November 15, 2009

An Australian sort of hero

Tendulkar's single-minded dedication to run-scoring is something they identify with Down Under
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From the beginning, the relationship was about something bigger than admiration and affection. When Sachin Tendulkar set foot in Australia he brought with him rain.

Lismore, a place of board shorts and stubby coolers, on the far north hippie trail of New South Wales, was the strange location for Tendulkar's maiden first-class innings in Australia. Lismore hadn't seen rain - the kind of rain that wet your shirt - in months. The Indians arrived on a Friday, November 1991, and all that morning it poured, drowning out the net session they'd scheduled. They moved indoors and it poured some more.

Local politician Reg Baxter used a homemade super-sopper to get play started. Conditions were grey overhead and green underfoot, which made predicting the ball's flight path tricky. The bowling was top-shelf - Whitney, Lawson, Holdsworth, Matthews, Waugh, Waugh - and the batting a little gormless, all except for the one who was 18. Under the Oakes Oval pines he took careful guard, his head still, his footsteps like tiny, precise pinpricks, going backwards mostly, unless the bowler overpitched. Fifteen hundred people saw this, the great Alan Davidson among them. Davo was dumbfounded: "It's just not possible… such maturity."

Tendulkar hit 82 that afternoon, when no one else passed 24, then 59 out of 147 in the second innings. When Australians hear Indians grouch about their hero going missing in an emergency and having no appetite for a scrap, it always comes as a shock.

The Tendulkar Australians got to know, the one with the baby footsteps, had played cricket in six countries already. Still he looked like his team-mates' little brother. He ran faster than them all, a gammy-legged bunch, and as he ran, his eyes would be wide and round, and darting, as if alert to the danger that his team-mates' barely muzzled huffiness might distract him from important things. And what was important to Tendulkar - and here Australians saw in him something rare and precious, a single-mindedness they fancied they recognised in themselves - was run-getting.

Every bolt and screw in the Tendulkar technique seemed put there to aid the getting of runs. Tendulkar was a run-getting machine, except no machine could also be so graceful - or instinctive, for that's what it was, instinct, which told him that the way to bat was to attack. He didn't learn this. He knew it, inside himself. Runs were what counted. So nothing outlandish would be tried for the sake of outlandishness. Those footsteps were only as big as they had to be, for footwork was simply the thing that moved your body from its starting position to its ideal hitting position. Once you got there, you kept out the good ones and hit the loose ones hard. And when you hit hard, you did so along the ground - because you cannot get caught and get runs.

This is the way of Bradman, the way of Hill, Trumper, Harvey, the Chappells and the rest. Give him a pair of bushy mutton chops and paint a weathered furrow or two on his brow, and Tendulkar could pose for the cover of How to Play Cricket Australian Style.

Tacky facial add-ons, or some bleach-blond spikes, say, have never been Tendulkar's go, and Australians like that about him too. Australia takes its cricket seriously. Your after hours are for sombre reflection and practising your forward-defensive, not for phone-chasey with sheilas or motel-room hijinks in your Playboy undies. You occasionally hear it said wistfully that Tendulkar is the Australian Shane Warne could have been. It is a neat line but it undersells what they have in common. For if any two modern cricketers might be soul mates, it is Warne and Tendulkar, grandmasters of their arts. Bowling legspin comes as naturally to Warne as batting does to Tendulkar, which is to say, as naturally as the rest of us find breathing.

Tendulkar was a run-getting machine, except no machine could also be so graceful - or instinctive, for that's what it was, instinct, which told him that the way to bat was to attack

Two sublime Tendulkar hundreds lit up his first trip: one, in Sydney, as serene as a stroll through rhododendrons; the other, in Perth, more pugnacious, less repeatable. He didn't tour Australia again for eight years. But he visited. He went, with Warne, the two of them in beige suits, to see Sir Donald on his 90th birthday. Tendulkar got as excited as any Australian boy - "I consider myself one of the luckiest guys on earth" - and he asked Bradman the questions any Australian boy would ask, stuff about his stance and his grip and his bats.

When next he came to play cricket he was captain of India, and perhaps that did distract him from the really important things. But it lost him no admirers. Asked his views on sledging, he replied: "One should expect that at this level. You are playing Test cricket, not club cricket."

Always when he went to the wicket, Tendulkar's was the scalp on which the afternoon's destiny hung. Fieldsmen dived further, getting hands to quarter-chances that would normally have eluded fingertips. Umpires concentrated harder - too hard probably, if you tally up the bat-pad rulings that never got a feather, the creative licence applied to some leg-before-wicket interpretations. One never-to-be-forgotten day in Adelaide, Tendulkar was adjudged shoulder-before-wicket. "You almost want him to get a few runs," Mark Waugh once remarked, "just to see him." Odd how a cricketer so Australian as Tendulkar could provoke such un-Australian sentimentality.

He has toured Australia on four occasions, as many times as Bradman toured England. Like Bradman, he has never gone home without a Test hundred to his name.

One particular hundred - Sydney, 2003-04 - might outlive the others. When someone bats for 613 minutes, strung across three sweltering January days, the mind can wander, and as Tendulkar trudged on, making do without the cover drive, for it had caused his downfall too many times already, this mind wandered to Leichhardt and Giles and the famous explorers, who made do without company, without water, surviving on single-mindedness and instinct. He could do things to your imagination, this boy who knew how to make it rain.

Christian Ryan is a writer based in Melbourne. He is the author of Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the Bad Old Days of Australian Cricket, published in March 2009

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • OldAussie on November 18, 2009, 22:25 GMT

    It's fun reading the biases on this topic -and everyone is biased. But Neil247 is just silly: 'SACHIN TENDULKAR: The greatest batsman the world has ever seen'. Ever heard of an uncovered test wicket, Neil? When comparing cricketers rather than just batsmen, you have to see them as team men and fielders and captains too. Here Ponting [whose career has years to go, remember] is ahead of all the others. Lets look at stats again in a few years' time.. He has grown as a captain, unlike Tendulkar or Lara, and captaincy adds much to a player's image and pressure - recall Imran Khan, the Chappells, Waugh, Border [Border, in his weak Aussie era, is underrated as a great bat]. Ponting is a much greater fielder than his two rivals, so while not quite as great as the others in technique, and considering he played in stronger sides, he lays claim to being the greatest CRICKETER of his era. Any arguments on that call?

  • JackJak on November 18, 2009, 17:59 GMT

    Cricket's power center should shift from india to Australia, South Africa England and other countries..Wish that could happen but unfortunately thats like expecting Ashish Nehra to score a test century. India is full of corruption. Poor Azharuddin was made a scapegoat with match fixing...but now its much worse...Now its called Board Fixing/corporate fixing...And it happens so decently that nobody ever realizes that its all a drama. Its sad to see Brett Lee charging in to bowl full steam for that lousy airtel champs league bowling yorkers..but during india/aus series he packed his bags...cricket sure is progressing.

  • JackJak on November 18, 2009, 17:52 GMT

    Sachin will stretch it and play till 2015 as well...he might even play the 2015 world cup even on one leg even if he is injured. Thats how great he is. Seriously all you Sachin supporters have gone mad...the media hypnotizes you with mindless sachin crap and everyone starts believing in that as the truth. Statistics are meaningless. India's greatest wins have not been achieved because of sachin ever. Anyway the current indian team is more like a team of models ...zaheer khan runs in to bowl has a rehearsed stare if he beats the batsman even if the ball barely reaches the wicketkeeper...then the Team india huddle ..so fake. Have some originality. Start winning and playing to win than putting on a show. Sachin and this indian team are the lousiest bunch going around in world cricket..frauds

  • VSGHarihar on November 18, 2009, 11:24 GMT

    Hey TrueCricFan ...u r a junk idiot...

    Better u go & read or listen what true seasoned observers have to say about Lara.. When Lara retired ..The Hindu (India's National newspaper) saluted Lara as Cricket's last emperor & mentioned Lara above all contemporary cricketers.... CNN-IBN mentioned Lara-Unarguably the greatest batsman! BBC World in 2003 mentioned Lara never lost his mantle of the best batsman ...& also argued him to be the best of all-time in 2005...

    Dei kanna (Superstar Rajini style)...do u know anything abt greats like Barnes, Longmen, Hobbs...or u atleast know abt Gupte...u hell telling I dont know abt anything...

    If I had met u ...u would have gone..only GOD could save u... Satyameva Jeyathe...Lara is king...Sachin is not an equal to Lara... Hero da Lara

  • digital_storm on November 18, 2009, 11:12 GMT

    Despite the supposed needlessness of comparisons, I am going to throw my hat in make some comments.

    In my opinion, Ricky Ponting may be regarded a slightly better test bastman on two simple counts - higher average, higher proportion of man of the match awards.

    However, and this is one thing no one EVER talks about and that is Tendulkar's total value as a cricketer. Ponting is nowhere near as good a bowler as Tendulkar is. In fielding, Ponting is an all-time great but again, something that is NEVER talked about is that Tendulkar is one of the most consistent and all-round fielders India has had. Not many know that, for long, Tendulkar has run the 100 metre dash fastest among his team-mates- a quality that made him a brilliant outfielder apart from being a very consistent close-in fielder. So, the gap between Ponting's fielding and Tendulkar's is not as large as that between their bowling.

    And as far as one-day cricket is concerned, Tendulkar is decidedly the better batsman.

  • prasun1519 on November 18, 2009, 11:12 GMT

    V.GOMES I think you forget a simple point that a batsman cannot win a trophy despite his teammates perform poorly. In Champions Trophy as well as India tour Ponting got terrific support from Shane Watson. In fact in final of Champions Trophy Ponting got out cheaply. It was the brilliant partnership between Watson and White that won it for them. Ponting, Lara, Sachin, Dravid all are great sportsmen and played some brilliant game by their own in some difficult time and difficult situation. We cannot compare them by statistics or records.

  • Zahidsaltin on November 18, 2009, 10:52 GMT

    Sachin is great but no where near Gavasker or Richards. His biggest acheivement is to do it for 20 years. An era where every xyz enjoys 50+ average, a lot of them in every team, the airport runway like wickets ( just look at the one they are playing at the ongoing match) tells all.

  • SatyajitM on November 18, 2009, 9:45 GMT

    It's unfair to call Sachin God, as no person is the God (or even a God!). Sachin is what Gavaskar says "closest to batting perfection" and Viv say "99.5% perfect". The key words are 'closest' and '99.5'. Nobody is 100% (not even Bradman). But 99.5% is not too bad. I find the comparison to Pele unfair as Pele was a champion player playing for a champion team. For your kind knowledge in 1962 soccer WC Pele was injured by second match but still Brazil went on to win the cup. Johan Cruyff and Puskas could never win the WC for their teams (their teams were not bad either) but are still considered among the greatest footballers. Lets accept that in WC03 Aus was by far the superios team. It would have been a upset had India won the final (like 1983). But upsets don't happen always. Aus missed Warne but that didn't matter to them. I am pretty sure they could have won it without ponting as well. In a team game individual brilliance does help but that alone can not win you championships.

  • aadirag on November 18, 2009, 9:15 GMT

    Ricky Ponting's name shouldn't come up in the same sentence as Tendulkar's.Aus play 5 tests against england in the ashes every 18 months.Cumulatively,thats 10 tests every 3 years home & away.If India played that many games against poor lil england,Sachin would have had 50-60 test tons by now.Also Ponting's average in India is not even 20.You can't be called a great,let alone greatest batsman of a generation if you only average that much.The legendary Tendulkar would have been referred to as a good batsman by all of us if he only averaged 20 in a country where he would have played a significant amount of cricket.Aussies should consider what Hayden did for them & think if He & not Ponting was their best in this era.

  • edygriff21 on November 18, 2009, 8:06 GMT

    prashant1- you said "In the 90s in much more difficult batting conditions, with far superior bowling attacks he is well clear of ponting and lara". He scored 53 more runs than Lara in the 90's and only cause of a few not outs has a slightly better ave. Ponting didn't start his test career till the end of 95, but still averaged 45 after selecters hampered his career by dropping him (once after an 88 in west indies against one of these "superior bowling attacks" we keep hearing about). KishoreSharma- I recall watching Richards a lot as a kid and don't remember spinners worrying him too much, just him stepping down and flogging it straight or over cow. I think he scored something like 7 centuries against the indians, so he couldn't have been too bad.

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