A tale of two comebacks
In February this year, he played against South Zone in the Duleep Trophy, returning after a two-month lay-off owing to tennis elbow, faced nine balls, hit one four and was bowled by Anil Kumble. Yesterday, coming back after a six-month break when he underwent elbow surgery, he faced 15 balls, survived a huge appeal for caught behind, and hit one four before edging to the wicketkeeper. Both times, nothing had changed with regard to the overwhelming hype, the media frenzy surrounding his practice sessions (even net bowlers were questioned about his batting) and the anticipation. And one cheap dismissal quickly turned into two today, when he faced two balls less, slashed airily at one, and nudged a few singles before missing an incutter that trapped him in front.
None of this would have been anticlimactic if not for the preceding events and, as is often the case, Tendulkar makes as much news when he's off the field as when on it. The six-month break from cricket was his longest lay-off both in terms of matches missed and time spent away. Since April 17 this year, when India surrendered the one-day series to Pakistan in the final game at Delhi, Tendulkar skipped 10 ODIs and two Tests and was out of action almost six months. He has overall missed 81 ODIs and seven Tests owing to injury.
During this period, which he admitted was a frustrating one, his visits to MIG cricket club in Bandra in Mumbai, his interactions with physios, his net session at the Wankhede Stadium assumed considerable significance. In the intervening months `tennis elbow' entered day-to-day jargon, speculation was rife about when he would return, and India continued to lose one-day finals.
On October 1, he had a one hour sprinting, jogging, fielding and catching session with Sameer Dighe and Atul Ranade, his former Mumbai team-mates and from October 4 to 6 he had a net at the Wankhede Stadium when he batted for close to 30 minutes every day, as almost 400 hopefuls cheered him on. On the eve of the opening game of the Challenger Trophy, he batted for around 20 minutes in the nets, with a swarm of media persons jotting down his every move, and followed it up with a short fielding session. The headlines before the tournament were all Tendulkar; the headlines after the first game were mostly about his early dismissal.
With such a gargantuan hype surrounding his re-entry, the probability of anything but an anticlimax was definitely miniscule. It's almost cruel to expect so much, so fervently, so often of someone who, irrespective of his genius, has just recovered from a serious surgery. Surely being out to three good balls, of which two were delivered from Anil Kumble and Lakshmipathy Balaji, isn't a bolt out of the blue. Maybe it's high time that we realised the mathematical improbability of sustained match-winning performances and lowered our expectations. And yes, contrary to popular myth, scientists have proved that lightning can strike twice.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo