Time takes its toll on Tendulkar
Looking at the scorecard it would be easy to think Sachin Tendulkar was unlucky to fall one short of his 42nd one-day international century and that it was an innings to dispel doubts about his form. However, to delve a little deeper into the 99 against South Africa shows that all is not quite right.
The innings spanned 143 balls - only four times in his 386 ODIs has Tendulkar batted for longer and on each of those occasions he went onto big hundreds (the lowest of the four was 141 not out against West Indies in Kuala Lumpur). His half-century took 95 deliveries, slow even by Test standards these days, and it certainly wasn't the attacking Tendulkar who has held attacks to ransom since the late 80s.
As is becoming increasingly evident he didn't look entirely comfortable against the short deliveries, with Makhaya Ntini pounding the ball from his wide angle, and his timing didn't come easily. South Africa deserve credit for operating to clear plans - Ntini and Andre Nel were particularly impressive - but whereas the Tendulkar of old would have tried to impose himself, here he seemed almost passive.
In his defence conditions weren't easy upfront, and he couldn't risk losing his wicket after Nel's double strike early on. However, even when the new ball had eased progress was laborious. There was the occasional glimpse of something breathtaking - one back-foot drive sped to the cover fence - but it was the exception rather than the rule. When he slammed the ball out towards deep cover he was always on a losing cause against Morne van Wyk's throw.
This was his second one-day innings since the World Cup when, apart from a 29-ball 57 against the hapless Bermudans, he made 7 and 0 during India's dismal campaign. His first knock, against Ireland on Saturday, ended when he played round a straight ball from Roger Whelan to hand him a maiden scalp he'll never forget. Any batsman can fall early, but Tendulkar has become more susceptible to something full and straight.
|As is becoming an increasingly evident he didn't look entirely comfortable against the short deliveries, with Makhaya Ntini pounding the ball from his wide angle, and his timing didn't come easily. South Africa deserve credit for operating to clear plans - Ntini and Andre Nel were particularly impressive - but whereas Tendulkar of old would have tried to impose himself, here he seemed almost passive|
His dismissal today leaves him 50 short of becoming the first player to reach 15,000 ODI runs. It's a landmark he will undoubtedly pass, if not in Belfast then at some point against England in August, but as with some of the other records he has achieved in recent years it's not being done in a blaze of glory. There were similar concerns raised about his batting during the recent Test series in Bangladesh where, despite two centuries, it left more questions than answers.
Tendulkar could still flay the England attack in the coming Test and one-day series. It would be a surprise if he didn't leave a mark on what is likely to be his final tour of the country where he was first noticed as a 19-year-old, saving the 1990 Old Trafford Test with his maiden century - an unbeaten 119. But he won't provide the old fears for England's attack. On last year's tour of India, England brought out the short-pitched barrage to him - with some success - and he can expect more of the same this summer.
Such are the huge demands placed on Tendulkar's shoulders from the Indian public - even the small contingent at Stormont hung on his every move - he'll never be able to succeed all the time. Over the weekend the Irish players spoke about how exciting it had been to play knowing millions were watching on TV. Sometimes Tendulkar must wish for less attention, but while he continues to walk out with bat in hand his supporters are unlikely to grant him that wish.
Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer on Cricinfo