Tendulkar glow helps Mumbai shine
In his 21st year of international cricket, Sachin Tendulkar has been in superb form - runs have flowed in Tests and ODIs and now the Twenty20 format. His innings at the Kotla on Wednesday encompassed all that is brilliant about the man - not just in the manner of his own batting but in how it influenced Mumbai Indians, both necessary traits if they aspire to reach the IPL semi-finals.
Mind over body
That Tendulkar can score 200 in an ODI and continue to drag a cricket ball from outside off stump and hit it through midwicket at the age of 37 instead of 27, Geoffrey Boycott wrote recently, will continue to astonish many. Yet it should not, he added, come as a surprise: though a player's fitness starts to slip a bit when he hits the mid-30s, the vast experience gained allows him to play smart cricket. The result, as Tendulkar so aptly showed this evening, was that he can perform just as well as he did at 27 without stretching his body to breaking point.
Tendulkar is clearly enjoying his cricket, and it was evident in his body language throughout the game. After losing the toss and being asked to bat, a calm Tendulkar said he would have chosen to do so anyway. You could sense he was eager to get out and bat on what he called "a venue that has never been bouncy and tends to play slow and low". His mind was running, and the body caught up soon after in a thrilling display of what experience and form can produce.
Touch and thwack
Tendulkar has often been more of a touch artist than a bludgeoner but today he showed the gamut from subtle to sledgehammer. His first four boundaries were delicate, tapping the ball lightly with deft wristwork and helping it on its way square of the wicket on both sides. Then, after he scooped a thick edge just over the cover fielder for four, Tendulkar brought out the thump: he stepped out to the legspinner Sarabjit Ladda, made room and produced a big straight hit that bounced just in front of the sightscreen. He repeated the dosage for Amit Mishra. First he played a delicate caress to a fullish ball, hanging back and opening the face of the bat to get four between short third man and point, and next ball smashed it back past the bowler who smartly got out of the way. This trend continued until Tendulkar was dismissed by Mishra for a 32-ball 63.
Setting the tone
Getting a start is critical in Twenty20 and Tendulkar delivered in the manner that suits him best. He didn't give the bowlers a chance and made sure to keep the ball along the ground. His aggressive intent and the success it yielded, allowed the remaining batsmen to play around him. Aditya Tare slammed 17 from ten balls before he missed a slog, and the pair that followed built on a run rate that was over 10.50. The platform had been set, and Saurabh Tiwary and Ambati Rayudu were able to come out and ride on the wave, ultimately setting up a 200-plus total.
Aside from his role as batsman, what Tendulkar offers as a thinktank is massive. Two days ago, in the build-up to this massive clash, Tendulkar spent extra time with Tiwary in the nets at the Feroz Shah Kotla, feeding him with balls to fine-tune his sweep shots, which were going wayward. Clearly there has been a thought process behind elevating Tiwary to the first-choice playing XI this season. This season, Tiwary has played some sparkling innings for Jharkhand, the state he captains on the domestic front, and it has not been lost on the Mumbai management. Having someone of Tendulkar's stature give you additional time before a match can work wonders and the result was Tiwary's second belligerent half-century in a row. Under him the Indian players seem to have found the confidence to do well, and how Tendulkar continues to nurture the likes of Tare, Tiwary and Rayudu could be the decisive chapter in Mumbai's season.
Sachin the strategist
Today, Tendulkar held back the star West Indian duo of Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard, who had only reached India late last night, until the innings was almost done. Given the big bucks doled out for Pollard and Bravo, it would have been tempting to throw them in early but Tendulkar resisted and the move paid off richly.
During Delhi's chase he turned to Sanath Jayasuriya after Harbhajan Singh got a wicket in his first over, and the Sri Lankan allrounder struck in successive overs. Again, it would have been easy to keep Bravo and Pollard on but Tendulkar read the track and knew spin was going to be crucial. These are but small instances that allude to how he thinks.
A Mumbai victory over Delhi in the Ranji Trophy always merits quite a few columns of newspaper space, and so should this win in the IPL. The playing field is vastly different, but given the form Delhi have been in and the all-round weight they boast of, this certainly qualified as an upset. They had won two in a row, and Mumbai can take fantastic encouragement from the fact that they've hit some form themselves.
Watching Mumbai's first two games this season, it is evident that this is a team that has the firepower to do well, but what they need to inspire them is Tendulkar. His injury in 2008 and patchy form in 2009 were undoubtedly factors in Mumbai's ordinary displays. But after two disappointing seasons the team may just have found the man in the right frame of mind. Captaincy has never been Tendulkar's strong point, as two disastrous stints in charge of India attest to, but in the Twenty20 format, and in such rich form, he may just be on the right path.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo