Dravid and Laxman new targets
No longer is Sachin Tendulkar the prized scalp in the Indian batting order. Given a choice of batsmen in the opposing line-up to remove cheaply, the Australians would name Rahul Dravid and V.V.S Laxman. It is quite a change because Tendulkar has been highly regarded downunder ever since he carted the bowling around in Sydney band Perth at a time when most boys of his age were reading comics. But facts speak for themselves. Dravid and the Hyderabadi have been magnificent, blending defence and attack in a manner that has impressed the Australians. Meanwhile Sachin has been all at sea.
Now Tendulkar faces one of the greatest challenges of his career. Throughout his time in cricket the pressure on him has been enormous. At last it has eased. For the time being Tendulkar is the third best batsman in the side, and supporters of his captain might query even that ranking. Tendulkar needs to come to terms with this fall from grace. An adjustment will be required because it is quite something to be the fastest gun in town. Even in his worst periods Brian Lara remained the most important batsman in his team. Fortunately the Bombayite has the humility needed to accept the position. Not that it will please him because he is as competitive as any other top sportsman.
Patently Tendulkar needs to take stock of the situation. India must pray that his form returns because its team is on the verge of its greatest victory in a series played overseas. Tendulkar's batting has revealed an uncertainty born of confusion about himself. Throughout his career he has batted as a young man must, playing his shots, trusting his instincts. He has been brilliant and respected around the world. But things change as the years go by. Responsibility arrives, eyesight dims and the mind begins to contemplate failure and mortality. Only Peter Pan and, perhaps, Shane Warne can stay forever young.
Tendulkar is caught midway between youth and maturity, adventure and caution. At present he is unable to find the balance he seeks, a style of batting that releases his spirit whilst also reflecting his duties ton the team. In truth he is attempting to grow up before our eyes and with a billion people expecting another hundred from him, and imagining it is just a matter of pressing a switch. His confusion is evident in the manner of his dismissal in this series, caught after a loose drive and twice leg before wicket after ignoring deliveries demanding his attention. Amidst the hullabaloo about Mr Bucknor's decision in Brisbane it was easily forgotten that the situation was created by bad batting.
All three dismissal speak of a batsman who has most his balance, a man whose brain is full of conflicting thoughts. In this critical hour, Tendulkar must define himself, must choose his course and then live and die by it. Perhaps we expect too much from him now that he has entered his thirties. After all he has been living in a bubble since he was 16. He knew himself and his game when he cheekily flogged the Australians all those years ago. Now he is not quite so sure.
But Lara has managed the change from precocious youth to respected adult and Tendulkar can follow in his footsteps. It has been easier for the Trinidadian because he has a quieter time besides which he also experienced many setbacks along the way. Indeed Lara hardly played or scored a run for a couple of years, a luxury the Indian does not enjoy.
OnceTendulkar has settled his mind the rest will fall into place. His technique requires attention. Most particularly Tendulkar is uncertain about the precise location of his off-stump, a fate that befalls many batsmen whose games have temporarily deserted them. Accordingly he is reaching for balls better left alone and ignoring others threatening his stumps. Whenever Tendulkar loses form he becomes scratchy around off-stick, a frailty the West Indians were also able to exploit the last time those teams met.
Sachin's habit of leaving his back-foot outside leg-stump lies behind these difficulties. Like many strategies it has its advantages and disadvantages. By refusing to move across his stumps, Tendulkar gives himself the freedom to score through the off-side. On the other hand his distance from the stumps means that he cannot guard them as well or be as confident of his exact position.
Doubtless these conundrums will be running through Tendulkar's brain as he prepares for the forthcoming epics in Australia's two biggest cities. His career tells a story of a young man risen to greatness at an early age and now realising that time does not stand still or stature take a single form. His career tells of a mighty warrior in his country's cause. Only the most foolhardy speculator will assume that he has no role to play in the fascinating contests. My heart says Tendulkar will come good. My heart agrees. Do not bet against him. Great sportsmen have a way of turning crises into triumphs.