Sachin Tendulkar's impressive performances in the ongoing Test series against England has made Michael Atherton eat his words as the former cricketer has expressed "great admiration" for the Indian, admitting he had matured to be "a very fine player now".
"Watching Tendulkar bat throughout this series has been a curious business; his decline at once obvious and yet, since that decline has been accompanied by two telling innings, there comes with it a greater admiration," Atherton wrote in a British newspaper 'Daily Telegraph'.
"'Decline' is a relative term, of course. It is simply that Tendulkar is now a very fine player rather than a very great one," he said after the Indian scored 217 runs and also picked some crucial wickets in the three-match series.
Atherton had joined the intense debate started by former Australian captain Ian Chappell on whether Tendulkar should call it a day in the aftermath of his poor showing in the World Cup by writing a column in the paper under the headline "Sachin Tendulkar, now just a comic hero".
Atherton had also doubted that if sponsorship deals were among the reasons that were keeping Tendulkar going in cricket.
"The truth is that Tendulkar has been marketed as a brand for some time. There are many interested parties who are keen to see Tendulkar wearing India's colours for a while yet...
"There are only two reasons for carry on playing: if you are good enough, and if you still love the game. Only Tendulkar knows whether that love is alive. Everyone else is painfully aware that, despite his new super-hero status, his powers are very much on the wane," Atherton had said.
With India all poised to clinch the win, Atherton, in his latest column, wrote: "India will take the spoils at the end of this match and the man who is (absurdly) criticised for not playing enough match-winning innings, has done as much as anyone to make it so."
The former England batsman was impressed by Tendulkar's clinical approach. "If Tendulkar was to fail in this series, it won't be for a lack of thought, effort or preparation.
"Look at how he has approached each innings and the minor adjustments he has made each time. Monty Panesar trapped him lbw at Lord's, and thereafter Tendulkar played him with his bat, not pad.
"At Trent Bridge, Vaughan set a successful trap at leg-gully; thereafter Tendulkar decided (with one exception) that he was not hooking nor was he fending, which meant taking blow upon blow on the body.
"Each innings has been carefully pre-planned and thought out which is a wonderful lesson to all those who haven't always given their talent or the demands of the game due care or attention," said the cricketer-turned-commentator.
Praising Tendulkar for the maturity he showed on the field, he said "In this series he has batted entirely without ego, which is an astonishing thing given that he, along with Shane Warne, is the greatest cricketer of his age.
"He has been prepared to show Paul Collingwood respect even in the 90s (at Nottingham), has taken a blow flush on the grille from the pup (James) Anderson, and been happy to absorb punishment as Anderson and Chris Tremlett targeted his ribs...
"First-innings runs were the absolute key to victory at Trent Bridge, and to the series victory, so Tendulkar has not been bothered how he has got the runs... In doing so, he has shown that he is, above all else, a craftsman always prepared to give the art of batting the ultimate respect."