The burden of being Tendulkar
Foxed by Gillespie: Sachin Tendulkar about to be given out at the Gabba
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One of the misfortunes of greatness is that it has to bear greater scrutiny and harsher examination. Great people find themselves judged by their own illustriousness, by their own luminous cadence, not by the standards of their less-talented peers. It is cruel, but inevitable: questions will now be asked of Sachin Tendulkar's batting form after his two innings in this Test series have yielded only a solitary run.
In the brouhaha that followed the blatantly wrong lbw decision by Steve Bucknor against him at Brisbane, one crucial fact that escaped attention was that Bucknor was not the only one making a wrong judgement on that ball from Jason Gillespie. Bucknor misread the height, Tendulkar misread the movement and shouldered arms to a ball that pitched outside off and came back in to hit him in line. Two balls earlier, he had been beaten by a ball that pitched just outside off and went away. That's twice beaten in three balls. While Bucknor got crucified for his mistake, the bowler received no credit for drawing two errors of judgement from the world's best batsman.
But then that's the Tendulkar territory. Everything involving him is magnified. There would have been casual consternation had that lbw decision been handed out to a lesser player - there was hardly any mention of the reprieve Akash Chopra received from Bucknor a few overs later. In Tendulkar's case, it became a cause for mourning in both his homeland and a country that has unreservedly adopted him as a great modern hero. It is natural then that after his six-ball 1, an examination of his batting will follow.
The examination does not reveal a flattering image. Tendulkar's Test record has been dismal in the last 12 months. It is another matter that India have only played five Tests since December 2002, but it cannot escape attention that these Tests have yielded him merely 171 runs at 19, 37 below his career average. His scores in the last ten innings read: 8, 51, 9, 32, 8, 7, 55, 1, 0 and 1. Four of these Tests have been against New Zealand, two in admittedly difficult conditions in New Zealand, and two at home.
If figures tell a story, watching him bat in the last year tells an even more relevant one. The truth is that he has not really looked comfortable at the crease. Of all these innings, his 32 at Hamilton was arguably his best. Despite a 94 in the Irani Trophy, he looked patchy against the Rest-of-India attack, and he was trouble by the left-arm spin of Daniel Vettori in the home series against New Zealand.
What has prevented the tongues from wagging more loudly, however, is his magnificent one-day record in this period. Following the poor away series against New Zealand, he was magnificent in the World Cup, in which he top-scored with 673 runs, making seven scores of more than fifty, including an unforgettable 98 against Pakistan. Another indifferent Test series against New Zealand at home was redeemed by a glut of runs in the TVS Cup that followed. He failed in the finals of both these tournaments, but had done enough before to be adjudged Man of the Series. His limited-overs batting in the last 12 months have brought him 1141 runs from 21 matches at an outstanding average of 57.05, nearly 12 above his career figures.
Now does that point to something? On this tour so far, Tendulkar has been at the crease for too short a time to be described out of form. But his judgement, normally his greatest ally, has failed him twice. India will look up to him to raise his game in the second innings. The weight on Tendulkar's shoulders has just got heavier.
Sambit Bal, the editor of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine and Wisden Cricinfo in India, will be following the Indian team throughout this Test series.