two runs more per over.

Ganguly's arrival should have forced Tendulkar to take charge. Instead, he seemed more intent on ensuring that a 37th Test hundred didn't elude him - Tendulkar was on 83 when Ganguly came, and the get-your-century-at-any-cost attitude meant he used up 42 deliveries to go from 80 to 100. In fact, his second 50 runs took four balls more - 102 - than his first. (Karthik, on the other hand, scored his last 107 runs in 128 balls, while Dravid's second fifty took 68.) Only after getting to the hundred did Tendulkar step it up, getting his last 22 off 26 balls.

Tendulkar's contributions in each of his partnerships
Partnership with Total bat runs/ balls Runs per over Tendulkar - runs/ balls Runs per over Partner - runs/ balls Runs per over
Rahul Dravid 124/ 188 3.95 49/ 96 3.06 75/ 92 4.89
Dinesh Karthik 81/ 130 3.73 34/ 71 2.87 47/ 59 4.77
Sourav Ganguly 31/ 63 2.95 16/ 31 3.09 15/ 32 2.81
Mahendra Singh Dhoni 74/ 78 5.69 23/ 28 4.92 51/ 50 6.12

That Tendulkar was not really comfortable was evident yesterday too. He had ended the first day with nine from 31 balls: surely he wasn't playing for stumps for the last 13 overs of the day?

There is more to it than the numbers, though - and that's the worrying part. A show of intent was missed probably as much as the ability to take control of the game and demoralise the bowlers. It has become a cliché to say how painful it is to see Tendulkar scratch around for runs against bowlers who are good but not exceptional but, on today's evidence, it still stands true.

Mashrafe Mortaza kept coming at him with manful short-pitched stuff, because he saw Tendulkar was not comfortable handling it. Even yesterday, he had played at and narrowly escaped tickling the first delivery with the new ball. At times, he ducked too early; on occasions, he took his eye off the ball while swaying away. During the opening spell of the day, he kept Mortaza especially interested. Hook shots weren't even contemplated, it seemed. He scored 19 off 52 Mortaza deliveries. It could have been any other batsman.

Mohammad Rafique was not given any opportunity to disbelieve that Tendulkar has history against left-arm spinners. Twice, after Tendulkar had passed fifty, Rafique did him with classical stuff, not the stifling kind. At 52, he edged one past the non-existent slip for four. The next one Tendulkar, well set, did not have a clue about. He was 72 when one pitched on the middle stump and took his outside edge. Rafique was not even required to adopt the defensive approach of bowling over the wicket.

Tendulkar couldn't improvise and play a scoring shot when deceived by the slowness of the wicket. Not long ago, you'd describe him as a batsman who had two shots for every ball; here he was struggling to do anything more than nudge it to leg. Thirty-seven of his runs - including 19 singles and five twos - came behind square on the leg side. On the other hand, only 18 of his runs were scored in the covers, with just one four. It just doesn't seem possible that the team plan required Tendulkar to play anchor, after having racked up such a large total without losing a wicket and especially as Rahul Dravid also asserted himself on the game. If it was, it was a flawed one. That they got quick wickets towards the end of the day's play should not change things; it remains that the wicket was not doing anything while Tendulkar batted.

The wicket was slow, the weather conditions were tough, no more. But Dravid, Dinesh Karthik and Wasim Jaffer all accelerated in the latter parts of their innings. For Tendulkar, the acceleration came only after the century. It was all the more painful to see him make the conditions and bowling look more difficult than they probably were.

Worryingly for India, Tendulkar has been batting in this perplexing, defensive mode more often recently, and has done so for successive Test hundreds on this tour: the numbers were similar for his century in the previous match, at Chittagong - 75 balls for his first 50, 92 for his next; 62 runs in the arc from fine leg to midwicket, including 38 singles. Just like the pace of his hundred didn't matter at Chittagong, it might not make a difference here if the weather stays clear and Bangladesh continue to crumble. Against England later this summer, though, the runs he scores - and the rate he gets them at - could matter a whole lot more.

Nishi Narayanan is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by shrescs on (August 6, 2007, 17:34 GMT)

So, what do you guys want him to do? Retire? Do you really have someone in your mind that can replace this guy? And I wonder who that would be!!??

Posted by haridasan Menon on (July 30, 2007, 8:24 GMT)

It is most ridiculous to talk about a player who has contributed so much to cricket and has been the pillar of Indian cricket for the last seventeen years. We have seen players coming and going and where is Vinod Kambli who was hailed and considered as the number one threat to Tendulkar. Come on genetlemen if you need to glorify yourself look elsewhere and stop the sachin bashing immediately. In fact such negative comments should not be printed but then again sachin has not given any thoughts for such comments. What happened now. After his knock of 91 runs, India is on the verge of creating history by winning the 2nd test match in England after a wait of 21 years. And still people are askig him to resign when he is on top? No wonder Indian cricket has always taken a back seat because we are a lot who are ungrateful by nature.

Posted by sai ramana on (June 27, 2007, 4:17 GMT)

Hi Siddarth, The analysis was perfect to the core. As one of the viewers of this site had said, Jason Gillespie had scored a double hundred against Bangladesh (a strike rate of 47.29), it would be easy for batting genius (the world says) like Tendulkar to score against minnows. When Nathan Astle could score a double century against England at a strike rate which was a huge surprise pace, why not Tendulkar? He is young when compared to Hayden, but Hayden when dropped from the ODI squad, has worked on his batting and changed his style and has become more aggressive adding solidity. His recent form in the World Cup shows how a player can renovate his style at the age of 35, when he thinks he is capable. There are many young players in India who are waiting for a chance to prove their calibre, for example, Kaif, would have been a better choice than Tendulkar, particulary in Tests. Tendulkar needs to look for options.

Posted by Sudhakar G on (June 26, 2007, 20:57 GMT)

Sachin's two centuries in Bangladesh came in for lot of ridicule because it was scored against "Bangladesh" - where even Gillespie scored a century. Well, in cricket such arguments are usually hollow. The same people would ridicule Sachin if he failed against Bangladesh saying - "he can't even score against Bangladesh". So, its basically a no win situation when a great plays against a minnow side. To rip him apart for this is truely injustice. I'm not sure how many of you watched these matches before you started reading/believing all the reports, and how many were influenced by the media. Well, i'm here using the media myself, and so I should'nt be complaining but then, of late I do see mass amnesia when it comes to Indian cricket & media. It is truely sad to see Sachin becoming a scape goat in the process, and I truely beleive it is grossly unfair on one of the greatest the game has seen.

Well coming back to the game itself, Sachin played very slow/dull cricket by his own standards. But people should remember that it was played on one of the hottest conditions cricket has ever been played, and scoring runs was never an easy task. The wicket was slow and low, and there was nothing in it for the batsman or the bowlers. The conditions were pathetic for cricket. All Sachin did was hold one end up, and played his part - that is not give away the wicket. He did his job - thats it. There is no point dissecting this innings because this was useless cricket in useless conditions.

BTW, just for the sake of argument, should we say Ponting should have scored better than scoring 52 in a Test where Gillespie scored 200+?? Such arguments don't hold good at all

Posted by Vijay padmanabhan on (June 26, 2007, 17:55 GMT)

Well, i guess the debate is worthless. I know sachin is not in his prime,neverthless his strokes havent dimnished either. I have never seen anyone batting as beautifully as tendulkar did when he is in touch. Sure he might have taken so many balls. but he had nuthing to prove now and he probably wanted to spend more time in the crease than he used to before. Earlier he was accused of taking too many risks and now he is accused of being slow and thats unfair for a gem like tendulkarrrr. leave him alone..... The whole team is like this and dont blame just one guy here

Posted by joel on (June 26, 2007, 15:04 GMT)

I think you must consider the fact that even though sachin played a slow innings,the team has only benefited grom it.So sachin has all the freedom to play his game the way he likes it,though for us it would be pleasing to see an aggressive knock,you must realise that the situation didnt demand anything extravagant from sachin,so why the worry,just let him play cricket !

Posted by dinesh on (June 26, 2007, 13:52 GMT)

I have a complete disagreement with the author's view. However Sachin plays, the critics are simply putting a negative mark on it. If he plays some aggressive cricket, the critic would write something like this "Sachin being the seniormost member who should play an anchor role and guide the younger members". If he plays with calculated risks, the same author writes "Sachin is simply playing for numbers. He should retire". I dont understand how can you keep on write down a genius of this era like this.

Posted by Anonymous on (June 25, 2007, 22:47 GMT)

Since this article is still prominently posted on the 'CricInfo Select' page I thought it may be of interest to see Tendulkar's average from the last five-through-100 tests (excluding Bangladesh) - 54.52 54 53.94 55.32 56 55.35 53.45 54.2 51.01 50.84 47.38 45.59 41.91 43.64 37.17 41.72 30.5 34.3 25.8 26.44

Posted by PM on (June 24, 2007, 8:06 GMT)

Why is Sachin in the one day squad????? He faced 3 balls against Ireland. He had been a great batsman, but enough of the hero worshipping and back to the reality!

Sachin needs to resign while he is still at the top (more or less) and not end up as a 'lame' hero of Indian cricket.

Get him out of there!!!!!!

Posted by Rahul on (June 22, 2007, 14:03 GMT)

Has it become sort of fashionable to criticize Tendulkar? I agree that he scored slowly, but since when did scoring rate become an important criterion in a test match and that too against Bangladesh. Even a layman can tell you that once you score a mammoth total against Bangla, they will quietly crumble down. I personally think that if Sachin should retire it should only be to escape this scathing and unwarranted criticism for him from such reporters. If you have printed this article for the sake of publicity, shame on you Cricinfo. I am sure the Indian public will support your article whole-heartedly because at this moment they are pretty upset about the WC loss. But seriously, you can't disregard all the things he has done for the team till now & brand him a burden on the team. Rest assured if Tendulkar had played aggressively & got out, the media including your own reporters would have torn him into bits mercilessly. I can almost imagine the report - " …. we can only question why he got out to such a rash shot when India were comfortably placed at 281/0 …. ". I don’t find similar criticism about a certain Dhoni – who scored a ‘mammoth’ 29 runs in 3 matches in the WC. Hope you will publish more sensible articles in future.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nishi Narayanan
Staff writer Nishi studied journalism because she didn't want to study at all. As she spent most of the time at j-school stationed in front of the TV watching cricket her placement officer had no choice but to send out a desperate plea to the editor of ESPNcricinfo to hire her. Though some of the senior staff was suspicious at that a diploma in journalism was the worst thing that could happen to ESPNcricinfo and she did nothing to allay them, she continues to log in everyday and do her two bits for cricket.

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