Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Wonder in One-dayer called Sachin

When Sachin Tendulkar went to the dais to receive the Man of the Series trophy for his sterling contribution in the series win against the Caribbean boys, he was called for a customary chat with the commentator, ex-cricketer Arun Lal. The latter mentioned a few words on Sachin's exquisite batting on the day that implied 'Sachin Tendulkar has finally batted like Sachin Tendulkar.'

Knowing Arun Lal, he may have meant it as a statement of praise and an acknowledgement of Sachin's return to form. However in choosing that line he ended up criticising the Little Master's less productive innings in the earlier matches. Sachin did not like it too much but was, as usual, strong and well-behaved enough not to let it reflect on his countenance. He could not conceal it in his verbal response though.

He simply said, "I do not bat the way X or Y or Z wants me to; I think after playing for so many years I know what is the best way for me to play and people should respect that." And he said that with a half-smile, without a crease on the brow.

In the last couple of years Sachin Tendulkar has slipped down from the lofty pedestal Indian cricket fans reserved for him. Part of the reason has been his own inconsistent form and fitness, particularly (and
understandably) in Test matches, and a few recurring injuries. A whole lot of it, though, has resulted from the obsession of millions of Sachins supporters and hundreds of detractors to quickly label anything other than superhuman success from the man as failure.

For long I have rated Sachin Tendulkar as the greatest One-Day cricketer I have seen. Let me declare here that I am not putting this up as a challenge or going into a comparison with the only other real contender, Vivian Richards. People are free to give their own rankings to Sachin Tendulkar's career as long as they don't rate him unworthy of an entry.

Of late though there have been too many obituaries of Sachin Tendulkar. My current post is ONLY about Sachin the ODI player (rather than batsman), for I want to share another piece of champion's streak that I found out from Sachin's records today, one that may relieve Indian cricket supporters ahead of the world cup and confirms that we are perhaps still a few years from questioning Sachin's place in the side.

We first need to agree that Sachin's numerous contributions to the ODI team makes him more than just a specialist batsman. He is an excellent package. He can bat as per requirements of the team anywhere in the order, in any phase of the game and in any conditions. He can run singles quickly both for himself as well as to add to his partner's tally. He can reach the ball quickly in the outfield (even now) and save a possible run. [I am ignoring the numerous strategic contributions he makes as a selfless senior player.]

And.....he can bowl. But how good is he? Very....very good, if you believe his records of late. Yes, these last couple of years when his bat has produced less thunder than usual.

A shift of balance since Jan 2005

Here's a set of data:

(ODI)--BatAvg, BowlAvg
Career----44.22, 43.82

Jan '05----38.46, 41.42

It only tells you that
(i) Over the years Sachin has been a batsman providing a part time bowling option to his skipper &
(ii) With a decline in Sachin's batting in the past couple of years his bowling has marginally improved.

Now we break up those 36 ODI's played by Sachin since Jan 2005 and that average of 38-plus in two sub-categories: matches in which Sachin bagged wickets (W) and matches in which he did not (NW). The breakup is:

W: 9 matches since Jan 2005
NW: 27 matches since Jan 2005

Further analysis of these two sets throws up this interesting evidence:

ODI since
Jan'05----BatAvg, BowlAvg

NW----42.35, -
W------28.56, 25.21

[till 4th ODI vs. WI]

In other words, we have one set of matches when Sachin Tendulkar bats quite like 'the Sachin of yore', to re-utter a taboo; and the rest in which Sachin becomes a mediocre batsman but adequately makes up by phenomenally upgrading his bowling. And by that I mean a bowling performance as good as any specialist bowler has achieved playing for his team in recent times.

The recent series and his Man of the Series Award was a nice summary of that development in Sachin's game. Sachin did not score the highest runs for the series but in every match he either scored in excess of fifty or took at least one wicket bowling tight spells.

The New Sachin

Numbers tell only part of the tale - and if not treated judiciously it may even be the wrong tale. Before getting carried away with figures I must point out that we have only a small sample to work with - we are discussing just 14 wickets collected by Sachin from the 9 'W' matches since 2005. But then,

a) those 14 scalps are spread out over the period;
b) all matches have featured formidable ODI teams like Pakistan, South Africa and the recent West Indies;
c) Sachin has bowled 8 overs or more in 7 of the 9 matches, and in only the mad Afridi-blitz match of 2005 did he bowl less than 6; and
d) names of major batsmen like Lara and Inzamam feature in that list.

We need to keep further tabs on this. But we can already sense a new facet of his game shaping up here, because over his career Sachin has averaged pretty much the same with bat in W and NW matches. There leaves the true champion his signature. Sachin still finds a way to make contributions that are not too far below the standards of his best days; it is for us to identify the manner and method he finds to do it.

Do we need any debate on the ODI place of a player capable of that sort of performance in his 18th year of international cricket? As he mentioned receiving the MoS that day, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar indeed knows the best way to play after playing for so many years.


Sunil said...

Nice article. YOU will probably like this Sachin short story...!86F26A0982085FDC!432.entry

angshu said...

That indeed was a great read, Sunil, in a fabulous personal space. Thanks for sharing the pics. (Pardon me from commenting here - didn't want to sign up)