25 January 2008.
Among modern batsmen, Sachin Tendulkar is the master of the single. In some respects, it is not much of a claim. It’s a bit like saying Roger Federer has the best ball toss around. Tendulkar has many other more colourful qualities, a blistering straight drive, a cart that is liable to land in the fifth row, a square cut that singes the turf, a fine sweep and a defensive stroke played with a sculptured left elbow. Comparatively speaking, the single tucked to mid-wicket seems innocuous.
But the true masters do not disregard the little things. Moreover, four singles amount to a boundary, and can be more safely collected. Also a single taken from a precisely pitched delivery is profoundly discouraging. Only dolts think sport is all about glamour and panache. Meanwhile, seasoned campaigners keep putting runs on the board.
Sachin Tendulkar (L) of India in an action against Australia during the third One Day International match between India and Australia at Ferozshah Kotla in Delhi on October 31, 2009.
Photo ©: Public.Resource.Org / Flickr.com
As usual, Tendulkar began his innings with a carefully crafted tap to leg. Supposedly, it is his last Test match on Australian soil, and naturally he was keen to break his duck. Not that he looked like a spent force. Among the touring veterans, he has seemed much the liveliest these last few weeks. Evidently, his love of the game remains intact.
Comparatively speaking, Rahul Dravid has appeared exhausted, and his footwork has swayed between anxiety and assertion. Sourav Ganguly also seems more likely to pull the pin after his sketchy showing in Perth and recent dropping from the 50-over outfit. Admittedly, the graceful left-hander was unlucky yesterday to be dispatched on a day otherwise full of reprieves. Contrastingly, VVS Laxman was fluent, and fortunate as the home gloveman spilt a sitter.
As usual, Tendulkar guided his first ball behind square and embarked on a single. The ball had been assessed in an instant. It is no small thing to move into line with a missile travelling at 145kmh with the intention of manoeuvring it into a gap. Indeed, it is a risky operation and as a rule only an established batsmen will undertake it. But the Indian has a supreme ability to make quick decisions and act on them. He knows his game, and from his first delivery is searching for runs. Apparently, the Don was the same.
Already, Tendulkar had taken stock. The fieldsmen at square leg was more of a lefty than Senator Faulkner, and the ball was going towards his weaker hand. And the stroke had been softly played. Whereas the common man is concerned with survival, the minds of lofty types process vast amounts of information in an instant. Tendulkar began to dart up the pitch in his impish way, though these days he is a father blessed with a son convinced Dad must hit a six every time he reaches 94, a strategy more or less adopted yesterday. But that lay ahead. For the time being, he was trying to steal a run.
Unfortunately, his partner was not on the same wavelength. Virender Sehwag has many fine traits but dashing up and down a cricket pitch on a warm afternoon is not among them. Appalled by the sight of a colleague intent on disturbing his reverie, the Delhi-ite raised his arm and advised his partner to return to the sanctuary he had so recently and recklessly left.
An obedient soul, Tendulkar scrambled back to his crease. Clearly, quick singles were out of the question. He spent the next 17 balls looking for a gift. Eventually, the runs started to flow and soon the little master was in command. He began driving through mid-off, sweeping to fine leg and lofting over the bowler’s head but did not neglect the old-fashioned single. Always his brain was working. Australia set a leg-side field so he stepped outside and guided the ball towards cover.
Roughly 196 minutes and 132 balls after that first delivery, Tendulkar drove past extra-cover and raised his arms. At the SCG he had been exuberant, almost ecstatic. Now his celebration exuded quiet satisfaction. It was a humble, hard-working performance, an innings attentive to detail produced by a consummate professional. Thanks to him and the umpires, India have retained hope of squaring the series. It was not easy. Australia’s persistent pace attack had seen to that.
Unless his nerve fails him or batting becomes a chore, Tendulkar will be back in 2012. Far from losing focus, he looks eager. Rejecting the captaincy helped him to renew his vitality. After a struggle he has come to terms with age, has learnt to combine the singles of experience with the boundaries of youth.