What ails Tendulkar?
Along with the statistics for India's win in Bangalore, you are likely to find special reports in newspapers and sports shows on TV on the way a certain Sachin Tendulkar has been getting dismissed, and quantification on his lack of three-figure scores for a year and a half now. Some will go a step ahead and suggest the man needs to hang up his boots. Valid facts and obvious consequent emotions, but where is the cricketing logic among all this, to rationalise the observations?
Ex-players like Sunil Gavaskar and Sanjay Manjrekar have suggested that age appears to be catching up with Tendulkar and that fast bowlers are trying to get him bowled or leg-before by bowling full, and his once above-the-rest hand-eye co-ordination is now at the level of most others. There is a certain basis to why these ex-players are suggesting reasons for Tendulkar's form and manner of dismissals, but unintentionally that has got almost every Tom, Dick and Harry discussing his technique, skill and ability, including those whose knowledge of Test cricket does not go beyond the numbers on the scorecards.
The expectations from Tendulkar are so high that every dry innings becomes a disappointment, a 50 or a 70 doesn't get elicit much of a reaction, a ton missed is equated to nervous nineties and a longish period of no hundreds (like the one currently) is correlated to age, impending retirement and lack of ability; and mostly this hasn't changed for the last couple of decades.
Before I start listing reasons for his lack of form and manner of dismissals, a disclaimer: these are just observations and I have no intention of making this go beyond that. Let us try and delineate the discussion around him getting bowled/leg before too often first. The year 2010 was probably the most productive year for Sachin in recent times; he was dismissed on 20 occasions in Tests during that period, which included 8 (40%) bowled (3) or leg-before (5) dismissals. The year 2011 had Sachin dismissed as bowled (2) or leg-before (5) on 7 occasions out of 16 (43.75%). His career stats read 110 bowled (51) or leg-before (59) dismissals out of 282 times he has had to walk back (39%). These numbers are indicative that the sudden series of 'bowled' dismissals shouldn't be more than an aberration.
Harsha Bhogle and Aakash Chopra have suggested that Tendulkar's recent dismissals have got to do with him looking to hit straight balls through midwicket. It's a fair point, which would indicate that his balance is falling over to the off side. Normally Sachin's on drives have a certain direction based on the balls' delivery points. His flick from off stump towards midwicket off a left-arm seamer is rarely fallible, while on-drives off right-arm quicks go along the virtual V-line or behind square if he times it late; but his dismissals in this series have been exactly the opposite. His balance in executing certain shots is looking as good as ever, the feet appear to move in sync with the weight transfer and hence the trying-to-hit-through-midwicket inference isn't complete.
Last year you saw him getting trapped lbw a bit too often; a possible reason to see him getting bowled so often this year, could be due to an alteration in his stance to keep the pad from getting in the way of straight deliveries. When you look at his recent knocks you will realise that he is struggling with form in terms of scoring the runs rather than touch, for certain patches in his innings are trademark stuff, if not better. The system appears to work smoothly and then suddenly it encounters a glitch.
It's said that batting hours in the nets is completely different from spending time in the middle and probably that is what is happening with Tendulkar. When you are in form the confidence that goes along with it takes care of certain unintentional movements, but when you aren't, a single glitch can keep recurring.
Tendulkar is too good to not notice the shortcomings in his movements, and there are plenty of wise men to suggest the desired corrections. For a young boy who loved the challenge of defending against a one rupee coin to improve his skills, it would be unreal to suggest that Tendulkar isn't concerned about the way he is getting dismissed; his reaction in Bangalore is pretty much self-explanatory. In a way the vocal criticism about Tendulkar is good - it will provide him with a fresh challenge and a few extra hours in the nets to iron out a rare flaw; just like any other challenge that he has loved to face all through his career.