Friday, November 20, 2009

Steve Waugh: I have found Sachin's Achilles heel!

Australia had Sir Donald Bradman, America had Babe Ruth, and India has Sachin Tendulkar. Rarely does a sportsman carry the weight of a nation upon his shoulders each time he goes out to perform, but such is the stature of these three icons that any failure to deliver sparks debate as to what is wrong and how it can be solved.

Imran Khan's recent statement ignited the latest round of such heated discussions. Success is expected, almost demanded, by the adoring masses, because when these men walk out to play it is no longer a game, it is a measure of the nation's worth that is on the line.

Today, as the Little Man takes on the world champions on home turf, the expectations will be high. So what if he scored a hundred just the other night? Nothing less will be expected on Saturday.

Tendulkar is a god to one billion of his countrymen, but in reality he is your average guy in many ways, with the obvious exception of his talent.

The Player

Sachin TendulkarHe loves the big occasion, especially playing against Australia and Pakistan. When he walks out at the Wankhede, facing the best in the world will certainly get his juices flowing and he will invariably rise to the challenge.

He walks to the crease in India to rapturous applause every time and rides the tidal wave of goodwill and monumental noise to lift his game. He can singlehandedly change the momentum and course of a match within half an hour. He senses weakness in opponents well and pounces immediately, whilst at the same time closes you down if he senses danger. He refuses to take Glenn McGrath on and would rather see him bowl maidens than risk getting out.

You can sense it when Sachin sets himself up for a big innings because he will concentrate on leaving balls, making sure his defence is watertight, his balance will be extraordinarily still with his head being statue-like, his running between the wickets will be 10 per cent sharper than normal, he will slide into the crease at the completion of one run to try and steal a second. His face will be deadpan, focussing on the task ahead. He will keep to himself and never talk to the opposition.

As a bowler he is a talented leg-spinner with a repertoire as extensive as many frontline bowlers, and is capable of much better than his statistics indicate. His medium pace relies on bluff, aura, and a variety of deliveries to coax a batsman out, whilst his off-spinners are steady. He is a dependable fieldsman who rarely makes mistakes from his outfield positions and it is surprising that he rarely finds himself in a catching cordon or close to the bat.

Captaincy did not suit him early in his career, possibly because the burden he already carries with the bat may have been too much to consume with the added responsibility of looking after the team. But he is tactically astute, reads a game well, and is the 'go-to' man if things are falling apart and a remedy is required.

The Technique

'Bradmanesque' is probably how I would sum his technique up primarily because the Don himself said that Sachin was the closest thing he had seen to himself.

He uses a very heavy bat with a couple of grips, which aids his power upon impact and explains his high percentage of boundaries.

He has a very simple backswing, short and straight, which leaves little room for error and therefore enables him to play straight and hit through the line down the ground. He judges length as well as anyone in the world and is equally confident and capable off the front or back foot.

He uses his wrists superbly to the spinners, manipulating the ball into gaps, but can also be brutal and go over the top, even hitting against the spin, which means he watches the ball extremely closely. He does tend to play spinners off the pitch and isn't afraid to let it bounce and turn before deciding which shot to play.

In Australia, with the extra bounce, his heavy bat may cause some problems when playing horizontal shots, as the balance is hard to maintain. If a weakness is possible, it may be the opportunity to bowl him 'through the gate' off the quicks because he likes to drives on the up, and his downswing comes slightly from the legside, meaning his bat comes down at a slight angle, occasionally presenting a bat face that's not full.

South Africa has been his nemesis team, probably because they try and bore him out by bowling wide of the stumps and waiting for his patience to falter. Unfortunately, that isn't the way we generally play, so we will need to come up with a different strategy to combat his genius.

As you can see the guy is a genius, but as Aussies we love a challenge, and with him heading Down Under our chance will come.

As always he will be a key wicket, not only because he is a brilliant player, but more importantly, if we can expose him, the team can be a little vulnerable. It's a challenge we all can't wait for.

The Man

loves to surround himself with close friends and family and spend quality time with them, especially his children. He enjoys spending time in London, where he can play with his kids in the parks and go relatively unnoticed. He has a passion for fast cars and owns a Ferrari, which he can only really take out for a drive in his hometown Mumbai in the early morning hours when the masses are asleep and the roads clear of traffic and swarming people.

He is fiercely competitive, which I experienced firsthand when Brian Lara, Sachin, and myself had to film a TV ad and compete in a go-kart race. Being a keen go-karter I had the know-how to negotiate the corners and accelerate at the right time. Sachin, like Brian, was a novice and struggled to get the hang of it during our practice day.

Brian didn't lose any sleep over his lack of prowess, even though the following evening we had to race in front of 5,000 people. Sachin on the other hand stayed behind and got some lessons from the track owner to sharpen his technique.

You would never have seen so many people spring to attention and panic when Sachin failed to negotiate a corner on the home straight and hurtled full pace into the safety tyres during his practice lap. He not only carried on, but by the end of a couple of circuits he was adept at all the angles and intricacies of the course.

Needless to say, he acquitted himself very well on the race night and ended up in top position on the dais. Our TV ad was set in a nightclub and required Sachin, Brian and me to move rhythmically to the music. I can tell you that whilst I was a total flop in the dancing stakes, so was one Sachin Tendulkar. Well, he wasn't as bad as me, but neither of us were a patch on the silky smooth Trinidadian Brian Lara. So at least I found out his Achilles heel, but it's of no use on the cricket field.


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