India v Australia, 2nd Test, Bangalore, 3rd day October 11, 2010

The master decision-maker

Tendulkar's ability to assess risk and stay aware of every little detail are the cornerstones of his art
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For a man who has been blessed with every stroke, Sachin Tendulkar can sometimes reveal his genius while stealing a single. As Australia, in the manner of most contemporary teams, went into boundary-denying mode after the first session today, Tendulkar switched to accumulation gear, with deft nudges and glides, pushes and silent drives. One of these strokes can be used to illustrate his command over his batting faculties.

It came off Ben Hilfenhaus. It was the ideal run-denying ball, just short of a good length, a tad outside off stump, not full enough to drive, not short enough to cut. Tendulkar was in position early - marginally back and fully across - but waited on the ball just that fraction longer and opened the bat face with a last-moment flick of the wrist to send the ball wide of Ricky Ponting, still Australia's best all-position fielder, at shortish cover. Off went Tendulkar.

Singles look easy, but they are not always so. Murali Vijay, Tendulkar's partner in the monstrous third-wicket partnership that lifted India out of potential disaster, nearly ran Virender Sehwag out twice last evening. Today, on two occasions he might have run himself out. The art of the sharp single lies not merely in placing the ball but in also knowing the speed at which it will travel to the fielder. Always knowing where the ball is is one of the vital features of Tendulkar's greatness.

Inextricably linked to this is his nose for risk assessment. In the best and the worst of times, batting boils down to managing risks. Some balls are just too good for even the best batsmen. Beyond that, every ball carries the opportunity of a run, and every stroke the danger of dismissal. Few cricketers have possessed Tendulkar's command over such a wide range of strokes, but mere possession of strokes is never enough; it is the instinct - batsmen have only a millisecond to exercise the option - about the choice of stroke that accounts for success or failure.

Among all the staggering numbers that decorate Tendulkar's career the number of balls faced is an apparently mundane statistic. But it tells you that he has been called upon on over 26,000 occasions to exercise his option, many of those against the world's finest bowlers. And more than anything else, it is the certainty of his mind and a constant awareness of his own strengths and those of his opponents that have carried him to well over 30,000 international runs. In Tests, which can turn upon a single dismissal, Tendulkar has been bested only 140 times.

At the Chinnaswamy Stadium today, all bowlers came a distant second best. Admittedly the pitch was benign and Australia had a debutant and a spinner out of his depth. Still, it was a mighty and masterful innings. It wasn't as much a matter of being chanceless as it was about snuffing out hope for the bowlers.

On one occasion Peter George got Tendulkar to fend off awkwardly a ball that rose from a length, but there wasn't a catching man in sight. And the ball passed the outside edge a couple of times when Tendulkar looked to guide it behind the wicket. But the closest Australia came to earning his wicket was when Mitchell Johnson beat him outside the off stump on 99 and Hilfenhaus produced an inside edge that squeezed past the leg stump. Apart from those moments, the Australians mainly bowled to him in hope.

Earlier in the day it seemed they had a plan for him, but that was given short shrift. Ricky Ponting posted two men in catching position on the leg side - deep backward and forward short legs - and Johnson pounded in purposefully. The first ball was thrown wide, to which Tendulkar considered a stroke before letting it go. But a short ball duly arrived next and Tendulkar swivelled to pull between the wicketkeeper and Michael Clarke. The next one was even shorter and pulled in front of square. One of the catching men was promptly dispatched to the square-leg boundary, and having busted the plan, Tendulkar put away the pull shot for the rest of the day. There were too many fielders in the deep to make it worth his while.

The morning session featured seven fours and two sixes. Six of the fours came in pairs. Hauritz gifted Tendulkar two at the start of day by slipping them down the pad, and Shane Watson was carved either side of cover after a field had been set to choke Tendulkar on the leg side. He got to his hundred with two massive sixes off Hauritz over long-on. These were peculiarly identical shots, powerfully shovelled from within the crease with the right knee bent. The shots would have delighted his son, who had suggested with startling simplicity at a time when Tendulkar was struggling to convert his 90s that he should hit a six when on 94. But the truth is that it was the sixth instance of Tendulkar bringing up his hundred with a six.

More tellingly, these were the only lofted shots he played during the day. Like all great batsmen, Tendulkar not only knows when to seize the moment, but also how to temper his game to the circumstances.

And, so, when Australia spread the field, Tendulkar didn't hit a four till the final over of the second session, when Johnson served up a leg-side offering that he clipped to fine leg. He motored along in the last session, picking gaps in the field and finding opportune boundaries. In the course of his innings he went past 3000 runs against Australia, only the third man to do so, and in the fewest number of Tests.

On his last tour of Australia Tendulkar was given rapturous ovations by an adoring public each time he went in or out. But the Australians might not have seen the last of him. Fifty Test hundreds are but a formality. A hundred international hundreds are there for the taking. Tendulkar, though, endures not in the pursuit of milestones, but because he can't fall out of love with cricket. And above anything else that's the reason why he remains the most-loved cricketer.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • BillyCC on October 18, 2010, 20:10 GMT

    Au_Co, thanks for those stats. Is your conclusion then that Lara did better than Tendulkar against the best bowlers of the day?

  • BillyCC on October 18, 2010, 20:09 GMT

    ZA77, thanks for your discussion too. I think I finally get what you mean by the effect of timeless test matches. Basically, spinners would bowl more deliveries in these matches and therefore, the quality spinners would have had more chances to take wickets? I will do some research on that.

  • ZA77 on October 18, 2010, 18:13 GMT

    First of all thank you for all of you who maintained a very good environment, also thank for to Mr. Sambit Bal. Dear BillyCC, yes it is right that the way Sir Don crushed English bowlers of those days is absolutely marvelous. As I think, not necessary that you will agree, Sir Don had a problem to face googly so when he had to faced Grimmett and Reilly at English pitches, I think he would not be able to score smoothly as conditions in England helped wrist spinners. In AUS, due to timeless matches, they would delivered the balls equivalent to 4 spinners. Sutcliff on the other hand, had to face them together too plus Mailey and Grimmett together also in early days. In some matches both delivered more than or near to 1000 - 1200 balls per match which I think is impossible for anyone to survive. Then it never happened in history that team had to face more than or near to 200 overs of quality wrist spinners. Else IronMonger with bowling average 17.97 was there too plus Gregory also.

  • Au_co on October 18, 2010, 14:29 GMT

    If we use Statistics in a right way, then I think, stats can give us the quality. For eg. Let us see how Sachin and Lara probably the best of our times, has fared better against good bowlers of our times. Sachin Tendulkar Vs Player Matches Runs HS Bat. Ave. 100s GD Mcgrath 9 662 126 36.77 2 AA Donald 11 658 169 32.90 2 SM Pollock 12 834 169 39.71 2 SK Warne 12 1209 177 60.45 5 M Muralitharan 19 1216 143 48.64 5 C Vaas 11 908 148 53.41 5 W Akram 7 395 136 32.91 1 W Younus 4 278 136 39.71 1 S Bond 2 100 51 25.00 0

    Brian Lara Vs Player Matches Runs HS Bat. Ave. 100s GD Mcgrath 24 2041 226 46.38 6 AA Donald 10 681 83 34.05 0 SM Pollock 15 1245 202 42.93 2 SK Warne 20 1837 277 54.02 5 M Muralitharan 8 1125 221 86.53 5 C Vaas 8 1125 221 86.53 5 W Akram 7 394 96 30.30 0 W Younus 6 354 96 32.18 0 S Bond 4 237 83 39.50 0

  • BillyCC on October 18, 2010, 7:10 GMT

    ZA77, I agree that statistics are not always the best yardstick. My argument is that the English bowlers in Bradman's era would have had greater impact had Bradman either not existed, or had he gotten out on average about 50 runs earlier than he usually did. For example, if Bradman had played for England, maybe O'Reilly, Ironmonger, Grimmett etc. would have had worse figures.

  • BillyCC on October 18, 2010, 4:57 GMT

    waspsting, I haven't heard that story, thanks. I am fairly sure that there are bowlers today who are very happy and overjoyed to get Sehwag and/or Gambhir out, only to see Dravid and Tendulkar next at the crease. I imagine this is what it was like for the bowler when Bradman came in to bat. And if you can imagine how Tendulkar's batting partners have benefited by batting with him over the years, then imagine the effect of Bradman's batting partners feeding off the relentless scoring and the draining of confidence from the opposition bowlers.

  • ZA77 on October 17, 2010, 21:06 GMT

    Dear BillyCC, yes statistic has their value but it is not the exact yardstick. I think we should talk about the impact of those bowlers in match instead of focusing on average. Why we said Grimmet and O Reilly are the best of those days because they have more impact on game as compare to others. In Bradman team no one was like him as he was better than them. But when we talk about Headley, he had comparsion with him like his average 71.23 against England as compare to him 89.78. Headley average against AUS was 37.33 and Sutcliff 66.85, almost double although both have same batting average but in real sense, Sutcliff had not get chance against English bowlers. Could we say, he was almost double better than Headley due to average and Headley was equal to Sir Don from quality point of veiw. Sutcliff proved himself against the prime attack of those days. For this reason, I think Sutcliff was the best of those days. Mailey, Grimmett, Reilly, Ironmonger, Wall, Kelleway and others.

  • waspsting on October 17, 2010, 19:19 GMT

    BillyCC - Neville Cardus told a story about being in the press box with Larwood during the 50/51 Ashes series. On a normal pitch, neither team could reach 200 in any of 4 completed innings. He noticed Larwood was brooding and asked him what was on his mind. Larwood replied, "look at them, getting out on this beautiful pitch", and then went silent again. after a few more minutes of silence, he spoke again. "you know, Mr Cardus, when I look back on my own test career, i seem to have spent all my time bowling at Bradman?" A cry from the heart, Cardus concluded

  • BillyCC on October 17, 2010, 1:13 GMT

    So if you take 1700 runs off Bradman, you have to take off more runs for the foregone potential partnerships. Let's say he outscored his partners 2 to 1, so you take off another 850 runs off the English bowling total, leaving an overall bowling average of 29. Also, by getting Bradman out earlier (and a number 3 batsman at that), you increase the likelihood of getting the whole team out for less runs, because it gives the opposition more confidence and a lift in spirits (many situations like this can be observed today). I haven't put a number to this factor, but it starts to show that maybe the English bowlers weren't so bad, it's just that Bradman was very very good. Happy to take comments so that my analysis can be improved.

  • BillyCC on October 17, 2010, 1:04 GMT

    I've tried to do some analysis following waspsting's comment: Bradman in particular, just made the english look bad. In their entire Test history, English bowlers have on average, averaged 32 with the ball (Statsguru). The contentious argument was that the bowling during the Bradman era was sub-standard. ZA77 points out that they didn't take many wickets and their averages were not great either. The golden age of English bowling was in the 1950s when the average bowling average was 24. Against Australia between 1928-1938 (Pre-war Bradman era), the English bowling average was 35 (approx 16000 runs vs 460 wickets). In this period, Bradman averaged 91, scoring 3840 runs in 46 innings with 4 not outs. So what if Bradman had a great but not extraordinary average eg. 50. You take off around 1700 runs and the English bowling average improves to 31. But the story doesn't end there. (to be cont'd)

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