Sachin Tendulkar the captain, the bowler, the fielder
The afternoon sun beat down mercilessly at the MAC ‘B’ ground at Chepauk. The year was 1994 and the Bombay cricket team’s practice session was on. The star-studded side would be taking on Haryana in the Wills Trophy one-day final the next day.
A sweat-soaked little big man was directing the proceedings. Captain Sachin Tendulkar was in charge. “Not a ball outside the leg-stump,” he shouted.
“All deliveries on or just outside the off-stump. Do not give room to the batsmen,” Tendulkar said.
He was a feared captain for Bombay. Nothing short of excellence would satisfy Tendulkar.
In the summit clash, Bombay chased down 264 with Tendulkar producing a strokeful 116. He was not pleased with the triumph though. “We bowled too many wides, in fact 14 of them,” he muttered between his teeth.
Tendulkar set such high standards for himself that he expected the same from his team-mates. That was impossible since his men were not as gifted as he was.
It was this quest for perfection from those under him that consumed this legend as captain. He led India in Tests — in two tenures between 1996 and 2000 — and left a disappointed man after a 2-0 home series defeat against South Africa; actually Tendulkar had announced his decision to leave the top job after a 3-0 whitewash in Australia but was persuaded to continue for two more Tests.
Captaincy affected Tendulkar. He often seemed on the edge, pushed his men hard and the role took an enormous mental toll, impacting his batting adversely. Gradually — his dissatisfaction with some of his men being the principal cause — Tendulkar turned a defensive captain.
There was nothing defensive about his bowling though. He bounded in with the intent and his variety left many bamboozled.
One remembers Tendulkar displaying his bowling skills against Rahul Dravid during nets in Wellington, ahead of the first New Zealand-India Test in 2002. Tendulkar was bowling seam-up that morning — there was nip in the air and some juice in the surface — and he made the ball hum.
Soon, there were cries of anguish from Dravid as the ball found the edge, hit his pads and even castled him. Tendulkar was having fun!
When not bowling his seamers, Tendulkar could send down conventional off-spin. And his leg-spinners, well-disguised wrong ‘uns, and top-spinners caused some damage, both, in Tests and ODIs.
The expression on Pakistan’s Moin Khan’s visage after a googly from Tendulkar sneaked between his legs to rattle timber in the Multan Test of 2004 still lingers. Actually, Tendulkar had made Moin sweat before the final ball of the third day.
But for fitness concerns and the team’s need to preserve him, Tendulkar might have given greater expression to his considerable ability with the ball.
His cricket was so much about passion that Tendulkar gambolled in the park as a fielder. A smart catcher at slip, he was also a safe fielder with a strong arm in the outfield. There were others quicker than him but Tendulkar often made up with his anticipation, presence of mind and the ability to knock down stumps.
Tendulkar, particularly in the later years, often fielded at mid-on from where he could pass on invaluable inputs to the bowler. Such was his insight and wealth of knowledge that he was the unofficial deputy coach of the team.
His influence extended way beyond his enormous ability as a batsman. A natural, the multi-dimensional Tendulkar impacted several arms of the team.