Tendulkar casts a giant shadow
In the 90s, 'Sachin out, India out' used to be the Indian fan's cry of agony. Later it turned into nostalgia among fans of that decade. The new millennium lessened the burden on Sachin Tendulkar but for those missing that bitter-sweet feeling of shutting off the television after his exit, this edition of the IPL is bringing the memories back.
In the first game, Tendulkar dropped anchor after the fall of Sanath Jayasuriya and guided the team towards a competitive total. Had he got out early, Mumbai Indians would have stuttered to a poor score and lost the game. Today, he expertly guided the chase, almost coaching young JP Duminy - he was pointing out the field changes and constantly having a chat - and Mumbai looked solid at the half-way mark. The seven-and-half minute strategic break ensued and Tendulkar - not for the first time - admitted it killed his momentum. He lasted five balls before holing out to Gibbs at extra cover.
The equation at that point was hardly threatening: 85 were needed in 60 balls with nine wickets in hand but Mumbai folded up after Tendulkar's fall. Duminy too holed out, Shikhar Dhawan combusted, Abhishek Nayar didn't click and it was too much even for the enterprising Harbhajan Singh.
Mumbai's plan was simple. It had already been announced by their think-tank. Tendulkar would drop anchor if Sanath Jayasuriya fell early and vice versa. It worked for them brilliantly when Tendulkar returned from injury mid-way into the tournament last year. And it's bound to be their strategy through this tournament.
"Dropping anchor doesn't mean not playing shots," said Tendulkar at the end of the game. What he didn't say but meant translates, by his definition, to risk-free batting. It's not that his shots are risk-free in the conventional sense of the term - he paddle-swept a seamer, created room to go inside-out and charged a medium-pacer today - but they rarely look cheeky or desperate. It's the coming-out of an extremely calculating mind. You could predict what he was going to do but somehow, you didn't think he could be stopped.
Tendulkar's has become such a scientific art these days that it accommodates these plans so easily leaving the rest of us wondering just how tough an art it must be to master. After 20 years opponents shouldn't be surprised by anything he does. Yet, he seems to do what he wants to do in the middle.
Tendulkar allowed Duminy to take a few risks against Fidel Edwards and RP Singh while he bided his time. He was waiting for Adam Gilchrist to deploy Harmeet Singh. As expected, Tendulkar used his reputation and imposed himself on the youngster. Nineteen came in that over as Tendulkar charged, cut and scooped inside-out to for boundaries.
When Dwayne Smith came on for his slow medium-pacers, you felt Tendulkar would resist going after him. He rarely goes hammer and tongs at the irregular bowlers and this just wasn't the situation given that the required run rate was pretty manageable. One expected Tendulkar to play the paddle sweeps and the inside-out drives into the gaps. He has made pre-determination into an art form.
Even his dismissal was in character. Herschelle Gibbs was at cover and had the ball gone over his head it would have reached the boundary. Tendulkar was trying to fit the ball into the pre-determined result. He gave himself some room and tried to play the shot the ball before his dismissal but a clever Pragyan Ojha fired in a yorker and Tendulkar had to just dig it out. He went again next ball, connected well, but couldn't clear Gibbs.
"I don't regret that shot," said Tendulkar. "I certainly connected well but didn't get the elevation. If I had, people would be applauding."
As it happened today, he didn't and Mumbai collapsed. With Jayasuriya around, Gilchrist conceded, it wasn't the case of getting Tendulkar out and winning the game but it was obviously a huge wicket. Asked whether Tendulkar's presence can make other players, barring Jayasuriya, subconsciously depend on him so much that it can dwarf their own game a bit, Gilchrist was unsure.
"Maybe, perhaps. Everyone is bound to look a lot up to guys like Sachin. Guys like Duminy and their other [middle-order] batsmen, are a really talented lot and you would see them playing freely soon. Mumbai were my favourites ahead of this tournament and they seem to be a very balanced team."
Mumbai would hope their middle-order starts firing soon and start handling pressure better. If that happens, the team should reach the final four without much fuss. But for that to happen, they need to quickly get out of the shadow of Tendulkar and Jayasuriya.
Karna S is a freelance cricket writer