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Is Tendulkar's reign over?

Sachin's slump in 2003 has attained such serious proportions that many have even begun to joke about it.Tentative Tendulkar: In graphics

india Updated: Dec 30, 2003 21:29 IST

Sachin Tendulkar's dramatic slump in the year gone by has acquired such serious proportions that many have even begun to joke about it.

At the awards ceremony after the recent Test series between Sri Lanka and England, former West Indian legend Michael Holding complimented Muttiah Muralitharan for scoring more Test runs than Tendulkar in 2003.

A startled Muralitharan, who at that stage had 113 runs from nine innings this year as compared to Tendulkar's 109 from seven, hoped he could do the same again in 2004.

The Sri Lankan off-spinner unwittingly touched a raw nerve among millions of cricket lovers in India and around the world who are puzzled and disconsolate at Tendulkar's poor run.

The most prolific batsman in modern cricket has failed to reach double figures in eight of his last 13 Test innings and ended the year with only 153 runs in five Tests at an average of 17.

It's not that the whole year had gone horribly wrong for the little champion. But amidst the Test failures, the record 673 runs he compiled at the World Cup in South Africa in February-March was forgotten.

The 30-year-old clearly makes as much news not scoring runs as he did when he kept piling them on.

It's not just the scores of 0, 1, 37, 0 and 44 in the current series against world champions Australia that has critics worried. The manner of his dismissals has alarmed them more.

A horrific umpiring error apart, he was twice out misjudging the line of the ball and twice went edging expansive drives outside the off-stump.

Doubts may have arisen among Tendulkar's legion of fans, but team-mates and former internationals are certain the master's fortunes will turn in the new year.

Vice-captain Rahul Dravid, now regarded more dependable than Tendulkar after scoring 803 runs in the year, defended the beleaguered superstar.

"You go through phases like this where sometimes whatever you try, things don't seem to work out for you," Dravid said.

"The positive from our point of view is he's batting really well and he's in a good frame of mind - he seems his usual self and he's quite relaxed. We still believe he's the best."

Former captain Kapil Dev echoed Dravid's feelings that Tendulkar will turn the corner soon.

"Leave the boy alone, he will come good" said the former world bowling record-holder.

"It happens to every batsman, however big he may be. You can't doubt Tendulkar's class, he's just going through a bad patch.

"Someone is going to pay for it very soon."

The last time Tendulkar went through a lean period was in the 1996-97 season when he scored just one half-century in 10 Test innings against Australia and South Africa.

He emerged from the rut by stroking a glorious 169 against the South Africans at Cape Town and India will look for an encore as they head for Friday's decisive Test in Sydney with the series tied at 1-1.

Indian captain Sourav Ganguly is certain it will happen. "Ever since I have started playing, Sachin has never gone through a series without scoring runs," he said. "A century is due," he added.

Former Australian captain and batting great Greg Chappell concurs.

"Tendulkar's composure and balance (during his 44 in the Melbourne Test on Monday) looked as good to me as it has at anytime on this tour," Chappell wrote in The Hindu.

"I will not be surprised if Sachin makes a big score at Sydney."

For the record, Tendulkar has scored 8,964 runs from 110 Tests with 31 centuries and 36 fifties.