|Posted by anccricket on July 18, 2011 at 2:19 AM|
Occasionally the good and the great can tinker with fate. Sachin Tendulkar is as good and as great as any cricketer of any generation and he is heading to Lord's with landmarks galore on the horizon.
Indeed there is a script for this week that even the odd Bollywood writer might find a little too far-fetched. Sachin Tendulkar comes to Lord's, the home of cricket, to play in the 2000th Test of all time. It is probably his last chance to appear in a Test on the sacred ground, where his highest score up to now has been a bewilderingly paltry 37. On the boards in the Lord's dressing rooms there is no mention of Tendulkar. In the past the engravers have not even double-checked the spelling of his name.
As it happens Tendulkar has 99 international hundreds. If not Mumbai, then Lord's is the place for that 100th century, to set the record right before he even contemplates retirement and further beatification.
Perhaps he reaches his ton with a trademark driven six off Graeme Swann, caught by one of the members in the pavilion, which takes India to victory. Cue rousing music, not a dry handkerchief in St Johns Wood and Tendulkar ton-up T-shirts for sale within seconds of the "little master" being carried back to the pavilion on his team-mates' shoulders.
Tendulkar says such thoughts have not entered his head. "I am not thinking of records," he says. "I am just thinking of this tour. The secret to any performance is not chasing records." Well, as the highest run-scorer in Test history, currently 2,329 ahead of Ricky Ponting, he should know. But everyone else seems to be thinking about those records.
The cricketing gods, who discovered they had a disciple in Alastair Cook after the one-day international at Lord's when Angelo Mathews went on a go-slow to allow his partner a century, rarely have much truck with fairytales. The scene was set in Mumbai in April when we last glimpsed Tendulkar, in the World Cup final. He had made only 18 when he was caught behind off Lasith Malinga, whereupon he relinquished centre stage to Mahendra Dhoni.
Even Haroon Lorgat, the President of the International Cricket Council, had suggested that Mumbai should be Tendulkar's stage in that World Cup. When asked to justify the choice of Mumbai for the final Lorgat said that the venue would give Tendulkar the chance to sign off in his home town. Wouldn't that be wonderful? So much for Olympian objectivity from the man at the top of world cricket.
But Tendulkar after all these years – 22 as a Test cricketer since he made his debut against Imran Khan, Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram in Karachi in 1989 – tends to operate by different rules now. He is a man apart. No one sledges him, although there is still time for that nasty Stuart Broad to have a go.
This is what sometimes happens to the truly greats. After a while no one sledged Viv Richards (mind you, the fact that he always looked like a pocket Joe Frazier may have helped as well). Pat Pocock recalls the 1973-74 tour of the Caribbean in David Tossell's book on Tony Greig. It was a feisty series. Pocock says: "There was a deliberate effort [by Greig and the England team] to wind blokes up. It only stopped when Garry Sobers walked in. Then no one said a word. It would have been like swearing at the Pope." Sobers, Richards and Tendulkar earned the right not be subjected to much abuse.
If Broad or Jimmy Anderson are inclined to have a word this week at Lord's they had better be careful. Matt Prior can remind them of the hullaballoo at the suggestion that he was sledging Tendulkar from behind the stumps back in 2007. There was an odd conversation about cars picked up by the stump microphone.
Prior was pilloried by one and all and later he was at pains to explain that he did not commit such an indignity. Tendulkar, by the way, has a passion for cars and the fact that he has recently sold a Ferrari, which was gifted to him, has been a major news story in India.
Andrew Strauss, who first witnessed Tendulkar at the crease as a 13-year-old at the 1990 Lord's Test, is not so petty as to refrain from lauding one of his opponents. "He is phenomenal," says Strauss, "and the best possible example to us all for his technique and his mental strength. And he is a dignified, humble man. It would be fantastic for him to reach 100 hundreds at Lord's. It would be a fairy tale for him. But I'm not a big fan of those sort of fairy tales, to be honest."
Strauss then points out the attribute that really astounds Tendulkar's fellow Test cricketers – his astonishing hunger for the game: "He is genuinely still in love with the game and that is what drives him on."
Rahul Dravid, who has batted with him as often as anyone, echoes this view. "Sachin's longevity comes down to the joy that he still gets from playing. After 20 years of international he still has a child-like enthusiasm."
Amid all his gifts, stamina ranks high. For the majority of his 22 years at the highest level he has concentrated on nothing other than scoring runs.
He did captain India in 25 Tests between October 1996 and March 2000. Having been victorious in three of his first four matches in charge, he won just one more game in the next 21. His record of won four, lost nine, drawn 12 is at best unremarkable. Captaincy was not really his thing.
Nor was fielding in the slips. Most of the great batsmen since the war – except Geoffrey Boycott and Tendulkar – have resided there. The best players usually have the best reflexes, and generally they like not having to run around too much. But fielding in the slips requires great powers of concentration and it may be that Tendulkar and Boycott were more interested in conserving their energies by strolling around at mid-off. They preferred to opt out of any extra responsibilities.
Don Bradman was not a regular in the slips, either, and no one has ever been compared to Bradman so frequently as Tendulkar. Moreover no one other than Tendulkar has ever been compared to Bradman by Bradman himself. This was deemed to be the ultimate accolade.
But there are plenty of differences between them beyond the disparity in their Test averages. Bradman used a Swan Vesta-style bat compared to the beautifully balanced clubs of today. Tendulkar may be a little man but he must have wrists of steel to control the remarkably heavy bat he uses.
Bradman, while admired by his colleagues, was vehemently disliked by many of them (who were usually Catholics). That has never been the case with Tendulkar. Never a murmur has been heard against him from the Indian dressing room. That would be sacrilege.
Moreover Bradman was willing to take on the Australian board – though later on he hated being challenged by the players when he joined that board. As far as we can tell Tendulkar has never seriously fallen out with the Indian authorities – certainly not in the manner of Sunil Gavaskar, his cricketing godfather and the donor of an early pair of pads.
It is amazing that Tendulkar should be at the pinnacle of international cricket for more than two decades and yet avoid any serious controversy.
There was a suggestion from the referee Mike Denness that he might have tampered with the ball in South Africa in 2001. All of India was appalled (not by Tendulkar, but by Denness). And he may have been a bit grumpy after Dravid declared when he was 194 not out against Pakistan in Multan in 2004.
Otherwise he just charms with the purity of his batsmanship. Hence we move eagerly on to Lord's to see whether Tendulkar can tinker with the cricketing gods. Will his fate be decided by Anderson (Jimmy), who has had his successes against him in the past, or Anderson (Hans Christian)?
Whatever happens Tendulkar will accept his lot with quiet dignity while the rest of us can feel privileged to say: "We were there."