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The return of the King

Sachin is back at doing what he is known to be best at. Making runs. It was this strength that India and his fans were missing of late.

india Updated: Jan 04, 2004 01:18 IST

Sachin Tendulkar is back. He is back at doing what he is known to be best at. Making runs. It was this strength that India and his fans were missing of late.

And going by the string of failures in the last few Tests, doubts were being raised at his ability to rediscover his magical form.

No longer was his bat dismissing balls with flourish and ease beyond the boundary line. The boyish visage that had launched a thousand products was suddenly both haggard and tense.

The man who has ruled Indian cricket was, inexplicably it would seem, being talked about in the past tense.

Falling standards

His average for the last year was an embarrassment and had fallen below 20. Even Muttiah Muralitharan had a better average than him in 2003.

Those who have followed his career carefully and would know what loss of form is, also felt that Tendulkar will find it increasingly difficult to bat like he used to even a year ago.

And once a batsman of Sachin's skill loses form, that too when he is nearing 30, after having played international cricket for almost 16 years, epithets like 'has been' and 'spent force' are adjectives more commonly associated with him than 'great' and 'awesome'.

It is a great truism of sport that when a sportsman is scaling new peaks and is redefining the very essence of his craft, he is treated like a god.

More so in India where international success and recognition are so rare that if a genius suddenly comes along, his persona acquires a god-like halo. He becomes larger than life. The more he succeeds, the more is he embraced by a grateful nation.

And so it is with Tendulkar.

And once the failures started Tendulkar was put to the sword. There are a thousand and one reasons that one can find in a sportsman for all the wrong things he is doing.

So it was with Tendulkar.

What ails him

The list is long. It was being said that ever since Mark Mascarenhas, the man who handled his finances and offered him a Rs 100-crore five-year contract a couple of years ago, died in a road accident, Tendulkar had got distracted to the point of losing his focus.

"He has to manage his finances himself now and he is finding it difficult to focus on his game," was one theory. Another one was that his he was worried that his recent venture, the Tendulkars restaurant in Mumbai, was doing badly.

But the more plausible and logical reasoning had to be in the fact that he has played the sport at the international level ever since he was 16. And it is in the very nature of sport that one's reflexes get slow with time and with each passing day it becomes difficult for the body to take the strain.

If the body gets fatigued, the mind too gets bored with the same routine and it gets difficult to motivate oneself.

It was in 1997 during the tour of the West Indies, that Tendulkar had once said: "Even now there are times when I am playing that I suddenly go blank and don't know where I am."

There was always a danger that Tendulkar's skills wouldn't desert him but boredom and lack of motivation could kill his appetite for runs one day.

If that could happen to him when he was only 23, there is every possibility that seven years later those blank spells may have become more frequent.

When one watches a batsman of high quality play silly shots or is unable to concentrate for even short spells against ordinary attacks, the signs are there that the man has lost his focus.

Difficult times

And watching Tendulkar get into bouts of self-doubt and struggle to make runs, one feels that the man, human as he too is, may have reached a stage where he would find it very difficult to play like the old Tendulkar again. In his case it was not just the case of mental fatigue. The world knows that he suffers from a back ailment, had his toe operated on a while ago and immediately after the World Cup had a hand surgery and was "not sure whether I would be fit to hold a bat again or not."

So Tendulkar's loss of form was, in a way, a logical culmination of a series of factors that finally put an end to any great sportsman's career. The worrisome fact was not that Tendulkar was out of form. In many ways it was that he may have gone over the hill.

The unanimous consensus was that Tendulkar is in decline. And now comes this double century. It could on Sunday even become a triple hundred, such seems to be Tendulkar's determination and the will to prove all his detractors wrong.

Innings of importance

When asked whether he has ever struggled and fought as much while playing a long innings, his reply was: "This is by far one of my most important innings. Right there at the top with others." In sheer quality of stroke-play and domination over the bowling, it cannot be his best innings. Not by a mile. But what this epic knock of his shows is that Tendulkar is not finished. Far from it.

This innings has been a revelation. It has shown that Tendulkar is keen and still has an intense desire to succeed and make runs. In a way, one can say, his double hundred here has been a personal voyage. An innings of self-discovery.

He has in a span of almost 10 hours fought all his demons. Till his hundred, life at the middle was a big struggle. There were misses and near misses. Yet he did not lose his way. He fought and fought. Stayed focussed and once past hundred, Tendulkar, probably, discovered he can still bat like old.

That he could still dare the ball to obey his dictates must have breathed new life into him.

More than his will and his mental resolve what struck one was the way he played second fiddle to VVS Laxman and had no hesitation in accepting that fact.

"The way he is batting I would dare not play like that," he said. Even more amazing was to watch him sprint down the wicket, looking for singles even at the end of what must have been one of the most tiring days in his life.

Tendulkar, for the first time in his career, has lasted a whole day in a Test match. And after his astonishing show of will power, it is not difficult to believe that this won't be the last time either.

and when runs fail the master, others step in

‘He’s the best’, they say Down Under

First Published: Jan 04, 2004 00:43 IST