Don Bradman was a batting phenomenon. It is unlikely that anyone will match his Test average of 99.94. In the numbers game that cricket aficionados encapsulate as excitedly as a banking executive drools over the calculation of his annual bonus, Sachin Tendulkar is today’s batting phenomenon. Over thirty four thousand runs for India, and a hundred international centuries, many crafted in countries that Bradman never visited, attest to an appetite and resilience unmatched by his contemporaries.
Bradman’s feats inspired a nation and forced England to curb his mastery with Bodyline. Tendulkar was rarely restrained, maybe by the burden of captaincy or twilight years of tennis elbow, recovery and eventual decline. India’s burgeoning cricket population wallowed in his success, worshipped him and he became a champion.
I recall his first virtuoso display in Australia as a 19-year old. Partnering Ravi Shastri, a comparative eminence grise, Tendulkar gave no hint of nervousness or inexperience as he dissected and attacked Australia’s missile men. Like a boomerang thrower or spear wielding native Australian, there was a precision about his method, and a certainty of outcome when he pierced the field. A callow debutant named Warne bowled what locals would call ‘pies’ to his younger rival, who cut and pulled rapturously. Warne’s unimpressive debut deceived us, and his jousts with Tendulkar became showpieces of skill and YouTube memorabilia.
Tendulkar’s subsequent century in Perth showed that he could handle testier pace and bounce, producing straight drives that became a signature stroke of his broad bladed repertoire.
Every subsequent down under Indian tour was Tendulkarised. Australian fans respected him and wished him well. Expectations changed from can Australia’s bowlers contain him, to the hope more recently that he might have one more special innings for us.
In the era when Ponting was clearly Australia’s run machine, and Brian Lara batted brilliantly for the West Indies, Tendulkar imposed himself extraordinarily.
I can see him at Chennai in 1998 destroying Warne’s bowling with a calculated assault. Warne had plenty of rough to pitch into outside the leg stump and having dismissed the ‘Little Master’ cheaply in the first innings his confidence was up. Tendulkar responded to the threat by launching powerful on drives and six hits, judging his ball selection perfectly. His 155 not out swung the match. Like Bradman, Tendulkar intimidated bowlers, and ensured that his team took control of the contest by damaging and destroying the opposition’s confidence.
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In Australian eyes his reputation was tarnished by the monkey gate imbroglio when the BCCI took the moral high ground and threatened to go home in 2008 following Harbhajan Singh’s provocative commentary, and Tendulkar’s stick by your mate support.
Like Bradman the onslaught of public acclaim was suffocating. In Australia he seemed to enjoy the relative anonymity of shopping, where he was less likely to be swamped by admirers.
Among many tributes Tendulkar has been accorded one stands out as a reaffirmation of Border/Gavaskar, Australia/India relations. The honorary Order of Australia presented to him in 2012.
(Jim Maxwell, ABC commentator and editor of the ABC cricket magazine since 1988, has covered 267 Test matches)
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