Team A is nearly 40 runs ahead with one wicket in hand, with its most feted batsman on 146 not out. What would you expect? That this premier batsman on 146 farms most of the strike and tries to get some quick runs, right? In any country in the world, in a similar situation, would you expect anything different?
This was exactly the situation that was played out this morning in Sydney, on the third day of the second Australia vs. India test. Tendulkar’s innings was a magnificent knock without which India would probably have been bowled out with a huge deficit to lug, let alone going in with a 69 run lead. It was a near-perfect Test innings, until the 9th wicket fell and we came to the situation described above.
Well, this is what followed. Tendulkar only took singles thereafter, with not a single attempt of an attacking stroke. On four occasions, he took a single off the first ball of an over (!), and once off the second ball. Tendulkar faced 19 balls in the partnership and scored 8 more runs (to take his tally to 154), while Ishant Sharma played 34 balls and scored 23, which included 5 agricultural fours. Sharma got out eventually, in typical tail-ender fashion, fending the short ball, lobbing the ball back to the bowler (Lee), something that could well have happened earlier in his innings, given that he is, after all, a tail-ender, and him scoring 23 was an exceptional occurrence.
Not a murmur about this bizarre spectacle from any of the commentators. Later in the post-match interview, Harsha Bhogle warily asked Tendulkar if he had too much faith in the tail-enders, and Tendulkar said that he did and it is borne out by the fact that the last 3 wickets added 187 runs (including a swashbuckling 63 from Harbhajan Singh). With Ishant, apparently, Tendulkar felt that the field was too defensive with Tendulkar himself on strike and therefore the best opportunity to score runs lay with Ishant (as attacking fields were set for him), and so he kept giving him the strike with the brief to hit out.
I don’t know about you, but this is about the most bizarre thing I’ve heard in my thirty years of following cricket. It is not for the first time that a top-order batsman has been left to bat with an inexperienced, vulnerable number 11 for company and it is definitely not the first time that defensive field settings are applied to prevent the recognized batsman from scoring. And pretty much every single batsman who has been in such a situation has followed basic cricketing logic and used his ability to try and up the scoring rather than depending on the number 11 to do a batsman’s job.
The possibility that Tendulkar may have been interested, first in his 150, and then in a not-out innings to boost his average (he would be very acutely conscious that his is only the second-highest test average amongst Indians) is of course only spoken about in hushed tones. Just like what happened in Sydney 2004, and then Multan 2004.
At the risk of sounding defensive, a little allowance needs to be made for a clarification that is personal, but necessary here to see this piece in the right light and without misconceptions. For the last few months, I have personally been attacked viciously for writing “anti-Tendulkar” articles, whether it be about his match-winning ability completely disproportionate to his hype, or why Dravid is a far greater cricketer than him, or why Tendulkar should be asked to open in Australia and not Dravid . There have been nasty personal remarks made about me (especially for the first piece, as you can see in the comments section), about how I am a loser, or a mental case, how I crave publicity, how little I understand the game, about how I have other agendas in attacking a legend like this. A cursory Google search can counter doubts about me personally, but how do I counter the charge that I want to willfully attack Tendulkar? Of course I do not need to clear anything, but if it could help in having my point examined a little closely, maybe it is a worthwhile thing to do.
My problem with Tendulkar, as each of these three pieces suggest, have to do with the fact that he just keeps on giving the impression that he is acutely conscious of his personal achievement over his team’s. This is not to say that he does not value his team’s achievements; just that in a situation where the two are in conflict (which does not happen that often and that obviously in a sport like cricket) he tends to choose his own achievement. There have been too many examples of this over the years for him to get the benefit of doubt (as the first piece points out).
This website and this writer do not have anything personal against him, nor do we bring these things up to fulfill personal agendas. We all believe he is the most gifted batsman to ever play for India, and amongst the greatest to ever play the game, but this awe-inspiring talent does not serve his team over and above everything else when there is a conflict. In my book, that makes him a poor role-model in a country for which the phrase “crab mentality” is quoted ever so often to describe its biggest character flaw (and no doubt is used for me too by numerous incensed Sachin fans) and where individual glory is savoured more than combined triumphs (which is why we are such a poor sporting nation, in my view).
It would help if there was at least more of a debate on this, especially from the so-called experts of the game and the mainstream media.