Great players attract more criticism when they fail, writes Makarand Waingankar
September 2006 perhaps could be the turning point in the career of Sachin Tendulkar, whose repertoire removed doubts from the minds of connoisseurs and the cricket loving public about his future.
To expect him not to react publicly to criticism is understandable. But inwardly he must have worked out his plans A and B to counter whatever strategy his opposition may have had in sending him back to the pavilion as quickly as possible.
Great players have an uncanny knack of breaking the shackles and surprising everyone. Tendulkar proved this with breathtaking batting displays last month. The best way to answer the critics is to fill the column in the scorebook with three digits. He seems to be aiming consistently at that column.
Great players attract more criticism when they fail. Tendulkar too faced it when he was not fit. Someone who has scored more than 70 international hundreds had to be the topic of debate after spending more time on the physio's table than in the middle. On return to the crease, he showed that one should never ever underestimate great performers.
As Tendulkar's performances are creating a stress-free atmosphere in the dressing room, the most worrying factor seems to be the form of Irfan Pathan. Though it is often said that class is permanent and form is temporary, for Pathan to run into form, the team management needs to analyse his career and work on solutions rather than involving all the former great fast bowlers to advise him on technique.
Technique is only one factor that helps one perform consistently, but many international cricketers have become slave to technique and failed miserably. To grasp a theory and implement it is not an easy process as by now, Pathan may have realised.
Pathan was making steady progress when first Wasim Akram, as an unofficial bowling coach, and then official bowling coach Bruce Reid were working on him on the tour of Australia. He was the recipient of the ICC's award for the Emerging Player of 2005. What then is wrong with him in 2006 is the question?
When Pathan looked a genuine potential all-rounder India was badly searching for, the team management, as the statistical analysis suggests, pushed him a bit hard in batting, possibly without realising the fact that the tail-enders always love to bat higher in the order. Barring Glenn McGrath and Courtney Walsh, most bowlers have admitted scoring runs gives them more enjoyment.
Pathan was entrusted with a little more responsibility by making him bat one down in the limited-overs matches and that shifted his focus. It affected his bowling in the Tests.
In the eight Tests played in the 2004-05 season, he scored 197 runs and took 29 wickets. In the next year with the addition of only four Tests, he scored 560 runs and took 46 wickets. But in his last 10 Tests, though he managed to take only 25 wickets, he scored 476 runs.
The trend indicates Pathan's shifting of focus from bowling to batting. International bowlers have to be shrewd as the laws of the game, covered pitches and modern bats constantly cause problems to their performance. They do not come to the ground to be friendly with the opposing batsmen. The imaginative thinking, plan and the process adopted in the nets to perfect the art of countering those conditions leave hardly any time for them to think of batting.
With the tight international schedule, there is hardly any time for a player to rectify a flaw. Pathan going on an average in the last season for more runs per wicket than is required for a specialist bowler in a team is an indication of the fact that either a flaw was not diagnosed or the recommended remedy has not been the correct solution. When this happens, the player loses confidence.
Andy Roberts and Jeff Thomson were great fast bowlers. But if tips from former great fast bowlers had helped bowlers solve all their problems, England would not have appointed Australian Troy Cooley as the bowling coach. The Australians, having recognised his contribution to the success of England in the Ashes series, got him back.
Why is the Indian team management so averse to getting an experienced specialist bowling coach when our bowling department is not penetrative? Kumble and Harbhajan Singh are far too experienced to need a full time coach but young pacers definitely need a bowling coach to put them on the right track.