England’s tactics of containment make Sachin Tendulkar stumble at Lord’s

first_imgStumped? Sachin Tendulkar clean bowled by Hoggard at Lord’sIt was lunch time at Lord’s and Mike Brearley, former England captain was sighing. It was not the beef curry (it’s rumoured that when the Pakistanis tour, MCC catering dishes out mountains of bacon sandwiches) that made him melancholy, but the air,Stumped? Sachin Tendulkar clean bowled by Hoggard at Lord’sIt was lunch time at Lord’s and Mike Brearley, former England captain was sighing. It was not the beef curry (it’s rumoured that when the Pakistanis tour, MCC catering dishes out mountains of bacon sandwiches) that made him melancholy, but the air of discontent around.”He’s only human you know,” Brearley said, “contrary to what some people in your country may believe.” Sachin Tendulkar, batsman, semi-god and the Atlas of Indian cricket, had just trudged off the pitch, a familiar squat figure in the unfamiliar shoes of a man outmanoeuvred.On the eve of the Test, Sunil Gavaskar asked a provocative question in a newspaper column: “Is he (Tendulkar) an under-achiever for Team India overseas?” When play began, England, once again, paid twisted tribute to Tendulkar’s status as potentially the world’s most destructive batsman by strait-jacketing his shot-making.The Lord’s law, 2002Click here to EnlargeIn the first innings at Lord’s, England’s pace bowlers attacked Tendulkar’s ribcage with a short leg, a leg gully and a man placed for the hook shot, making any shot he played on the onside highly risky. They bowled short at him, gave him nothing to drive and also cut off his run-scoring options.Pushed into a corner from where he could not get runs (see The Lord’s Law), Tendulkar was out chasing a wide ball in the first innings and done in by a two-one combination of outswingers and an inducker in the second. All the while the buzz among the good and the great grew, no matter if Brearley, a practising psychoanalyst, was distressed at this vulgar demand that Tendulkar be great. Today. Now. Every time. advertisementTendulkar is undergoing what by his high standards looks like a slump but remains hard to pin down as one. Statistical checks cannot weaken his record. Test average: 56.96. Away Tests average: 51.80. First innings average: 63.38 (away 56.36). Second innings average: 44.91 (away 43.32).But to those who believe that he is more than the sum of his numbers, that he is the beacon showing India the way ahead, Tendulkar’s most recent set of numbers form, if not a dip in the curve, at least a worry line on the forehead. In his last 10 Test innings Tendulkar has scored 79, 117, 0, 0, 8, 0, 41, 86, 16, 12 at an average of 35.9.Many batsmen would eat bails for breakfast if their career average crossed 35. But Tendulkar is not permitted the ordinary because of who he is and where he comes from. When he was not yet 19, he hit a century on a fast and furious Perth wicket as hard-nosed Aussie reporters discussed his “promise”. John Woodcock, the London Times’ venerable cricket correspondent, then stood up to declare: “Gentlemen, he is the best batsman I have ever seen in my life.Bangalore Block, 2001Ashley Giles bowled with the wicketkeeper standing a foot or so outside the leg stump. Giles landed the ball outside leg stump, turning it away, with Tendulkar unable to play a shot. Of the 216 balls Tendulkar faced from Giles in the entire series, 153 were outside leg stump. In Bangalore, Tendulkar faced 57 balls from Giles, 52 bowled outside leg.And unlike any of you, I have seen Bradman.” Bradman must haunt Tendulkar. Before his death, the Don handed the Indian his torch, singling him out as a custodian of a certain standard of batsmanship.Like Douglas Jardine had done with the Don-used a combination of intimidation and containment through Bodyline- Nasser Hussain did to Tendulkar, but with less intimidation and more containment. Ashley Giles’ leg stump line (see Bangalore Block) in the third Test in December 2001 led to an amendment in playing rules this June; if the Hussain version of leg theory goes too far umpires are compelled to no-ball the bowler. But in the last two Tests they have played England, more than any other team, appear to have found a way to stop Tendulkar.Team coach Duncan Fletcher says, “It’s not for me to say if we have planted doubts in Sachin’s mind. Our bowlers must receive credit for their discipline against him.” No guru will go on record . about Tendulkar’s vulnerability though one admits, “Now when Sachin comes to the crease you don’t see that aura-like Viv (Richards) had.”What next? Sachin Tendulkar with John Wright and Saurav GangulyNavjot Sidhu believes England dare not try their latest version of leg theory on any wicket quicker than Lord’s but adds, “From West Indies to now, he has not been at his best.” Tendulkar’s friend and business partner Ravi Shastri says India have taken Tendulkar’s consistency for granted. He has played 37 Test series, not including England 2002: he has failed to score either a 50 or a 100 in only six “series”- all of which were one-off Tests.What must it feel to be in the middle of all the fuss? To compel Geoffrey Boycott to bring a photographer along and only then offer unsolicited batting tips? Tendulkar disguises his inner man well but he remains a knot of nervous energy; a player who still finds it tough to sleep well before a big game and bites his nails as he waits for his turn to bat in the nets. In an era where sporting fame comes with dysfunctional behaviour and bad haircuts, he has carried the load of being a modern legend. Approaching cricketing middle age, he may no longer carry it as lightly. advertisementPeter Roebuck, former Somerset captain, says, “Perhaps he has become fearful of failure more than excited by success.” A team-mate once described Tendulkar’s genius thus: “It’s not about the shots he can play, but how he knows which shots to play and which not to in specific conditions.” But it is his shot selection in the past few months that has produced dismissals to bowlers many believe are not fit to be standing on the same playing square as the Indian.”This could be a lean patch for Tendulkar but only by his own standards.”Michael Atherton, Former England captain”The other batsmen need to pull their weight when he’s not in the best of form.”Angus Fraser, Former England fast bowler”He’s not someone you can put on a pedestal and then knock down. He is human.”David Lloyd, Former England coach”Perhaps he has become fearful of failure more than he is excited by success.”Peter Roebuck, Former Somerset captain and writerPerhaps teams with less disciplined bowling than the English use that to take Tendulkar out. They absorb early punishment and challenge his ego by inviting him to dominate some no-name bowler. England do the opposite: cut off his runs and deny him his one medium of eloquent self-expression. Says former England coach David Lloyd: “I don’t go by the perception that you frustrate Tendulkar.It’s a little message from the bowler: I’m not good enough to get you out.” By getting out himself then, Tendulkar seems to send out another message: he can’t be bothered to wait. The more containment succeeds, the greater the chance that he will try to smash the tactic to pieces rather than counter it in a manner that goes against his grain.Former England bowler Dermot Reeve says, “In situations like in England, Sachin has to accept that he may score only one-two runs an over. He must remember you don’t have to win it all in one session. You can’t.” The cavalry charges, the foot-soldier crawls on his belly. But what happens if the battle plan requires everyone to crawl? Can the horseman not stoop to conquer?The questions that England have posed to Tendulkar are, in fact, the same ones put to his entire team and, over history, to Indian cricket itself: how to balance the attractive with the effective, how to marry the craft to the art, how to win more than just ecstatic rah-rahs for being a gorgeous batting line-up and how to win some Test series overseas instead. Tendulkar, one team member points out, is the least of India’s problems.advertisementThe opening combination is as steady as a paper boat in the Pacific, team selections are a tug of war where the winners are often left only with rope long enough to hang themselves (for example, the selection of Ajit Agarkar over Harbhajan Singh at Lord’s), the batsmen have surely been awarded doctorates in wanton luxury from Cambridge and the bowlers believe that as Mother Teresa is no more, they may as well stand in for the Missionaries of Charity. Within the squad, there is deep faith in Tendulkar. No one believes less in his own publicity. Few work more diligently on their game. Captain Sourav Ganguly says, “It’s one Test match. Sachin is a class batsman. He is going to find a way and he’s going to get runs.” Another player laughs, “He’ll hit a brilliant hundred in the next Test and you’re going to look like an idiot.”If Tendulkar plays like Tendulkar should and brings India back into the Test series, who’s going to bother about a few idiots anyway?last_img