November 9, 2013

Could Tendulkar have turned into a great allrounder?

One can only wonder what might have been had he persisted with his bowling throughout his career

Tendulkar possessed an enviable bag of tricks with the ball in hand © AFP

It took me a long time to see eye to eye with the millions of fans who believe that Sachin Tendulkar is the best Indian batsman of all time. They would forgive me if they knew where I come from, brought up as I was on a diet of some of the finest Indian batting before him against attacks fast and slow from around the world.

Two early favourites were Polly Umrigar and Vijay Manjrekar, each a great in his own right. Though Umrigar was for long alleged to be suspect against genuine pace, especially during the disastrous tour of England in 1952, he stood tall among the ruins in another miserable English summer seven years later, and in the West Indies three years after that. It was to be his swansong, but what a swansong it turned out to be, with 56 and 172 not out in Port-of-Spain, and 32 and 60 in Kingston, Jamaica, in his last two Tests, standing out for his courage and defiance in a losing cause.

We all know Tiger Pataudi might have been one of the world's great batsmen but for his tragic eye injury, so brilliant and domineering had he been in a few classy outings for Oxford and Sussex while still in his teens against the likes of Trueman, Lock and Laker. With other accomplished batsmen like Chandu Borde and Hanumant Singh not quite fulfilling their potential, we had to wait for the advent of a couple of diminutive geniuses in GR Viswanath and SM Gavaskar to bask in the reflected glory of fearless Indian batsmanship on the world stage.

Fortunate enough to watch these two "Little Masters" first from the stands and later from closer quarters, I for long refused to place the present owner of the title on a higher pedestal. Vishy played more match-winning innings in hostile batting conditions, I argued. Gavaskar used his feet better against the spinners, and was rarely dominated by the bowlers even in the slowest of his innings, I stressed. I even believed Rahul Dravid was the more consistently solid and selfless batsman among his contemporaries. Of course, VVS Laxman on his day could make hysterical schoolgirls of all of us, with his wristy magic, but his superhuman prowess tended to come to the fore mostly at the sight of the baggy-green cap.

Even Sir Garry's versatility might have paled in comparison had the little big man continued to bamboozle batsmen with the amazing variety in his arsenal

Over his 24 years in international cricket, however, Tendulkar has managed to write a script that would do Hans Christian Andersen proud. He won our hearts - yours, mine, and my now 102-year-old aunt, when she was a mere 78 - with his boyish curls and squeaky voice hiding a steely resolve that matched his strong wrists and powerful blade. He continues to win the hearts of fans not born when he made his Test debut. The Tendulkar image has not aged!

His technique has been immaculate, but what completes the Tendulkar persona has been his ability to daydream and translate his dreams into pristine straight drives, preposterous paddle sweeps and audacious upper-cuts. Excitingly positive in his approach to batting for most of his career, he can defend dourly when needed or when he is simply in the mood for it. He can cut out one whole side of the cricket field from his stroke-repertoire to achieve an objective. On rare occasions he can work himself into controlled rage in order to decimate the bowlers who have foolishly angered him.

All this, Tendulkar has done in all three forms of cricket, leaving the worst sceptics in little doubt that he is the best Indian batsman in history. I am sure he could have even batted left-handed had the occasion demanded, or had he wanted to imitate a statement his idol "Mr Gavaskar" made with his bat long ago because of the quality of the pitch in a Ranji Trophy match.

Throughout his career, Tendulkar has chased the ball hard, dived unafraid of injury, plucked miraculous catches from the air, and thrown flat and straight to run out unsuspecting batsmen. As a part-time bowler, he has an enviable bag of tricks, which in his youth, he unfurled with undisguised glee, turning matches on their heads more often than not.

The greatest all-round cricketer of all time? I believe Tendulkar might have run Garfield Sobers close for that honour, had he persisted with his bowling magic throughout his career. Even Sir Garry's versatility might have paled in comparison had the little big man continued to bamboozle batsmen with the amazing variety in his arsenal.

Why did he not bowl more? Injury, his own gradual loss of interest, his captains' failure to recognise the value of his unique bowling ability? Perhaps the only cricketer of his stature to patrol the boundary line well into his senior years - till the very end, in fact - why did he move so far away from the action in the middle? Had he stayed in the thick of it, might the "Little Master" have added even more to his phenomenal contribution to his team's cause? Then he would perhaps have dislodged Sobers from his lofty perch in the minds of cricket fans everywhere.

V Ramnarayan is an author, translator and teacher. He bowled offspin for Hyderabad and South Zone in the 1970s

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Murray on November 12, 2013, 8:02 GMT

    In short no ! The premier batsman in the side can't often be afforded to bowl much. Bradman bowled well, so did Harvey, So did Greg Chappell, so did VIV Richards. Steve Waugh is another as indeed is Kevin Pietersen........ the list goes on and on. Sachin would have been ok batting at no6 and bowling more ..... but what a waste ?

  • V on November 11, 2013, 2:28 GMT

    Ram, I have always felt that Tendulkar would have been a very good all rounder. He was greatly affected by injuries and had to recover from no less than three surgeries. Only an athlete would know how difficult it is to return to the game after extended rehabilitation. Tendulkar not only came back each time, but he also regained his earlier performance levels. While the case of Pataudi is tragic, it is no less so with Tendulkar since he had to pretty much give up bowling. That being said, I think Sobers is head and shoulders above any all rounder I have seen. His batting average of nearly 58 in an era of uncovered pitches and no protective gear is itself better than the averages of Tendulkar, Kallis or Lara. And he could take wickets bowling both pace and spin. Something that Kapil Dev, Imran, or Kallis would not even try. But certainly Tendulkar would have become a solid all rounder had he been blessed with better health like Dravid or Ganguly.

  • Dummy4 on November 11, 2013, 1:29 GMT

    yes Sachin was tailor made to be the alrounder but foir the captyain Pota Ganguli and specially Dhoni he could not become an aslrounder.

    even in the Calcutta test after he took the wicket he was not contnd with few more overs to take one or two more wickets . Dhoni is a problem with any new bowler even when the regular bowlers are not able to break the partnerships

  • Yuji on November 10, 2013, 13:17 GMT

    Sachin was a good part-time bowler who understood the basics. If he was forced to bowl longer spells or more frequently, his batting might have suffered. Also, opposing batsmen would have more experience with his bowling and might adapt after a few decent spells.

    His core strength was batting. His tactical bowling ability derived much from his knowledge of batting. But, had he been forced to bowl more than he had, he might've ended up as a "fairly good batting all-rounder" instead of an "excellent batsman who can bowl a few overs"...

  • Dummy4 on November 10, 2013, 5:59 GMT

    Interesting article. Sachin should have bowled at least a few overs (3-5)every day he was on field during all his tests. If he had done that he would easily ended up with around 200 wickets.( @ one per test at least ie).

  • Steve on November 9, 2013, 22:49 GMT

    A very useful occasional bowler 7 that's it. With his batting talent, he had no need to pursue it-wasn't as if India have been short of spinners during his time as a Test player, after all?

    And anyone who doesn't think Sobers was the best ever never saw him play; he could bowl SLA,SLC,LM,LFM to order at Test level-no-one else mentioned could approach that sort of versatility.

  • Harmon on November 9, 2013, 21:10 GMT

    Let's put it this way...If Sachin did not have to focus on his batting & had ample time for bowling practice what would have happened? I think he would have made an ace bowler.

    The amount of talent Sachin had/has as a bowler was/is phenomenal

    As a leg spinner he gets prodigious turn. Watching him get that kind of turn is a treat in itself.

    As an off spinner too, he gets quite a lot of turn. At many points in his career he would bowl legs breaks to RHB & off breaks to LHB.

    Not only does he have great traditional leg breaks & off breaks, he also had terrific googlies & top spinners.

    I don't think Sachin bowls that many flippers & def does not have a doosra but that's cos these variations need a LOT OF PRACTICE. That's the whole point here.

    Many of us remember the amount of swing Sachin would get as a medium fast bowler. Prodigious there again.

    What he lacked was accuracy but that too needs a LOT OF PRACTICE, that's the whole point.

    With better batters he might have made it.

  • Dummy4 on November 9, 2013, 20:11 GMT

    He would never lasted this long

  • Dummy4 on November 9, 2013, 16:38 GMT

    I guess it was sometime during the later stages of Ganguly's tenure as a captain that the frequency of Tendulkar bowling has gone down. In my opinion, one of the most iconic(and ironic) moments of Test cricket was when Shane Warne was lbw to a wrong-un from Tendulkar in the second innings of that great test match in Kolkata. Warne himself would have bowled thousands of wrong-uns during his playing career but he failed to pick that one. It was pitched just in the right area and with just the right pace to have had any top-class batsman in trouble. He failed to perform with the bat and boy how he made up for that with that little spell on the final day! Even I agree that he would have been more effective than a lot of specialist spinners India has had over the last couple of decades.

  • raj on November 9, 2013, 16:01 GMT

    The best way to identify an all-rounder is that their batting average will be higher than the bowling average - And the bigger the variance between batting and bowling averages, the greater the all-rounder. In SRT case, he comes very close to all-rounder status! Certainly closer/ better than some other so called all-rounders India has had in the recent past. After Kapil Dev, the only other obvious one is Ashwin - I may well have missed one or two? Tendulkar may well have been in this category if he chose to concentrate a bit more on bowling - But SRT probably chose to focus on his batting instead. Not only would SRT be an all-rounder he would be the most versatile one, considering his variations!!!

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