India v Australia, 1st Test, Chennai, 2nd day February 23, 2013

Tendulkar to the rescue, again

The Tendulkar on view today was neither the mad attacker of the 1990s nor the accumulator of the early 2000s, but someone in between

Sachin Tendulkar walking out to bat with India 12 for 2, and déjà vu floods the mind. That India's opening batsmen are too fragile. That pure pace can destroy possibility, momentum and tempo, and change the course of Tests and series. That once again, hauling the Indian total to respectability was going to depend on a short, square fellow with his dark stare of purpose. The same dude who has been walking around on our TV screens since the time some of us used typewriters and telex machines. India 12 for 2 and Tendulkar up next. Good grief, has nothing changed?

Heaps has changed of course, but let's not get into that. The batsman walking out on Saturday, was neither the Tendulkar of the 1990s nor the Tendulkar of the first decade of the 21st century. Or Mr Hundred Hundreds, to be honest. This was Tendulkar at the tail end of a season where he averaged a nightmarish 19.44 and had kept getting bowled, including to bowlers called Boult and Monty. His eyesight and reflexes were under microscopes and breathalysers, his days in the international game were being counted down (mostly under the breath, okay) and his mortality as a cricketer was being freely discussed because he will turn forty in two months, and forty in most sports equals fossil.

Australia's fastest, burliest - surely not the most delicate? - bowler James Pattinson had knocked India's openers out of the park. M Vijay got a full-length screamer that shot off the ground, clipped an edge of his slowly descending bat and hit the stumps. Virender Sehwag defended nobly but the ball bounced up behind him and looped on to clip the leg bail.

Then the nearly-40-year old turned up. First ball from Pattinson, over 140kph, outside off stump. With what must be an extra nanosecond, Tendulkar takes a short precise step forward, his bat comes down quick and sharp, greets the ball with its sweet spot and pushes it through covers. Four. The next ball is sent slightly wider to the boundary, four again. The fourth and last ball of that over is turned around to fine leg. Strike three and he's in. Pattinson's third over is a bewilderment - he has taken Sehwag's wicket and been hit for three fours by Tendulkar.

India end the day 182 for 3, still 198 runs behind Australia, with the old guy batting on 71. His steady presence in two partnerships, with team-mates who were just over a year old when he made his Test debut, has given India a shot at turning the Test in their direction. Tendulkar and Cheteshwar Pujara put up 93 for the third wicket at an equal clip, before Pujara was bowled by Pattinson, having lost sight of an incutter that hit his middle stump. As the day drew to a close, Virat Kohli drove, flicked and flick-drove his way to 50, in an unbeaten 77-run partnership with Tendulkar for the fourth wicket.

Pattinson was strangely offered by Australia, not as an unrelenting fire-snorting pace dragon, but a plate of nouvelle cuisine only to be had in bite-sized portions. Tendulkar faced 10 balls from him out of 128 and Kohli seven in 84. They are not complaining.

After that early dressing down of Pattinson, Tendulkar settled into a more sedate pace of run scoring. He faced one over of sustained hostility from Mitchell Starc, and survived a ferocious leg before appeal off Nathan Lyon when on 37. It was a 50-50 call with Tendulkar on the full stretch forward, the ball hammering into his pad and no shot being offered. Two overs later, his quick single wasn't quite as quick as it needed to be, and had David Warner hit the stumps, he would have been run out. Michael Clarke's first ball leapt up from the rough outside leg and hit him on the glove.

But that was it. For the rest, Tendulkar was in his element, batting with surety and purpose. He clipped off singles, unfussed if deep fielders meant that his most well-timed strokes weren't rewarded with fours, his batsmanship in sync with the scoreboard. Pujara let it slip afterwards that he had not batted alongside a Tendulkar in "such a positive mindset." It is perhaps true because as Pujara flourished against New Zealand and England, Tendulkar had to endure his version of batting hell.

Explanations and analyses of his innings today include a slightly altered, compact stance with low backlift, particularly against Pattinson, the quickest of the bowlers. The straightness of his bat led to total certainty against a pace attack that fired it in full towards middle stump. That, and the precise, concise movement of his feet. A batsman's stage is, at its heart, his crease and Tendulkar covered his as if Chepauk was the Bolshoi theatre and he was the male lead in Swan Lake. He was neither the mad attacker of the 1990s nor the accumulator of the early 2000s, but someone in between.

India are 198 behind Australia, there are 18 days left in this series, Tendulkar is still 29 short of his first Test century in two years, since the Cape Town Test of January 2011. Who knows what will transpire between now and then? But if anything, this innings will brush off some recent rust and some gathering dust and show us once again, for as long as it is to be, the 24-karat competitor under his familiar blue helmet.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Srinivas on February 24, 2013, 21:39 GMT

    Part 3: I'm an Anti-theist and I see a lot of similarity between god and god's followers vs Statchin and his followers. We are told that god is great and he is responsible for all that is good that happens in your personal life. All shall praise the ever compassionate god for good things in your family! But things start going wrong in a family, lo and behold, we will be told that god's ways are mysterious or that evil spirits are responsible for these bad things. Replace evil spirits with bowlers and the scenario of good and bad with win and loss, you'll see what I'm trying to drive home. When will we Indians eve grow-out of this cult mentality and hero-worship? If India wins, it's due to Statchin. If India loses, it's the bowlers fault or somebody else's fault when it is clear that there is nothing like an 'enough' runs/over in an ODI, barring +3 standard deviation from the median exceptions. I hope Ugra publishes these 3 parts. (The End)

  • Srinivas on February 24, 2013, 21:39 GMT

    Part 2: Cricket, especially ODIs, doesn't operate with 'enough' numbers. How is 289 (5.78/over) enough and why not 5.76/over (287) or 5.8/over (290)? When do you or a Captain decide that a particular runs/over is enough? 5.74/5.54/5.78/5.8/6.12? When? Why? How? You try to squeeze the last drop. Isn't it? If that were not the case, then we would see Captain's declaring in ODIs once an 'enough' score is reached (once an enough runs/over). How many such declarations have we seen, thus far in ODIs? I'm not saying 289 is a poor score. But, it should be clear that Statchin was responsible for our score-line not reading 290 or some such higher number. Thanks to those 49 runs leading up to the century at a strike-rate of 65, we didn't have a number higher than 289. (TBC)

  • Srinivas on February 24, 2013, 21:38 GMT

    Part 1: @anuajm, don't put your words in my mouth. I told very clearly that I'm talking specifically about the freezing of Statchin in England (5 times VVS was asked to go ahead of Statchin, 5 times Dravid opened) and the 100th 100. The team did everything at its disposal to provide the most conducive conditions for him in England, India, Australia and India - in all the series. And then he comes and bites the team on the backside in Bangladesh in getting that infamous 100th 100 - 100 runs off 138 balls with first 51 off 63 balls (strike-rate of 81) and the next 49 off 75 balls (abysmal strike-rate of 65 to score those 49 runs to reach the century). He opened up in the 9 balls after the century scoring 14 runs off 9 balls making it 114 off 147 balls (that's nearly half of the team's share of deliveries). The rest of the team scored 175 off 153 balls. Why should you or I say 289 is enough but why not 288 or 290 or 287 or 291 or any such random number close to 289? Think again! (TBC)

  • Anupam on February 24, 2013, 14:10 GMT

    Dravid_Gravitas: Tendulkar definitely took a bit of time to score his century, but the whole world had been baying on his blood putting unnecessary pressure on him to score the 100 including fans, media, probably sponsors and others.He might not have taken that pressure but ultimately he is human too. But that cannot be the reason for India to lose after scoring 289 against Bangladesh, think logically. India tied against England in the WC after scoring 360. Sachin's fault? India lost to SA after scoring 296 and being 260 for 1 at one stage. Sachin's fault? By your assessment, probably yes.

  • Dummy4 on February 24, 2013, 12:02 GMT

    @Dravid_Gravitas: Indian bowlers could not defend a total 289 against a team like bangladesh. But yea, you're right tendulkar's 100 is to be blamed for the nauseating performance of the bowling unit. India lost the match because he played a maiden over during his innings. Not because the bowling couldn't defend 289 runs against the whipping boys of cricket. i'm sure you're assessment of the match is perfect!

  • Srinivas on February 24, 2013, 11:00 GMT

    Thank you Ugra, for publishing my comments. To continue further, not once, not twice, on the English tour Dravid opened 5 times and VVS was sent 5 times at no.3 ahead of Statchin. We all know that Statchin was anyway pre-occupied by that 100th 100 and that his love for numbers will anyway make him freeze and fail. He himself said later on that he felt a huge weight taken off his chest after the century but he was lying all along to us that he doesn't think about it. So, why did we sacrifice VVS? Statchin should have been asked to come ahead of VVS or better still make him open so that VVS and Dravid would have had those lovely partnerships again. Some vinodgupte dude was asking me about Dravid's numbers vis-a-vis Statchin's numbers. It's very much possible that Dravid would have failed as opener in England too and his numbers may not have been impressive at the end. But the fact that he gets on with the business for the team whether his numbers suffer or not, makes him very dear to me.

  • Srinivas on February 24, 2013, 5:08 GMT

    India paid dearly for that infamous 100th 100. He refusing to come ahead in England though we didn't have openers, though Dravid was fighting valiantly, carrying his bat through the inning and opening again within 10 minutes. Remember that Statchin was the same guy who cried hoarse when he was asked to come lower down the order in ODIs by Ganguly and Dravid. VVS, a predominantly back-foot player, getting sent ahead of Statchin in seaming and swinging full-length bowling in England, Statchin freezing in search of that century from England to India to Australia to India and finally making it by blatantly sacrificing the team's interest in Bangladesh and he continues on and on and on with those unapologetic parties, post the infamous 100th 100, and again gets bowled bowled and bowled to score pincodes in all the subsequent series. One half-century and we say, "Tendulkar to the rescue, again"? Sorry, that's not what you use 'again' for! Publish this, if there is respect for facts.

  • Srinivas on February 24, 2013, 4:56 GMT

    "Tendulkar gets cleaned-up, again". How about that for a heading? ;-)

  • Al on February 24, 2013, 4:52 GMT

    I hope Tendulkar scores a century. That will guarantee his selection for South Africa. Only after Steyn and company completely humiliate him will he come to his senses and announce his retirement.

  • Dummy4 on February 24, 2013, 4:31 GMT

    i don't understand the desperation of people to talk about tendulkar in the way they do. just because he's 39 and not 29 people talk as if he is the only thing wrong with indian test cricket. he might be 39 but he's still better than most of the options available in the country. rohit sharma, suresh raina, yuvraj singh; 2-3 extra kilometers of pace and all of them get out faster than maggi cooks!

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