Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Don’t fall for his body language By Sir Vivian Richards

The West Indies great’s playing style influenced Tendulkar the most. Both shared the same arrogant disdain for bowlers. Both could create panic in opposition ranks once set. Perhaps the debate over who had the greater influence on the modern game will never be settled

Sachin may not chew gum and walk in with a swagger, but his composure reflects his intent to dominate. When in full flow, it’s clear to everyone that they’re watching something very special. No one can light up a stadium like he can.

Sachin Tendulkar is one modern cricketer I always have time for. It makes me proud and happy to know that he looked up to me as a schoolboy cricketer, and I am sure that many youngsters all over the world do the same to him today. If they do, the future of our great game is in good hands, because there are few better role models in modern sport than Sachin.

Many people have asked me whether I see glimpses of myself in Sachin’s batting, particularly his presence at the crease and his desire to dominate. A lot has been said and written about my swagger, the way I strolled to the crease and even the way I chewed gum! I am glad that I was not aware of all this attention when I was a player, because it would have made me a little self-conscious. Today, when I see myself in reruns I realize that none of it was put on and it was just the way I was. My only intention when I got to the middle was to show everybody that I was in control. I believed that I should show the opposition that I was not uncomfortable or apprehensive, no matter what the match situation was when I came in. I did not put on any false bravado, it was just the way I felt and expressed myself. Body language and attitude are considered part of the lexicon of present-day coaching, but while we did not know the jargon, we knew the impact and importance of both.

Looking at Sachin, his body language is different, but his intent is pretty similar. He may not chew gum, but he has composure and reflects an attitude that exudes the intent he comes with, the intent to dominate. And when he is in full flow, the mild-mannered boyish cricketer can look extremely intimidating in the middle. If there is a resonance I find of myself in his batting, it is in that intent that he communicates.

There are a couple of cricketers who had this kind of presence, and if you watched these special talents for a long time, or if you were in touch with them for many years, there was a special look that suggested that it was their day and we were about to watch something special. I would certainly say that while other contemporaries of Sachin might score more runs and centuries, none of them has his presence, his command or his ability to light up the spectators.

Among Sachin’s contemporaries, it is often Brian Lara who is spoken of as a batsman who could match him knock for knock. Brian was an exceptional batsman, and being a left-hander he had a grace that was made even more pronounced by his high backlift. Like Sachin he too had every stroke in the book, and a few others. Besides that, Brian on his day could destroy any attack and was completely impossible to get out when he was in the zone. Significantly, both these individuals saved their best for the pre-eminent side of their times, Australia. They both raised their game to meet the challenge of playing the world champions.

However, if I were to make a distinction between Brian and Sachin, it would be to point out that Sachin was a more committed individual. He was more consistent in his commitment to the team. Sachin also is the more disciplined cricketer between the two and perhaps that is why he is still around 20 years after his international debut.

I have enjoyed meeting Sachin and he has always picked my brain on some issue or the other. In 2006, he came to me and asked whether I too felt that he had become too defensive or gone into a shell. My advice to him was that he should be the one to decide how he should bat, and he need not feel obliged to change his style or revert to an old technique at the bidding of so-called critics or spectators. I told him that he had been a servant of Indian cricket long enough to express himself as he wishes. I have no problem with the fact that Sachin is not as free flowing as he was in the 1990s. Like wine in the cellar, he has matured and added a new, more mellow and more refined flavour to his batting. He can summon the old strokeplay whenever the need arises, but he is now master of his technique and does not feel pressured to constantly prove it.

Another criticism that Sachin – and to some extent that other Indian maestro (Sunil Gavaskar) — faces is that he has not won enough games for his team. I don’t think one player can single-handedly win a game for his country. Sachin’s efforts were rarely backed up by his teammates, and very often he cut a lonely figure, trying to carry the responsibility of the side on his shoulders. Bowlers win games and right through the 1990s India struggled to take the 20 wickets that need to be taken to win a Test match. Many of Sachin’s best knocks were in a losing cause, but you can’t blame his performance in these games for the result. As a spectator, the result of many of these games do not diminish the excellence of Sachin’s performance in my eyes. The last time I met Sachin, the question that was on everybody’s lips was regarding his retirement. Once again, I told him that he had done enough to earn the right to decide for himself when he should quit. And yes, I also told him that however long your career may be, you are retired for a darn lot longer! As far as I am concerned, there is a lot of time left for Sachin to lead a retired man’s life, but before that he should fulfill every bit of success that destiny has in store.

(Source: Times of India Crest Edition - 14th November 2009)

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