Since Vinoo Mankad in 1959, no 40-year-old has played Test cricket for India. Sachin Tendulkar is set to change all that when India travel to South Africa at the year end.
But can Tendulkar, after forgettable overseas tours to England in 2011 and Australia in 2011-12, handle what is perhaps the finest arsenal of fast bowlers since the glory days of West Indies?
Consider this: South Africa’s attack consists of Dale Steyn (332 wickets from 65 Tests), Vernon Philander (89 wickets from 16 Tests), Morne Morkel (175 wickets from 49 Tests) and new cap Kyle Abbot, who began his career with an explosive nine-wicket haul against Pakistan earlier this year.
'Mind over matter'
However, Tendulkar can draw inspiration from Clive Rice, who, with 26,331 runs and 930 wickets, is arguably the most accomplished all-rounder in first-class cricket. When South Africa returned to the international arena in 1991, Rice, 42, led them in the three-match ODI series in India.
After that series, Rice went back to scoring big hundreds for Nottinghamshire and Natal. Rice has words of advice for Tendulkar. “Sachin, remember this: age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter,” he told HT from Durban on Friday.
Rice felt Tendulkar must be honest to himself. “Some people tell me his recent record is not great,” he said, when reminded of the Indian’s inability to score a Test century since January 2011.
“But he is still good enough to play at 40. He must be true to himself. When his performances start dipping further, he will walk away. But knowing him, he won’t want to disappoint himself,” added Rice.
In a unique appraisal, Rice felt Tendulkar must look up to English great, Jack Hobbs.
“I have an interesting theory to batting. I feel that during the 20s and 30s you are still learning the art of batting. After 40, you are truly a master. Jack Hobbs got more than 100 first-class 100s after the age of 50. If you look at Hobbs’ younger days, he wasn’t half as good. So Sachin, look no further than Sir Jack,” said Rice.
When asked if Tendulkar’s slowing reflexes were a worry, Rice said: “It’s important for him to keep up to speed with balls coming at him. Maybe, Indian officials should organise for him to face someone as quick as Steyn. But he’s got a good technique and that’s why he won’t get exposed.”
Tendulkar will train at former India coach Gary Kirsten’s academy in Cape Town before moving to Durban for the first Test, HT has learnt. As per schedule, the tour starts on Boxing Day (December 26). However, BCCI is yet to approve the itinerary put out by Cricket South Africa.