‘It’s about picking the seam,’ Sachin Tendulkar explains the ‘critical factor’ in playing pink balls
Tendulkar welcomes his ex-teammate’s elevation to the BCCI top post and speaks on a range of other issues, from the health of one-day and Test cricket to India’s T20 World Cup prospects, in this interview. His keen eye for detail also stands out as he discusses India’s first pink-ball Test, against Bangladesh starting in Kolkata next week.Updated: Nov 14, 2019 11:13 IST
Two of India’s Fab Four are now actively involved in shaping the future of Indian cricket. Sourav Ganguly is the new BCCI president while Rahul Dravid heads the National Cricket Academy (NCA). Sachin Tendulkar hasn’t ventured down that path but wants to continue serving Indian cricket in an ‘unofficial capacity’.
Tendulkar welcomes his ex-teammate’s elevation to the BCCI top post and speaks on a range of other issues, from the health of one-day and Test cricket to India’s T20 World Cup prospects, in this interview. His keen eye for detail also stands out as he discusses India’s first pink-ball Test, against Bangladesh starting in Kolkata next week.
Most Indian batsmen have limited to no match experience with the pink ball. In such a scenario, what would you have focused during practice sessions?
As conditions change, you will have to understand what the pink ball does. I have heard from some of the cricketers who have played with the pink ball that at twilight, they find it difficult to sight the ball. I look at it slightly differently; it’s about picking the seam. Seeing the seam in that light becomes difficult sometimes. It becomes important whether the seam of the pink ball is visible or not because the seam gives away everything. Good batters are always watching the wrist, fingers and the seam. So the seam position should be visible. That is a critical factor. You look at the release of the ball. Be it a fast bowler or spinner, you have to be able to see the seam, which way the seam is going. The revs on the ball; which way the ball is spinning in the air. That becomes really critical.
Ajinkya Rahane, after a practice session with the new SG pink ball, said it does a lot more and spinners got more revs on the ball.
It could swing more. I am not too sure on more revs on the ball because the spinner would spin the ball the same way. In comparing the Kookaburra and SG balls, gripping challenges will be there. But I don’t see gripping challenges for Indian bowlers because all their life they have bowled with the SG ball.
The dew factor is expected to play its part.
We haven’t done it before. But if we don’t play, we will never know. So it’s good something different is being tried out. We need to be aware there could be dew, and if there is then what time it would set in and how much it would affect the game.
Do you agree day-night Tests are a must to draw crowds?
In terms of drawing in crowds, there will be early excitement. But it’s the kind of surfaces we provide that would make Test cricket exciting. The balance between bat and ball has to be there without which cricket can get slow. Talking about watching Test in different parts of the world, people come to watch a few spells of the game as well. The first session of a Test becomes an important session. So the balance between bat and ball is key to take Test cricket forward, whether it is a pink ball or red ball or fluorescent ball.
The last session daily in a day-night Test could become crucial, the ball could seam and swing more?
It will be interesting because the sun’s position is such the light changes quite a bit. Good floodlights I am sure will help. Having said that, only when we go out and experience shall we know how it would be. But it’s not a bad move. Sometimes you have to jump in the pool to figure out if you can reach the other end or not.
Talking about the health of Test cricket, does the World Test Championship excite you?
It’s not a bad concept to keep the spectators engaged. Fans would want to know who is leading the ranking charts. All that is fine, but eventually I would like to believe all this is being done to generate more interest in Test cricket. My question is how are we enhancing the game? Is the standard of play getting better? Are we making it more competitive to revive interest? Reviving excitement in the current generation in Test cricket is really important. People keep talking about Test cricket being important and a number of guys have advocated that, which is good. But it is the surface that will determine if people want to come and watch. They want to watch a fair contest between bat and ball.
Isn’t lack of competition in Tests also a worry? During your playing days, South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka were all stronger sides.
Yes. If you start looking at recent Test records, with very few can you say they are strong teams. It is alarming without any doubt. The standard of play has dropped and we can see that. Something needs to be done about it.
Are you happy with how the points system is designed? A team stands to win 120 points in a two-Test series and fewer points in a closely contested five-Test series.
Winning a series gives you a certain number of points (120). But there would be certain teams with whom a five-Test series would be difficult to arrange, because you need to fill up stands and logistically also it has to make sense. People should come, there should be spectator interest. With no disrespect, can some teams generate interest for a five-Test series? It’s difficult for the board administrators as well. So, it is up to those teams to start producing better standard of cricket to be able to get a five-Test series. If you play good cricket, you will fill up the stands. The whole idea is about lifting your standard to be able to play more Tests.
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As times goes by, the points system can also change. More options will always help and they will be explored to arrive at a better system. The more we play, the more we will understand what we need to do and where changes can be brought in.
On the state of 50-overs game, you have suggested introducing 25-25 formula?
I had done that some time ago. Look back at the World Cup final of 2007; that’s the biggest match one can play and Sri Lanka played under street lights. In 2002, we played two Champions Trophy finals, and both the games got washed out. Sri Lanka batted first, and we batted two overs in the first game. In the second, we batted eight overs (8.4) after their batting. So, 110 overs were played without a result (trophy was shared).
In the format I am suggesting, Sri Lanka would have batted 25 overs, then we would have batted 25 overs. Again repeat that. If it rained during half-time, both the teams would have batted 25 overs each. Whoever scored more runs in the first 25 overs would have won the trophy. So you plan your innings differently, decide you would bat differently. If it is likely to rain post lunch, you prepare to make 220 or 240 runs in the first essay and say it’s okay even if we lose eight wickets.
There are many venues where dew is a decisive factor. In the current format, toss basically decides who will win, unless one team is playing terrible cricket. If you bat second and sensibly, the bowlers have very limited chance with the wet ball. There one side has full advantage because they have won the toss and bowled in dry conditions. The other side has to fight the opposition as well as the conditions. How do we neutralise that? In 25-25, the side bowling first will get to bowl third, so they will also bowl under lights in the second half but there will be less dew. It might still be 60-40 advantage but it saves a situation where one side has to bowl in the dew and the other doesn’t. The most important part is you have only 10 wickets in the entire match, not 20. Earlier when I proposed, they misunderstood that I was talking about mini-Test cricket with 20 wickets. I am saying if you are out, you are out of the entire match.
Planning the innings becomes important?
It is about planning your innings; it takes away the dull moments from the game. At the moment in between it becomes so predictable with nothing much going there—keep picking singles and hit boundaries off field restrictions.
In 25-25 for example, myself and Viru were batting and in the 23rd over a wicket falls with eight balls to go. In the 24th over, would you send in a Gautam Gambhir against two off-spinners or a Harbhajan Singh or Zaheer Khan who can tonk the ball? You treat that like a 49/50 overs situation. That changes the game completely.
Is the 50-over game getting monotonous?
There is monotony in the one-day game without doubt. That is why I made the proposal; to remove monotony and more to neutralise the dew factor advantage.
Should world events be spaced out? Are there are too many of them?
It’s okay with different formats. Now with Champions trophy becoming 20 overs (World Cup), the T20 World Cup is also there. It should be one T20 World Cup and one 50-over format.
Sourav Ganguly is BCCI president…
Sourav has the experience on and off the field. On field for what he has contributed to Indian cricket and off it having been in administration for four-five years. This combination is going to help him. Like he did his best on field, he is going to try his best in his new capacity.
Would it help that he can think as a player?
I am sure he would understand what the players are trying to say. When someone is discussing something with Sourav, he will have his on-field experience to make his decisions. Not to forget there have been some great administrators who have done a great job in Indian cricket and have always been supportive of cricket and cricketers. I wouldn’t say only cricketers make good administrators. Many others have done a good job for the game.
Rahul Dravid now heads NCA…
With Rahul, he is slightly different. He has been coach for India A and U-19. That is a proper coaching job. So heading NCA is a perfect fit for him. Besides, he himself comes from Bengaluru where the NCA is based.
It’s rare that so many leading cricketers are involved in administration and coaching. Sourav and Dravid and Ravi Shastri as India coach…
On coaching, we have had good coaches. I don’t want to disrespect anyone. They have all come in and tried. But the current combination we have is very good.
Would you want to come in and contribute in any capacity?
I have in an unofficial capacity been accessible to everyone and I will continue to do that.
You have been mentoring many young cricketers. Prithvi Shaw is one of them. Are you worried, he started with a bang (U-19 World Cup) and now has had this set-back (doping suspension)…
Prithvi is a talented player and has a sharp cricketing mind. I am sure he will pull through and work harder.
When you retired, you tipped Virat and Rohit to take Indian batting forward. How good is it to see Rohit find success as a Test opener against South Africa?
He has done well in a different capacity. To open in Tests is a different thing altogether. He has just played three Tests as an opener and given reasons to smile and appreciate his batting. One hopes he continues to do so. Whenever he goes out to bat, one enjoys his batting. His bat swing, smooth bat flow; the more runs he scores, the smoother his bat swing becomes. It’s fantastic to watch him play. We’ll be touring as well, he’ll have an important role to play there.
Do you see him making the switch successfully in overseas conditions?
That no one can predict. It’s not that he has never faced a moving ball. He has and scored runs and that’s why I am saying when India start touring places like New Zealand, Australia, England and South Africa, Rohit’s experience will come in handy and he’ll have an important role to play.
Does Steve Smith’s success show irrespective of style or technique, it all comes down to run-making in the end?
If you look at Smith’s success with the technique he has, he’s extremely organised with his mindset. He knows what are the areas he should be attacking and the areas where he should leave or block. And very smartly he keeps changing his plans. That’s why I say he has got a complicated technique because nobody’s technique is like that. Eventually technique is only to have your basics right and to have a solid foundation. Why do people talk more and more about technique? So that you don’t miss those deliveries. By using his own technique if he’s not missing those deliveries, then how does that matter? Eventually, it’s all about how consistently you can hit those balls. That’s why you want to develop certain technique. There are certain guys with Malinga’s or Bumrah’s action, these are not classical fast bowlers’ action. It’s different altogether but they have gone on to become leading bowlers in the world. Sometimes you have to back your natural style of play to produce results, which is something Malinga, Bumrah and Smith have done.
Smith’s competition with Kohli is a talking point like yours was with Brian Lara.
It’s good to have batsmen at a level where there is indirect competition. I am sure that would be the case here (Smith-Kohli) also. Also with Rohit there, it produces good standard of cricket more consistently. That’s the case with bowlers too. When you have two world-class bowlers bowling in tandem, they both want to show what they can do.
Do players look at it that way? Did you have an eye on Lara’s performance?
I never followed what Brian did so closely. But special performances we would all follow and that’s what I did too. It wasn’t as if I would keep a tab on how many runs he has scored and how many runs is he ahead. Eventually you have your targets and expectations. I had more to do with my own expectations. If I had reasons to keep myself motivated to give my best, than I was happy with that. It was not about competition. Competition should only be with yourself. Whatever you are, you can make yourself better tomorrow.
What’s the lesson India can take from how they prepared for the World Cup in England as they prepare for the T20 World Cup next year?
If you look at our team at full strength, it is very, very strong. Eventually what we will have to take care of is the dimensions of the ground. Sydney is different from Adelaide and Melbourne is different from Brisbane. Dimensions will need to be studied, and that will come into play. Because everyone has played in Australia, they know what to do. But which side of the plot the pitch is, that comes into play. What are the shorter lines and which bowler should bowl from which end, that kind of planning. Closer to the tournament, those elements will come into play.
India could not identify a settled middle-order in England. Is there a need to find a settled team a lot earlier this time?
Having a settled team is really important and there has to be consistency. If we keep changing squads, the confidence level also takes a hit. With some consistency, the players also build confidence. That would be something one needs to look at.
Bumrah and Hardik Pandya are injured. Their workload management will be very important…
I am sure the management will look into that because that will be a huge factor. Bumrah is going to be a key bowler and we need to look after him.