It was early 2004, Sachin Tendulkar had ended a 15-year quest for a double century at the SCG, and India stopped Australia’s juggernaut with a respectable 1-1 Test series scoreline.
Until then, Tendulkar, a veteran of 111 Tests, had suffered toe, ankle, back and thigh injuries, and even played through the 2003 World Cup with a finger injury. He was now a seasoned pro who knew how to get by injuries, no different from any other top-class athlete. Even his chronic back problem (estd: 1999) couldn’t keep him down. His batting average had soared to 57.19.
Tendulkar discovered his latest injury, the tennis elbow, was no ordinary injury. This despite scoring 241 in Sydney, using his bottom hand only while bearing shooting pain in his left elbow.
“Every morning when I wake up, I don’t feel the same. I have played with some serious injuries, but the problem here is that I cannot grip the bat. It’s as basic as that. In other injuries, you can at least hold the bat and still manage, not this one,” Tendulkar said in 2004.
Following surgery, he sat out of a tri-series in Holland, an ODI series against England, the ICC Champions Trophy and the first two Tests against Australia at home. Then, a day before the third Test at Nagpur where Tendulkar was set for a comeback, a magazine put out the famous headline: “Endulkar”.
Suresh Menon, an acclaimed author, wrote, “An injured toe is beyond repair; his strained back continues to cause worry. And now the tennis elbow. Tendulkar is only 31 but no sane doctor will give him a clean chit to continue playing indefinitely. India will have to contemplate a future without Tendulkar. Perhaps the future is already here.”
Nine years on, “Endulkar” is here, but there are no serious injuries at work. And the man who felt his suffering from close quarters, former India coach John Wright, revealed how Tendulkar weathered the storm.
“It was a very difficult period for all of us. Not just for Tendulkar and his family, but even his teammates, extended family, cricketing family and friends. It’s true that some people genuinely felt the end was near,” Wright told HT.
“But no matter what people said, no matter what articles appeared, Tendulkar just stayed focussed and gave into Andrew Leipus and later John Gloster, the team physios. He gave them all he could, gave them discipline. And I, for one, am not surprised at his longevity.”
Asked if Tendulkar’s injury made it tough for him as coach, Wright said, “As a coach, it was easy to back a player like Sachin. You can go and ask any coach of his and they’d tell you the same. So for me, the injury was a worry, yes, but I also knew that Sachin had it in him to bounce back.”
Wright revealed that the tennis elbow put doubts in Tendulkar’s mind but he never thought about quitting. “By that time, Sachin was already playing for 15 years. He had been through so many injuries. But for me as a coach, the way he carried injuries is what made him great. He would often suppress injuries and pain.
Living with pain
“There were always some niggles, but he carried all of that out of the dressing room and onto the ground. And he carried the burden of so many expectations while going through that pain. It was only during that phase (in 2004-05) when many people got to hear of his injury. But Tendulkar suffered many more minor injuries that he silently played through.
Not many know this but the thing with Sachin is he knows how to keep his body working... he knows about biomechanics and knows his body well. He trusts his physios and follows what they tell him.
“I recall the time when he returned in 2004 and 2005 though the tennis elbow actually left him only much later. I remember the shock treatment he received in England, he told me how painful it was, and how frustrating the rehabilitation period was. He’s dealt with some serious pain.”
The Kiwi had parting words for Tendulkar, “He’s a champion individual for undergoing all that – and a pleasure to coach. I just hope he enjoys his last Test and enjoys every minute post cricket.”
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