Tendulkar's golden captaincy run
The Mumbai Indians captain is backing youngsters and using Malinga and McLaren intelligently; but his side must be cautious of peaking early
An English player directs a profanity towards an opponent and Kevin Pietersen defends him saying cricket isn't "for girls". Andrew Symonds is asked whether he used abusive language against another player and he said this was cricket and it wasn't "for boys". We could reasonably infer from these two incidents that they did not mean cricket was for women and small children. So, voila, we now know what a game for men is all about! And all those who told us manhood was about being courageous and cultured were just ignorant misfits. So all you young men out there, waiting to step into the real world, follow the Pietersen and Symonds Almanack: practise the right swear words and defend them with all your honour, for then "you'll be a man, my son". What a pity. Maybe we should just watch them, then, and not hear them, because there is actually much to admire there.
Meanwhile, Mohammad Yousuf has retired "for now". There is nothing unusual about that, except that few others before him actually announced it that way. Many great players across eras have retired and returned. Jordan did and Schumacher has and Yousuf's great countryman Imran did - maybe influenced by the ladies' stand chanting "Kabhi alvida na kehna" (never say goodbye) in Lahore during the 1987 World Cup semi-final. While you never know what tomorrow brings in Pakistan cricket, you cannot help get the feeling that this is it for an extremely classy player, who for all his grace and style and runs always had a cloud hovering above him. So with Inzamam gone, and presumably Younis and Yousuf too, you have to wonder who will carry the legacy of great Test batsmen from Pakistan. Hopefully there is a kid out there who wants to play long innings. Maybe Umar Akmal, who has impressed many.
And at the IPL, Sachin Tendulkar continues his purple patch, this time not just as batsman but as captain. He must enjoy this because while his inbox is forever full of accolades about his batting, the captaincy folder has not always been overflowing. But in the first half of the IPL, his leadership has been a breath of fresh air.
Tendulkar's challenge, though, will be to keep his team hungry game after game. Sometimes a winning streak can pose a leadership challenge; players can become complacent, start believing they merely need to turn up
In the first game he backed his youngsters, Saurabh Tiwary, Ambati Rayudu and R Sathish, and played only three overseas players. In every game thereafter he has given these young players the confidence they need by sending them out at crucial moments. Tiwary, for example, has retained his No. 4 slot ahead of Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard, Rayudu gets to bat at No. 5, and even Sathish, just returning from the ICL, has a clearly defined role: if he gets 15 or 20 in quick time at the end, and does little else, his captain seems quite happy with him.
Bravo and Pollard occasionally get the No. 3 slot to allow themselves to rediscover form, but I think the best move of all has been to put Ryan McLaren in the side and, in doing so, freeing Lasith Malinga to play the role Tendulkar likes him to: bowl after the new ball and at the death. It helps that McLaren can bat, and indeed the Mumbai Indians now have three allrounders in crucial areas and a floater in Sathish. McLaren doesn't mind bowling up front and that allows Malinga to bowl no more than one over early on, leaving his captain with enough options at the end.
Tendulkar's challenge, though, will be to keep his team hungry game after game. Sometimes a winning streak can pose a leadership challenge; players can become complacent, start believing they merely need to turn up. Already against the King's Xl Punjab they looked ready for the picking and only just scraped through against the weakest side (who are a story in themselves). Hopefully that was a wake-up call for Tendulkar, and if it was, much good will come out of it.
But the team to watch, as ever, is the Rajasthan Royals. Shane Warne is both persuasive leader and child-like colleague. Yes, you read right. I've met him at the toss and at the post-match presentation a few times and he has been excited as a child. That's interesting: one of the greatest cricketers of all time plays a man's game with a child-like fervour. So can the two go together? Maybe that's one for Kevin and Andrew to mull over.
Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer