Inspirational Sachin Tendulkar remains a magnificent player

2010-10-09 00:00

ALTHOUGH outstanding in their own right, Hashim Amla, AB De Villiers , JP Duminy and company can learn a lot from international cricketer of the year Sachin Tendulkar. They can learn about longevity and love of the game and remaining fresh and surviving expectations. It has been an inspiring contribution from the greatest batsman to appear since Bradman.

Tendulkar deserved the award because he played 10 Tests in the period and scored 1 064 runs at an average of 81. Not bad for a 37-year-old deemed to be on his last legs. Not bad for a player whose nerves were supposedly shot.

Two factors lay behind this re­naissance. Despite suffering two structural injuries in Mohali, the Indians look fitter than ever before. Even Virender Sehwag has been spotted in the gym. Not so long ago he left a tour of Sri Lanka saying he was missing home cooking. Now he is streamlined and sharp. Tendulkar has always looked trim, but that gets harder as the years pass. A few extra pounds can cost a sportsman the fatal fraction. Focusing on fitness is easier when the collective standard is high.

Moreover, this fitness drive confirms that ambition remains intact, and ambition is the elixir of youth. In the supposed twilight of his career, Tendulkar finds himself in a proud team that has claimed top spot in the rankings.

And the World Cup is around the corner. Tendulkar has achieved most things in his career, but has never lifted the game’s most prestigious trophy.

But there is another more vital reason behind this renewal. Tendulkar loves the game. Even after all these years, all these grounds, hotels, fielding drills and press conferences; it’s not an effort for him to play or practise. Cricket is his game and his way of life. He does not need anything else. Always it has been the same. The most underestimated thing about him has been his durability.

Throughout 20 years of intense pressure and unrelenting exposure he has retained his delight. Through it all he has managed to focus on the next ball and the next innings. There have been no demons. Remaining simple is difficult and he has managed it. By no means is it the least of his contributions. He has never stopped appreciating the game, never let it become a chore. He enjoys cricket, and batting in particular. He’d play from dawn till dusk if they’d let him, and again the next day.

Has any cricketer of his calibre changed less? Has any sportsman of his duration shown so few signs of mental wear and tear? Garry Sobers comes closest. For him, too, the game never became an ordeal.

Of course the body grumbles, but the Indian’s mind has remained attentive. To an extraordinary extent Tendulkar plays for the same reasons as in his youth.

It’s not that he has failed to grow; just that from the outset he saw the game in its true light, as an end in itself. That cannot be said of other great players, many of whom began to fade in their early 30s.

Tendulkar’s technique has also helped him keep going. Natural and classical were interwoven at birth. Throughout, too, he has been a perfectionist. After stumps he can sometimes be seen on the square, practising the shot that had brought him down. Before a series he will anticipate the challenges that lie ahead. He is a professional constantly in search of a better way. The challenge has never bored him.

Moreover, he plays straighter than any rival, relies less on cross- bat shots than, for example, Ricky Ponting. Accordingly he does not depend as much upon eye and foot, and it has helped him stay the course.

He has been lucky in another respects. India’s batting has been powerful over the last 10 years. Arguably the batting has been as strong as any nation has ever fielded. After all, the list includes one of the most destructive openers the game has known, a superb technician at first drop and a wizard at six. VVS Laxman’s innings on the final day in Mohali counts amongst the finest played in the fourth innings. At best he is a joy to behold.

India’s other batsmen have been almost as gifted. No less significantly, they have been men of high calibre. Even now some of the old guard, whose number includes Anil Kumble, Saurav Ganguly and Javagal Srinath, will not sit at the same table as the fixers. In every respect these players serve their country with distinction. Otherwise India might have followed the same sad trajectory as Pakistan.

All the more reason for the local lads to study the Indians when they tour next month. Tendulkar has been a giant and even now, after 22 seasons, he is still a magnificent player.

Peter Roebuck is an international cricket correspondent who is based in the KZN midlands.

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