Nowadays Tendulkar bats with an unforeseen circumspection, writes Peter Roebuck
Far from being an aberration or an indication that age has wearied, Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissals at Lord’s were caused by a long-standing flaw in his game. In both innings he played across straight deliveries and was dispatched leg before wicket.
Tendulkar did not throw his wicket away. His defences were breached. On both occasions he had established himself and appeared capable of constructing a significant contribution. Instead he was obliged to depart the scene before his work had been done.
A masterful attacking batsman, Tendulkar is less convincing in defence. It was a choice made long ago, a choice that reflects the times in which he was raised, a time of increasing confidence, a time of one-day cricket. Whereas Sunil Gavaskar concentrated on building a wall around his wicket, his younger, less quixotic successor has favoured adventure.
Perhaps it was also a question of temperament. Gavaskar played with pride and precision. Defiance was his watchword. Tendulkar has been a cavalier in the guise of a craftsman. Domination has been his battlecry.
Searching for command, Tendulkar developed a technique that permitted him to play the widest possible range of shots. It was not enough for him to drive past the bowler and glide the ball off his pads in the manner of Martin Crowe or to guard his stumps as did Steve Waugh. His nature did not permit any such restriction. Instead he set out to play every stroke in the book, all of them masterfully.
As his record confirms, he has performed beyond the wildest dreams of any child.
He has been glorious, a favourite of crowds and connoisseurs. Having served him so well for so many years, though, Tendulkar’s liberality now undermines his desire to prolong his career with a style of batting better suited to fading eyes and slowing feet. A strongpoint in attack, his footwork has been a liability in defence. Eager to play strokes through the off-side, he has avoided moving across his crease to cover his stumps. Accordingly he has been able to drive through the covers and to invent delicacies of the sort spasmodically aired at Lord’s.
In the past his reluctance to cramp himself has not mattered as much.
But freedom comes at a price. Leaving the back foot on leg-stump means that a batsman is not properly aligned against straight deliveries or those cutting back. Twice at Lord’s, Tendulkar was undone by deliveries that merely held their line. Certainly it is clever bowling to mix up swingers and spinners with straight-oneners but the tactic is hardly original and ought not to defeat the mighty.
Tendulkar fell because he was poorly placed to deal with these assaults. Simply, the line of his feet were pointing towards extra-cover yet the ball was heading from stump to stump. He was forced to work across his front foot.
Throughout his career Tendulkar has batted this way, and sometimes he has suffered. Few batsmen of his class have been dismissed LBW and clean bowled as often. Obviously Tendulkar is aware of the problem. The idea that great sportsmen remain instinctive is fanciful. Apparently he believes that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
Doubtless, too, he is reluctant to tinker with a tried and trusted game. Ordinary players constantly seek improvements. Great players worry about death by analysis. But things change. Nowadays Tendulkar bats with an unforeseen circumspection. Defensive skills have become paramount. And the construction of a convincing blockade obliges a batsman to move the back foot in front of the stumps so that the entire body is positioned to counter threatening deliveries.