Sunday, September 19, 2010

The big scores || Gulu Ezekiel - 3

Exclusive pre-publication extracts

Researching and writing on the life of the "greatest living Indian" has been a long and wondrous journey. I am delighted that my publishers, Penguin India have been with me all the way. Sachin Tendulkar is not only the world's greatest batsman. He is also a very special person.

To be so high profile in a sport which comes under such intense scrutiny in India and yet remain a role model is perhaps his greatest achievement.

I am delighted that, India's leading cricket portal is carrying exclusive excerpts from my book. I hope you, the reader enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Select chapters from the book will appear till May 20. So keep tuned in. The book published by Penguin India is scheduled to be on the stands by June 15.

''I always wanted this double very badly"

By October 1999 Sachin Tendulkar was back in the team after his enforced break. His first Test series was at home against New Zealand, a relatively soft start to his second innings as captain-or should one say, follow on? Tendulkar was joined in his first Test back in charge by a new coach, Kapil Dev who had taken over from Anshuman Gaekwad.

Kapil Dev had been with Tendulkar in his debut series, in Pakistan in 1989 and the two were known to be pretty close. It was hoped this would open a new chapter in Indian cricket and that the dynamic Kapil could transfer his magic as a player into his new role as coach.

Their first day in office was a shocker however. On a slightly damp pitch at Mohali, Stephen Fleming won the toss, put India into bat and they were shot out for a shocking 83 in a mere 27 overs. Tendulkar (18) was one of only three batsmen to reach double figures. New Zealand's lead was 132 and that was wiped off by new openers Devang Gandhi and S. Ramesh in the second innings.

This time the top five all crossed 50 and two reached double figures, Rahul Dravid and the captain himself. At times it appeared he was batting from memory. Indeed, the very first ball from Nathan Astle he survived a huge appeal for lbw that was turned down by Sri Lankan umpire Peter Manuel.

Eventually India declared at 505 for three wickets-the first time in Tests that a side dismissed for under 100 in their first innings had crossed 500 in the second. His 20th century was a sketchy one, understandable perhaps due to his lack of batting practice. He hung around for than six and a half hours and got the benefit of numerous lbw appeals.

It took a stubborn 73 by captain Stephen Fleming in the second innings to stave off defeat as the visitors struggled to 251 for seven.

The Indian victory was duly delivered by her spin bowlers in the next Test at Kanpur. India coasted to victory by eight wickets with the captain himself rattling off 44 not out from 39 balls in the second innings of 83 for two. The third and final Test at Ahmedabad should have been a triumph for both Tendulkar and the team. Instead, after scoring his first Test double century in a decade, Tendulkar confounded one and all and courted controversy by his refusal to enforce the follow-on after leading by 275 runs.

The match petered out into a draw and India took the series 1-0. The question of why the follow-on was not enforced was later taken up by the CBI in their investigation into match-fixing and corruption in Indian cricket (see Chapter 29).

The coach and captain would eventually be exonerated of all wrongdoing late in 2001.

It was not till 1998 that Sachin recorded his first double-century in first-class cricket. That was for Mumbai against the touring Australians. It had taken him five years to score his maiden ODI century and now after 10 years came his first Test double ton. The New Zealand attack may not have been the most potent in international cricket. But after all the pain and trauma resulting from the back injury, this was indeed a sweet way to announce to the world of cricket that he was back at his best.

India were 311 for three on the first day at Ahmedabad with S. Ramesh out for 110 and Tendulkar batting on 104. He had been dropped at short third man by Astle on 93. Fleming said that his team might pay a price for that lapse and that is precisely what happened. The runs continued to pile up with Ganguly joining in the fun with 125. The stand with Tendulkar for the fourth wicket was an Indian record 281 and the total 583 for seven declared.

There had been much talk that Tendulkar neither had the stamina nor the application to convert his bagful of Test tons into double centuries.

Now he answered his critics with his longest innings yet, 494 minutes in all during which he scored 217 from 343 balls. It was another psychological breakthrough, overtaking his previous highest of 179 against the West Indies at Nagpur in 1994. Sunil Gavaskar's Indian record of 236 not out was in sights when he was dismissed by a brilliant catch shortly after tea on the second day. It was a full-blooded pull off left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori which was held inches off the ground at mid-wicket by Nash. The batsman lingered and waited for the umpire's decision as he was not sure the ball had carried to the fielder.

The 200 was reached when he placed Vettori to mid-on for a single. Non-striker Ajay Jadeja raced back to congratulate his captain. Sachin looked heavenwards in thanks. The Motera Stadium was once again witness to a milestone.

This was the same ground where Sunil Gavaskar became the first to reach 10,000 runs and where Kapil Dev broke Sir Richard Hadlee's world Test wicket record. Sachin dedicated the double ton to his brother Ajit. "He has been there for me for the past 10 years of international cricket." He said it was only when he crossed 170 did the thought of the 200 enter his mind. "I always wanted this double very badly."

Sadly, the sheen of his achievement soon wore off. New Zealand were dismissed for 308. But India batted again in the second innings, finally declaring on 148 for five. Set 424 to win in a possible 103 overs, New Zealand had no trouble saving the Test and finished on 252 for two.

So why was the follow-on not enforced? The captain and coach's explanation was the four specialist bowlers wanted a rest after toiling in the blazing heat for nearly 10 hours in New Zealand's first innings. Not everyone was convinced. "No captain of an international team wanting to win a Test convincingly would have wished away such a fine chance" (by not enforcing the follow-on) wrote G. Viswanath in The Hindu (November 2, 1999). Ravi Shastri, one of Tendulkar's close friends and business associate admitted he was "befuddled" by the tactics.

Former New Zealand captain Martin Crowe was more scathing in his column dated November 3, 1999 in "The last thing Test cricket needs is this approach by the Indian captain Sachin Tendulkar. It was a disgrace that the tactical attitude to dismiss the opposition was not as positive as that of the batting."

The delayed declaration in the second innings was also condemned. "It really shocked me that Tendulkar appeared to have to be cajoled by Kapil Dev before he did finally declare." Inexplicably, one of the bowlers who had apparently demanded a break, Javagal Srinath (who bowled 35 overs in the first innings) came out to bat in the second innings and hung around for nearly half an hour to score 19 not out. Both he and the other not out batsman, Jadeja were constantly looking in the direction of the pavilion for the captain to call them in. He did eventually after the second innings had consumed 32 overs, leaving the Indians with only 13 overs to have a go at their opponents on the fourth evening.

Tendulkar justified the tactics in an interview with Vijay Lokapally (The Sportstar, November 20, 1999): " Just spare a thought for the bowlers. They were tired. In the playing XI, we had a couple of players with health problems. There were a couple of others who also carried on despite some health problems. It was extremely hot that day (42 degrees) and they had bowled about 140 overs. Asking them to bowl another 160 at that stage would have meant someone might have had a breakdown. We didn't want that kind of situation and that is why we gave the bowlers a break. They tried their best I would say. Tendulkar finished the series with a 100-plus average and got another chance to gorge himself of the mediocre Kiwi attack in the one-day series that followed. It was a high-scoring series and India were run close. They sealed a 3-2 verdict by winning the final game in New Delhi by seven wickets. It was a pretty mixed bag for the skipper.

In the second match at Hyderabad Tendulkar recorded the highest score by an Indian in ODIs and the fourth highest of all time, 186. But in the other four matches he had scores of 32, 1, 2 and 0. New Zealand had thrashed the Indian bowlers to the tune of a huge 349 for 9 in the first match at Rajkot, the highest ODI total on Indian soil. That record lasted just three days. India's 376 for two was the second highest ODI total of all time and the stand of 331 for the second wicket in 46 overs between Ganguly and Tendulkar the biggest-ever partnership.

Ganguly missed out on the run-riot when bowler Shayne O'Connor deflected Tendulkar's firm push onto the non-striker's stumps with the batsman out of his ground in the second over. Tendulkar carried his bat, in the process erasing Ganguly's previous Indian highest of 183 against Sri Lanka in the 1999 World Cup. There were 20 fours and three sixes from the 150 balls he faced.

He was on 182 when Chris Cairns bowled the last over and there was a huge buzz round the ground. Could he score the 13 needed to surpass Saeed Anwar's world record? It was not to be, though the Indian record was his. The innings was marked by a number of innovative shots behind square leg. He agreed after the innings that his shot selection had changed.

"Your style of batting should not become too predictable and should not be based on some set pattern," he explained. "This change in shot selection has come gradually as far as I am concerned." "The 186 was satisfying not because I set an individual mark. It was satisfying because we won the match. Tomorrow, someone may break the record but people would remember me for the contribution I made in winning the match for India." (The Sportstar, November 20, 1999)

The New Zealanders had acquitted themselves admirably. It was no shame to lose the three-Test series 1-0 and the five-match ODI series 3-2. For Tendulkar and his men the real test was round the corner in Australia where the world Test and ODI champions were lurking.


‘He’s a god in India and people believe luck shines in his hand . . . It is beyond chaos—It is a frantic appeal by a nation to one man.’— Matthew Hayden on Sachin Tendulkar

In the twenty years that he has been in the public eye, Sachin Tendulkar has been explosive on the cricket field and just as reticent off it. He was barely fifteen years old when he first wrote his name into record books with a stupendous 664-run partnership with his childhood friend Vinod Kambli. A few months later, he struck his first century in first-class cricket. At seventeen he became the second youngest man to make a hundred in international cricket, and after that there was no looking back. Today, Sachin is widely regarded as the world’s finest Batsman, with impeccable technique, an incredible array of strokes, and maturity far beyond his years.

In this biography of the hero of Indian cricket, sports writer Gulu Ezekiel mines interviews, press reports and conversations over the last two decades and more to create an accurate and sympathetic account of the man and his first passion: cricket. He tracks Sachin from his childhood when he first caught the bug of cricket, through his early performances in the Ranji Trophy and other domestic tournaments, and follows him on his meteoric rise to international stardom. With unfailing attention to detail, he reconstructs the crucial matches and events that marked Sachin’s career and unravels for us the magic of the charismatic cricketer whom Wisden Cricket Monthly once dubbed ‘bigger than Jesus’.

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