March 11, 2010

Breaking down the double

Bat first, open the innings, dominate the bowlers, stay in the zone, be in top physical shape. But also be an exceptionally gifted player

"I looked to put pressure on the bowlers right from the start of the match," Sachin Tendulkar wrote in his reply to my text message to him after his epic 200. Reading his text made me wonder. I have never got close to scoring a double-century in a limited-overs match. Not even against club sides in England. I have scored a few centuries in List A matches and a few doubles in first-class cricket, but to be honest, even the thought of scoring a double-century in limited-overs cricket has never crossed my mind.

What is so arduous about a double-century that only one man in the history of the game can boast of having achieved the milestone?

There are quite a few pre-requisites anyone who wants to even come close to what Tendulkar has achieved must meet. Since you need to bat the entire 50 overs, or near enough, it's almost mandatory that you either open or bat one-down. Some may argue that even the No. 4 has a chance if the team loses two wickets in the first two overs. But to score a double-century you have to be aggressive right from the outset, and if you walk in after the team has lost two early wickets, chances are you'll be restrained. You'll be required to rein in your natural attacking instincts to play percentage cricket, at least for a little while, and so you will lose out on precious time. If you are to get anywhere close to scoring a double, time is at a premium.

When Tendulkar said he looked to put pressure on bowlers, he perhaps meant that you must start hitting the ball really well from the beginning. It's equivalent to hitting the first ball for four and keeping that up for the rest of the innings. We have seen Virender Sehwag or Adam Gilchrist hit a boundary off the first ball many times. Even I have done it a few times in my career, but that, of course, has never translated into a double-century. So what it means here is that the batsman sees the ball well and his hands and feet move in sync from the moment he walks in.

When a batsman is in top form, he rarely bats against the opposition. Instead he competes with himself to prevent turning over-confident. He must forget he's in great touch and start from scratch every single time

"My state of mind was the same throughout the innings," Tendulkar said. I think he meant he got into the zone early. The zone is like a state of nirvana: a certain stillness within, when everything flows naturally and things around you don't interrupt your inner harmony. You move at your own pace. The results are a by-product of that. Most players manage to reach this state from time to time but it rarely lasts for the duration of an innings. Some achieve it for a few minutes, others for an hour or so. Then you lose concentration and are lured into doing silly things.

When a batsman is in top form, he rarely bats against the opposition. Instead he competes with himself to prevent turning over-confident. He must forget he's in great touch and start from scratch every single time. During the course of the innings he needs to remind himself not to go overboard. Most people don't achieve this level of self-realisation while batting really well.

The lack of effort required to score runs leads to boredom. When the opposition can't challenge you, you stretch yourself. You try to play a reverse-sweep or a switch-hit. And if you pull it off, you try the same against a fast bowler and usually lose your wicket. We have seen Sehwag doing so on a number of occasions. But Tendulkar managed to stay in the zone all the way through and didn't try to outplay himself, which is a very difficult thing to do. Perhaps that explains why no one got to the landmark for so long.

I think batting first is also an advantage when playing such innings because you are not distracted by a target, an asking rate or pressure. The thought of playing a few dot balls doesn't play on your mind as heavily as it would while chasing a huge target. Also, to score a double-century while chasing, the target must be in excess of 350 runs. That means you are chasing seven runs an over, and that cannot be achieved alone. Neither you nor your partner can afford to play dot balls. If he does, you have to try and make up by playing more aggressively than you already are.

"Whatever shots I planned worked for me that day," Tendulkar said modestly. What actually happened was, he lured fast bowlers into bowling full by going deep inside the crease and they obliged. Knowing that the bowlers would target the stumps, he walked across, exposing his leg stump, and dispatched them to the square-leg boundary. Tendulkar made them bowl exactly where he wanted them to.

I remember Matthew Hayden would do something similar. He would walk down the track to fast bowlers, needling them into bowling bouncers. The bowlers who fell for it were dispatched with ease. But it's an art only a few have mastered.

"I wasn't tired at the end. I could have gone on for more overs comfortably," Tendulkar wrote at the end of the text. Batting anything over 30 overs in an ODI is physically challenging. That Tendulkar still had gas in the tank for more tells us how fit he is physically and mentally.

What was most impressive about his innings was not the milestone but how he got there. Some would think a certain amount of slogging is almost mandatory to score a double, but Tendulkar proved that wrong. He started with flowing cover drives and deft touches off his pads and continued to bat that way till the end. He did improvise along the way but didn't play a scoop or a switch-hit because he didn't need to. Getting the front leg out of the way to clear the off side, walking across the stumps to hit balls outside off to leg or using the crease were enough. That indicates the freedom his impeccable technique gives him.

A lot of aggressive players have opened, batted first, dominated the bowling and been physically fit. But all of it hasn't been and will not be enough to score double-centuries in 50-over cricket. I'm not saying this record will not be broken, because it will be. Yet it won't be like the four-minute-mile barrier, which was broken many times. It needed a Tendulkar to break this particular barrier and it'll need an equally gifted and special player to do it again.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Beyond the Blues, an account of the 2007-08 Ranji Trophy season. His website is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • shafeen on March 13, 2010, 19:14 GMT

    big difference between SRT's 200 and Chamberlin's 100 - Chamberlin's team fed him the ball exaggeratedly so that he could get the landmark (so the accounts say). by contrast, Dhoni took most of the strike in the last few overs - there was no real attempt to 'push' Tendulkar to the mark. If he'd got more of the strike in that last portion, he could possibly have added an extra 20 runs. IMO, Sehwag is the most likely player (among the currents) to break the record. Nobody bats as consistently for 40+ overs as Tendulkar (which you have to do to get the record), but there are a few players who tend to be faster scorers (Sehwag, Gayle, McCullum). If Sehwag bats 50 overs, he'll have a good chance of breaking the record. he's not likely to bat 50 overs of course, but it only takes one innings to get it done. Someone like Afridi scores very fast but is very unlikely to bat long enough to get the record.

  • Alex on March 13, 2010, 17:56 GMT

    IMSingular --- not sure what you are trying to say re Wilt. When he scored 100, Philadephia beat the Knicks 169-147 in a home game. Also, Wilt out-rebounded and out-assisted Russell regularly ... he once led the NBA in assists (that too when Oscar Robertson was around). SRT is quite well aware of landmarks but often puts his team first. To avoid getting killed by T20 (witness Yusuf Pathan's 37 ball 100 today), the ODI rules & standards might get revised to make the ODI's run-fests. In that case, 200 might become more attainable that it is today ... in the last WC itself, experts predicted that a top team might hit 500 vs a minnow ... easily translates to a batsman scoring 200+ (or even 250+).

  • Narayan on March 13, 2010, 13:34 GMT


    My bad. Wilt was with Philadelphia, and Philadelphia loose. My point was not that Sachin's 200 was not well deserved. But Sachin tends to slow down, as Viv Richards observed, when he approaches a land mark, and that was the case with 200 as well. But that could reduce the team total. Here Dhoni did hit from other end, but that may not always be the case. Personal landmarks some times may lead to loss for the team. Not that Philadelphia lost becasue of Wilt but they did loose that game. Bill Russel won every time against Wilt when they met at NBA finals mostly because of rebounds and assists: Team play is most important.

  • P on March 13, 2010, 13:28 GMT

    Alex, thanks for mentioning Viv.'s statistics. You seem to confirm that it is not easy to cross 165 twice as only two men (Tendulkar & Richards) in the history of ODI seem to have done so. If I am correct Tendulkar has crossed it four times now. This shows his greatness. History indicates how significant this acheivement is and how difficult it is to break 200 run barrier. Tendulkar and Richards were the best players of the ODI game.

  • Muhammad Ali on March 13, 2010, 9:22 GMT

    Dear Akash, No body can plan a double hundred in one day international match its all about luck. Even sachin or sehwag cannot plan a double hundred, All credit goes to sachin for this wonderfull knock and he deserve it. But it has to be your day to maka double hundred. Even in test matches batesmen never walk to the pitch in mind that he is gonna make a double hundres they plan the innings according to the situation.

  • Alex on March 13, 2010, 4:47 GMT

    @IMSingular --- I don't know what is so controversial there ... you may prefer equating 200 with 70 points in basketball. Fine. Also, Wilt scored 100 when he was with Philadelphia (not Lakers). Had he really let himself go for it after the 187, SRT could have scored > 225. (Going by the press reports, in the later half of that game, they were just feeding Wilt the ball. If someone really special plays 170+ deliveries in an ODI on a perfect day on a perfect ground, 250+ is a theoretical possibility) Under the current regulations, I think 225 is a safe record while 250 may be unbreakable. Also, the numbers don't really capture how special SRT was during this innings: almost everything was off the middle of the bat, technically correct, and beautiful to watch.

  • arjun on March 13, 2010, 4:41 GMT

    @Alex10, no it was not a threat for the reason that he did not score double despite 146 in 35 overs. There is a difference of 54 runs , that is like hitting another half century. Even sachin himself said, he started to think about possibility of 200 when he was on 180odd and overs were there. 54 runs are too much to start believing that you will finish a milestone. Its like at the start of innings believing that half century is almost sure and it is like in 50s believing that century is sure. in ODIs sachin crossed 50 mark more than 100 times but he only has 45odd centuries. Got the point.

  • Alex on March 13, 2010, 3:54 GMT

    zxaar & SnowSnake --- Re Gwalior, I said "venue" and _not_ "pitch". Re Sehwag, he hit 146 off 102 by the 35th over at Rajkot. If that was not a threat to break the 200 barrier, great! My remarks on the size of the Gwalior ground were not a criticism on SRT; I think the 200* was one of the greatest innings ever played. Also, Viv Richards crossed 165 twice (181 & 189*) despite playing less than 200 matches.

  • Narayan on March 13, 2010, 2:17 GMT

    @Alex10 "I think 200 is equivalent to 60 points in a basketball game .."

    Well, well, well!! Then Wilt Chaimberlains 100 point in the basket ball is like 333 runs in ODI. Wilt scores 100 points but Lakers loose the game. Bill Russel scored less many times but Celtics won due to his assists and rebounds. Team Work is essence of the games.

  • P on March 12, 2010, 20:48 GMT

    After reading the article and reading the comments, I thought about SRT's 200 once again. It is really a remarkable feat and regardless of what people say, it is very less likely to be repeated. Here are the reasons. 1. In 50/50 format, assuming 2 batsman with equal exposure, a batsman has to score 8 runs/over in 25 overs and not get out. That is impressive average. Even in T20 an average score of 8 runs per over is not very easy to attain. Now imagine doing this for 25 overs <b>without</b> losing a wicket. 2. Believe it or not T20 will make it rare for someone to score a 200 in ODI. Scoring a 200 in ODI requires combination of hitting and endurance (not getting out). 3. SRT has crossed a threshold of 165 three times before he got to 200. I don't know anyone else who has crossed 165 even 2 times.

    Believe it or not, it was a rare event. With T20 cricket encouraging lower endurance and high strike rate, it may end up becoming an unbreakable record. Thank you Tendulkar.

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