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June 4, 2013

When Tendulkar broke free in the Headingley gloom

Mahesh Sethuraman
Tendulkar lit up a gloomy Headingley with strokeplay that was both inventive and breathtaking  © Getty Images
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Sachin Tendulkar belongs as much to the Bombay school of batting as he does not. Now whether the Bombay school of batting a myth or a reality is anyone's guess, but we all grew up on narratives about how Bombay batsmen rarely bothered about the means as long as they achieved their end. For them, batting was about scoring runs and not losing their wicket. Apparently other aspects of batting were mere fodder for cricket writers.

For a cricketer hailing from this school of batting and living with the burden of expectations that few athletes can relate to, it's a reflection of his extraordinary confidence that Tendulkar turned out to be the attacking batsman that he is. He was not a rebel but inherited the Bombay legacy without diluting his natural attacking style. To borrow the words of Peter Roebuck, over the years (or should we say decades), Tendulkar provided an unsurpassed blend of the sublime and the precise.

In spite of needing to maintain an immaculate balance between expressing himself, performing a certain role in the team, and living up to the cacophony of expectations, Tendulkar has cherished the odd occasion to let go of the precise and just indulge in the sublime.

One such occasion came in the Headingley Test of 2002. Rahul Dravid, with adequate support from Sanjay Bangar, had weathered the early storm on a damp wicket and set the foundation for a massive score. Tendulkar, with the cushion of a great start, and Ganguly for company, consolidated efficiently before stepping on the accelerator.

Just when they were about to hit top gear, the umpires offered them a chance to walk away due to bad light. But they refused. For the next 40-odd minutes, under sub-optimal light, and with absolute freedom, Tendulkar put on a display of breathtaking strokeplay.

Out of the array of finest strokes, one shot - damn, it's almost a slog - clearly stood out as the ultimate expression of Tendulkar's batting style. Caddick bowls a good length ball on the stumps, Tendulkar doesn't move an inch until about a microsecond before Caddick delivers. As if responding to an internal alarm that hints at the point of delivery, Tendulkar, his head still, dances down the wicket, gives himself a bit of room, serenely swishes his bat across the line, and describes a beautiful arc with a full swing of his arms. It's all fluid brilliance. Whoa. Bang. Over midwicket. A home run. A celebration of his free spirit.

As if an army of ghosts of all the past masters of the Bombay school of batting had returned to haunt him for that show of extravagance, Tendulkar stayed back at the crease to the next ball, which was fuller in length, tapped it to long-on, and jogged across for a single.

The precise had to counterbalance the sublime soon, didn't it?

When he's not watching / talking / tweeting / reading cricket, Mahesh Sethuraman works in a bank in India to pay his bills. He tweets here

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mahesh Sethuraman
Mahesh aspired to be India's answer to Michael Holding. That aspiration still lingers, 15 years hence. IPL franchises looking to make a millionaire out of an innocuous bowler as part of their corporate social responsibility may reach him @cornerd. When he's not watching / talking / tweeting / reading cricket, he works in a bank in India to pay his bills.

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