India v England, 3rd Test, Kolkata, 1st day December 5, 2012

Tendulkar states his defence

He still doesn't have a hundred this year, but Sachin Tendulkar's determined innings was an example of how to dig deep and was a display desperately needed by India

People get anxious when Sachin Tendulkar starts to defend. Not just in bars and barbershops, not just on Twitter and in tea shops, but also in commentary boxes full of former Test players and Tendulkar's own team-mates. "The one that stays low can't be too far", "How long can he defend?", "He'll get out before stumps". Ever so simplistically, everybody begins expecting a wicket the moment Tendulkar begins to respect bowlers.

Everybody other than those who remember and swear by his hundred in Cape Town last year, where he basically defended and left alone through a crazy day's play because, in his own words, "one had to play a little bit outside the line" to take singles, which he didn't want to do. He scored 146 at a strike rate of 46.49 on a day when the ball swung and seamed to the whims of an on-song Dale Steyn, but by the time he went on his next overseas tour that masterclass in pure defence was forgotten, and pundits were back to predicting a wicket when Tendulkar blocked out as much as an over.

The thing with Tendulkar is, he has played for so long you can find examples of almost every kind of innings. For every Cape Town against Steyn, there will be a Sydney when he began to play for a break and got out. And for every such innings, there will be Sydney from eight years earlier, when he obsessively cut out the cover-drive, and defended, defended, defended before opening up and scoring a double-century.

It will be fair to say, though, that Tendulkar's dismissals when defending stand out more than his successful and long displays of defence, or even the dismissals of, for the argument's sake, Rahul Dravid when defending. Almost everybody has written off Tendulkar's defence or prefers his attacking game.

To Tendulkar it matters little. Speaking of his Cape Town innings, Tendulkar told ESPNcricinfo, actually making a larger point, "There are times when a batsman feels he is not moving well enough to take charge. And there are times when you feel, 'I need not do this. I am in control. Why should I just do it for the heck of it?' Somebody sitting in the stands or in the commentator's box wants me to hit a boundary. Why should I do it? I have to score runs, I need to make my decisions."

Kolkata on Wednesday was neither of the magnitude of Sydney nor were the conditions and bowling as challenging as Cape Town, but it was an important innings considering what Tendulkar is going through. This is a fascinating Test if you want an insight into Tendulkar's batting. He is 39, going through his leanest patch, India are struggling too, people are calling for his retirement, and he had both his edges beaten by a left-arm spinner in his last Test. How would he respond? Counterattack or absorb all the pressure and defend? Unlike outsiders, Tendulkar showed he trusted his defence again, playing an innings - albeit worth just 76 - that has kept India from rolling over and dying on a flattish pitch.

This was an obsessed innings. In both innings in Mumbai, Tendulkar was dismissed playing across the line, looking for that single around the corner. This time he cut that shot out completely. Only three times did he play that shot, and on each of those occasions the ball was safely down leg. It's a pursuit of batting perfection, played out in the pressure situation of a Test and despite his waning powers as a batsman.

Forget the single, he didn't mind playing out continuous maidens. Against Monty Panesar alone, his tormentor from Mumbai, he played six maidens. His 20 runs off 83 Panesar deliveries made for his second-slowest strike rate against a particular bowler in a particular innings (at least 60 balls long) since 2002. He either defended or left alone 88 deliveries out of the 155 he faced.

And it needed some of the best defence today. If defending against Panesar was to overcome a personal demon, had he not played out James Anderson and Steven Finn in the afternoon, India would have lost more than just two wickets in the middle session. He played late against the reversing ball, he kept out the yorkers, he swayed out of the line of sharp bouncers, he watching the ball so closely that even those that kept low could not squeeze through. One of them he even punched away for a four.

Just when Tendulkar was beginning to look comfortable, Finn managed to trouble him with movement each way. He was back to being cautious in those overs around the afternoon drinks break. It included that ferocious spell from Anderson too, which claimed Virat Kohli. After weathering those two spells, and a 21-over stint from Panesar, Tendulkar finally showed the first signs of confidence, lapping Graeme Swann to moving from 38 to 42. The innings began to flow, he even began to take the odd risk, but it ended to the first ball after the final drinks break of the day.

Had that amount of concentration taken all he had to give at this age? Did he just get a ball from Anderson that was too good? Those are questions for Tendulkar to answer. What is certain, though, is that the innings was a superb show of discipline, a reaffirmation that he was prepared to play at a level below what he is used to, that he might do it every time he comes out to bat if that is what it takes to prolong his career. Most importantly, it was something India still need.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rajesh on December 8, 2012, 9:03 GMT

    Too much greed is not good for anyone. Kallis will anyway beat Tendulkar's record of test centuries. So why doesn't he call it a day and prevent his career batting average from going down further.It has already plummeted from 56.25 last year to 54 as of today.Personally speaking, Rahul Dravid will always remain India's best test batsman ever for me.

  • Tequila on December 6, 2012, 19:09 GMT

    @Bala_83: Completely agree with you. Dhoni is probably the worst tactical captain I have seen who has enjoyed such an extended run without anyone questioning his place in team. When India was winning tests, it was inspite of Dhoni's tactics rather than due to him. India should have won the series in SA but Dhoni decided to spread the field as soon as SA lost 6 wickets. Even in the home series against Australia which India won, it required heroics of Laxman, what should have been easy win. Dhoni's defensive tactics and mindless field placings have not been questioned even though India has lost 8 test matches on a trot and about to loose second one at home. I hope Sachin scores couple of centuries and India looses the series so that people will stop talking about Sachin and start questioning the poor captaincy of Dhoni. Would do a lot of good to Indian cricket.

  • Dummy4 on December 6, 2012, 15:21 GMT

    The Indian team does not show any TEAMWORK - if any exists, we don't see it. There is absolutely no motivation / pride playing for the country. Each one is acting like they are doing us a favor by playing for the country. If you dangle some money in front of them, motivating them to win this game for a agreed price - do you think they won't take the bait? You tell me.

    Right now they don't look like they want to win - ( please observe their body language ) they are just going through the motions AND still getting paid handsomely for the pathetic show on their own home turf.

    It looks like both the teams are playing on 2 different pitches isn't it? But they are not, they are playing on the same pitch !!! Mind you.

    The whole Indian team CAN form a winning strategy - which is possible but they are too lazy right now - playing for themselves - not for the pride of country or for the fans / entertainment. Hence we have this stalemate - do you still want to watch and waste your time. ???

  • K B on December 6, 2012, 12:17 GMT

    For all the ones who is criticising the genius, who always tells the master to call it the day as though they know everything abt cricket, pls here the comments of experts like Sir don,Sir viv, Shane warne, Nasser Hussain, Brian lara and many legends etc., about tendulkar as a cricketer and the value he brought(still bringing) to this sport. These peoples not only know the game but they've played the game in highest form. Tell me which cricketer has got applause from the great don? tell me which cricketer has got the prestigious award from the foreign country?(The order of australia award) and tell me which cricketer or for that matter a sportsperson who has played the sport with a billion peoples expectation every time he walks on to the field and these are all some of the frw reasons why he is far ahead of ponting and kallis as they have played in the teams with many good cricketers apart from them.

  • Dummy4 on December 6, 2012, 10:51 GMT

    With all due respect to one of our best Indian batsmen - Sachin, i feel he is not performing to his standards. Not only Sachin, Virat, Yuvraj, Dhoni and even our bowlers have not performed. Look at the batsmen and bowlers from England, they are performing as though they are playing on their home turf. And, on the other hand, is our Indian team, a whole lot of non performers, who do not have that in them to say to themselves that i can. Batsmen are not scoring runs, bowlers do not know how to bowl. Sachin ji needs to take a call at the earliest, not just play for records, enough is enough, lets give in to the numerous youngsters waiting for a chance. We could get the same performance from a newcomer what we get from Sachin right now, no big deal. I was expecting atleast two batsmen to be dropped. England is going to take this home series, for sure, the credit would surely go to Sachin and his team rather than saying Dhoni and his team

  • Bob on December 6, 2012, 10:19 GMT

    Is it not time that all this hero worship of Tendulkar was put to bed once and for all... After all, he is only another batsman.. After 318 test innings, one would expect 51 centuries at an average of 54.67.. but look at it this way..he has only made a hundred or more in 16.04% of those 318 innings. Compare that to this cricketer.... who, after 268 test innings with 44 centuries and an average of 56.92, has scored a century in 16.42% of his innings.. Added to which he has taken 282 wickets at 32.57 and 192 catches.. yet no-one idolises Kallis as much as they do Tendulkar.. I know who I'd sooner have in my team..

  • Satyam on December 6, 2012, 10:12 GMT

    The guy is slowly coming back to form. It just needs some time in the middle and slowly everything works. The feet moves nicely, the body goes to the perfect position, hands work in tandem with the body movement. And the overall instinct comes back . I am sure he will make it big in the coming test matches...

  • David on December 6, 2012, 10:02 GMT

    3-1 India? We're battering you!! Same old deluded Indian cricket fans you all said the win in Mumbai was a one off - but looks like the same in Kolkatta so far... There's always time for a good 'ol fashioned English collapse of course but so far so good

  • Dummy4 on December 6, 2012, 9:34 GMT

    There is an story with every Sachin Inning now..... I think 3-1 victory to India will see Sachin saying TIME this month........

  • Vijay on December 6, 2012, 9:25 GMT

    Sachin shld retired now! I am big fan of sachin but nowadays i dnt find any class in sachin. He shld learn frm youngster how they play attacking game these days. He cannt play cover drive, he cannt play pull shöt, whn spinner is bowling he cannt come down the wicket. Makin 6 runs from 35 balls does it make sense. They way he is playin he need 3 days to complete his 200 runs. Playin towards third man, padell sweep. A man known for his aggression is playing very dull cricket. Too defensive and no class. Always strulling 4 runs whether it is spiner or faster. In his inning of 76 he never look cönfident. He shld learn frm cook n peterson how they are playing. Always play agressive if cnnt thn you shld retire. Dnt play dull game its request. Thnx

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