'All timing and finesse'

'All timing and finesse'

Former team-mate Ravi Shastri pays tribute to Sachin Tendulkar

'All timing and finesse'

master and admirer: Former Indian captain Ravi Shastri (right) says Sachin Tendulkar has defied the passage of time to remain on top of the game. File photo

It needed the genius of Sachin Tendulkar, batting better than ever before, according to Ravi Shastri, to bring up the first double century in 50-over international cricket as he put on a veritable stroke-making exhibition in the second one-day international against South Africa on Wednesday.

“It was like seeing a surgery being held in full public view,” Shastri told Deccan Herald on Thursday. “It was all timing and finesse, and not once did he try to hit the cover off the ball. Just to see him bat like that, I don’t see any respite for bowlers around the world for at least the next three years.”

The limited-overs double ton had loomed as an insurmountable barrier, only Saeed Anwar and Charles Coventry coming close by making identical scores of 194. “It just goes to show how difficult it is to make a double hundred in 50 overs,” Shastri observed. “To do that whilst batting through the innings means one man alone is scoring at four runs per over! No wonder, then, that the entire team was scoring at eight an over.

“To get to a double ton, especially in 50 overs, first of all requires skill and ability, and a wide range of strokes. Additionally, you need to be judicious in your selection of strokes, you need to have the stamina and therefore physical fitness, and you need to have the mental skills so that you keep your focus and don’t flag in concentration. What was amazing to see was that towards the end of the innings, he was still running as hard as he was at the beginning of the afternoon. And I am not talking only about his runs, but also his partners’ runs.”

The former Indian captain has seen his fellow-Mumbaikar evolve as a batsman over the last two decades and more. “As time goes by, cricketers tend to get weaker and slower, and their eyesight begins to fade somewhat. You have that much little less time to play your strokes than when you were at your prime, as a young man. Where Sachin never ceases to amaze me is in how he has defied the passage of time. If I can say it, I feel he is batting better now than ever before because he seems to have more time at his disposal now.”

Tendulkar has lost none of his greed and hunger, Shastri went on. “You can see it in his eyes,” he remarked. “People say you must not be greedy or selfish, but show me one great player – batsman or bowler – who isn’t greedy or selfish. You need that fire and that hunger to keep getting better, to keep scoring more runs and taking more wickets, for you to achieve greatness.”

One of the reasons for Tendulkar’s reinvention of sorts as an attacking batsman stems from how mentally relaxed he is, Shastri pointed out. “Sachin has been free of injuries for that last three years, and that has helped him relax mentally,” he added. “For about ten years until 2007, he had a series of injuries, and that prevented him from playing some shots that he has patented. In the last three years, he has been injury-free, touchwood, and he is enjoying the game as much as he was when he shot through as a teenager.
His passion is something you can only marvel at. He is batting in much the same way as he did when he arrived as a fearless teenager.

“Sachin has always been the kind of player who has converted starts into hundreds. Now, he is converting hundreds to scores of 150 and more!” added Shastri, referring to one-day scores of 163 not out, 175 and now 200 not out in the last 12 months. “He is playing with greater freedom now because of the emergence of Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag, MS Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir as outstanding players in their own right. Sachin doesn’t feel today that he, and only he, must score all the time, and that the fortunes of the Indian batting revolve entirely around him. That pressure seemed to have tied him down a little bit for a while.”

Tendulkar now has 93 international tons. Ask Shastri if a hundred hundreds is realistic, and he shoots back, “Realistic? Of course. If he is injury-free, I would think a hundred hundreds is the bare minimum.”

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