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A teenaged Tendulkar would wonder: Can I hit a six at Wankhede?


The first time I properly saw one-dayers was during the 1983 World Cup. I was just 10. Back then, I didn’t understand the intricacies of the game, it was all about enjoying cricket, being in love with it and spending as much time on the ground as possible.

And then came a big moment when I saw India winning the World Cup and a thought came to mind – one day I want to do this.

That’s where my journey started. While playing school cricket, it was all about playing for India for me. Having watched India win the World Cup, I wasn’t clear in my head if I wanted to play ODIs or Test cricket. Now when I look back, it was always Tests. Being an attacking batsman, I liked playing my shots but there was a realisation that if I did well in Test cricket, ODI selection would automatically follow.

Sachin Tendulkar, Tendulkar, SRT, Sachin Test debut, Sachin debut, Sachin first Test, Waqar Younis, Waqar, Waqar Younis test debut, waqar debut, cricket, cricket news, sports, sports news Sachin Tendulkar made his Test debut at the age of 16.

It was that one match in Peshawar during the 1989 tour of Pakistan that helped me cement my place in ODIs. Thousands had turned up but it rained on the morning of the match and the game was called off. Not to disappoint the fans, the teams agreed to play an exhibition game. So we ended up playing a curtailed game, which was to be the first T20 match of my life. It was the game where I scored an 18-ball 53. (Tendular’s scoring sequence in that famous Abdul Qadir over was: 6, 0, 4, 6, 6, 6). On that tour, my first, till then it was all about Test cricket. I was playing along the ground, focusing on forward defence, leaving the ball outside the off-stump to fast bowlers, and all that. It was all about technique and the team’s game plan.

In that Peshawar game. I was able to show my ability to hit the ball. It was the first time my own teammates saw that side of my play. They realised I could hit the ball.

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Achrekar sir (Tendulkar’s childhood coach Late Ramakant Achrekar) always asked us to avoid aerial shots, and play along the ground. We all tried to follow what he told us but things started to change quite a bit as I was getting stronger with age. Practising at Wankhede Stadium also made a huge difference to my overall game. I was just 14 when I joined the Mumbai Ranji Trophy nets at Wankhede Stadium. The quality of bowlers that I faced there was really good. It changed the way I thought and the way I wanted to play my shots.

Among the young cricketers in Mumbai, Wankhede Stadium is the benchmark. It is about: Kya mai Wankhede pe chhakka maar sakta hun (Can I hit a six at Wankhede)? Before we got into the big stadium, we would play in the Mumbai maidans. At Shivaji Park and Azad Maidan, it was all imaginary boundaries. At Cross Maidan, there was a certain sense of a boundary rope since sending the ball on the road outside was what was aimed for.

Sachin Tendulkar remembers his childhood coach Ramakant Achrekar on Teachers Day.

Only after batting at Wankhede, I had the rope in mind and had the fascination of clearing it. Now the practice pitches are on the central square, but in the 1980s they were at third man and fine leg. So, we had the challenge of hitting the ball all the way to the other side. In the 1990s, that was the challenge for us and that’s how we developed the habit of hitting the ball.

The net sessions also help me develop another important aspect of one-day cricket. I enjoyed bowling from the day I started playing cricket. I did not want to just stand there and watch others ball or bat. I wanted to be part of the action all the time. This helped me grow as a cricketer and I thoroughly enjoyed that process. Bowling only added to my game and helped me contribute to the team’s cause.

If I had a new ball in hand, I would bowl seam up. If it was a semi-new ball, it would be off-spin and in case the ball was old, I would bowl leg-spin. And I thoroughly enjoyed having mini-competition matches with all the batsmen at the nets. Be it (Virender) Sehwag or Rahul Dravid or Sourav (Ganguly) or Yuvi (Yuvraj Singh), I would love bowling to them, I would love getting them out. We used to throw challenges at each other, it was fun. I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of practice sessions.

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At the start of my ODI career, I batted at No.6. This happened till 1992. Later in 1994, I was batting No.4 or No.5. It was around that time that there was this one game during the 1994 New Zealand tour when Navjot Singh Sidhu told the management that he had a stiff neck. I was the vice-captain then and was part of the meeting with Wadekar sir (coach Ajit Wadekar) and Azhar (captain Mohammad Azharuddin) where it was to be decided: Kisko khilana hai abhi (Whom to play now)? It was there that I told them that I can go up front and attack the bowlers. (A couple of years later in the 1996 World Cup Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana would make it a popular and successful ODI trend).

Sachin Tendulkar, Sachin, Tendulkar, Sachin tendulkar ODI, Sachin Tendulkar ODI hundred, Sachin tendulkar India, Cricket news, Cricket, Sports news, Sports, Indian Express Sachin’s fifth ODI hundred came against Kenya during the group stage of 1996 World Cup. (FILE)

That was the time when the team strategy was to play out the new ball. If you go back a couple of years, during 1991-92 when we played in Australia, the score after 15-20 overs would be like 50, or maximum 60. So, I knew that the team would play according to the same strategy and planning. But somehow, I felt that I could give a new dimension to what everyone is thinking. Maybe, I thought we needed to think slightly out of the box.

My idea was to go up front and hit the bowlers. I knew I was capable of doing it and was also feeling confident. I told Wadekar sir that if I fail I will not come back to you again with this plan. I told him – “I will not question you again, just give me one chance, I know I can do it today. Since the opening batsman is not fit, give me one chance. Agar nahi hua toh (if it doesn’t work out), in the next match, I will go back to No.4.”

After that happened, things changed. Not that I continued opening throughout my career after that also. There were a number of occasions in 1997, in the 1999 World Cup, in 2002 in England and even in the 2007 World Cup, I batted at No.4. So, I was going up and down because before that there wasn’t any strategy that one could go out and take on the bowlers.

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Throughout my career, I had to deal with injuries and tweak my game. They played a huge part in me deciding what are the things that my body is allowing me to do and then to work around them.

In 2003, I had a left finger injury and got operated immediately after the World Cup. It took me four months to recover from it. In 2004, I had the tennis elbow injury and eventually had an operation in 2005. Around 2006-07, I had a shoulder injury. My shoulder and right bicep also needed to be operated upon and I had a couple of groin surgeries. Then, there was another wrist surgery later in my career.

The finger injury and tennis elbow are both related to gripping the bat and the shoulder injury impacted the power of my shots. The first time I realised that it was different was post the 2003 World Cup when we were playing a Test against New Zealand in Mohali. It was there that I realised that while playing the cut shot, my grip on the bat handle was not the same. There were other occasions also when I felt that subtle changes had taken place in my body. But I had to deal with all those things and bat accordingly.

WATCHING THE GAME EVOLVE

For the same shot, the returns have changed: Tendulkar

ODIs have evolved gradually and it can be traced by the clothing of players. There was a game we played against South Africa in 1991 in New Delhi which was a day-night match. In that game, only the T-shirts were coloured but the bottoms were white. Since the game was in November, it was quite cold at night, so we wore sweaters and they were white.

The 1993 Hero Cup was the first time we played with proper coloured attire. At the 1996 World Cup played in the sub-continent, things picked up. But there were times it was back to whites. Like in 1998 in a home series against Australia, we played in whites. As late as 2000, one India-Zimbabwe ODI series was in whites.

The real big change to the game was the red ball changing to white. If you ask my Indian team members which ball they want to play with in an ODI, they will all say red. Back in the day, ODIs with one just one red ball provided the batsmen with a different challenge. It became soft, got discoloured and reversed too.

If the ball was discoloured, it was hard to pick. So if a spinner was bowling, one had to watch the hand closely as it was tough to see the ‘spin’ on the ball while it was in the air. Say, on a scale of sighting the ball, if a new red cherry was 10 on 10, the discoloured ball could be possibly 5 or 6 on 10.

The SG ball would also reverse quite a bit. I remember quality fast bowlers would return in the ‘in-between overs’ to get wickets. At times when the ball had lost its colour, they would bowl with slips.

You can go back to old video clips of the India-Pakistan 1999 World Cup game. Wasim Akram was bowling the 47th or 48th over with slips. He was looking for the batsman to edge the ball. Maybe, to save a boundary or to get a wicket. That’s because the old ball was reversing.

The rule tweak of two white balls replacing the red one played against the bowlers. This meant that during an innings, a ball would get used only for 25 overs from one end. Even when the spinners came to bowl later in the game, it was not too difficult to sight. In ODIs, the spinners generally come in to bowl in the 16th or 17th over. But in reality, the ball was just eight overs old.

Extra fielder in ring makes bowlers defensive, batsmen bold

Field restrictions also played a big role in changing the dynamics of ODI cricket. These days in ODIs, there need to be five fielders in the 30-yard circle (from 11th to 40th overs). Earlier, there were only four fielders, so there was an extra man on the boundary. In case that extra fielder was at, say, long on, the batsman would think twice before hitting the ball. That was because the ball would have gone soft and so the batsman had to be dead sure that he would clear him.

Because of new restrictions, the extra fielder is up in the 30-yard circle – it could either be mid-on, mid-off or point – when spinners are bowling. So as a batsman, you feel that basically I have to clear the 30-yard circle and I am safe. Moreover, the ball remains hard since there are two of them. These elements have given a different dimension to ODI cricket from when it started.

There is talk about spinners finding it tough to get wickets in ODIs as compared to T20s. That I think is because in ODIs, there are five fielders in the ring while only four in T20s (after six overs). This changes the psyche of both the batsmen and the bowlers. The additional fielder in the ring makes bowlers more defensive. A fielder standing at long-on as compared to the one at mid-on makes the bowler think differently, their mindset changes.

With two new balls, the ball is not getting old enough, there is no discolouration. So as was the case with an old red ball, a spinner can’t disguise a doosra or googly effectively since the white ball isn’t discoloured that much. Plus, it is only when the ball gets slightly scuffed up that the spinners can grip it better. If you see, the economy rates of all bowlers are much higher now than what they used to be in the 90s. The strike rates of batsmen too have gone up. The average runs scored by a team is much more.

Same stroke, different return

I do get asked whether batsmen are finding it easier to score these days because of rule-tweaking. Nothing to take away from the batsmen because batting is not easy. But I can say that the same shots are reaping different rewards. It could be the same cover drive or a square drive but because of field restrictions, the rewards are different. For the same shot, the returns have changed. It is straightaway three times more value for shots.

There is another aspect of ODI cricket. Before the rule change, in case there was a threatening batsman at the crease, the bowler would bowl a ‘single’ ball that could send him to the non-striker’s end. This would mean the less-harmful batsman on strike and you would bowl more deliveries to him. Now because of the rule tweak, one fewer fielder on the fence, the ‘single’ delivery could be a boundary. It isn’t just three extra runs, but the more threatening batsman will still face the next ball.

Earlier, it used to happen that bowlers would bowl a full-up delivery on leg-stump and one would flick the ball that goes to square-leg or fine-leg, and you are at the non-striker end. Now it could be a four. Rubbing salt into the wound, the same batsman would continue to be on strike. In T20 cricket, since there are four fielders in the ring, when batsmen like Kieron Pollard or Andre Russell are hitting, bowlers try the yorkers so they take a single and go to the non-striker’s end.

ODI with 4 innings: A Tendulkar idea whose time has come

Back in the day, Tendulkar had suggested that a four-innings ODI could make it more interesting. Years later he says his idea was misunderstood, he wasn’t asking for batsmen to get two chances but it was a thought aimed at making ODI a more even contest that didn’t depend on toss and conditions.

My idea of converting ODIs into four innings was kind of misunderstood. Generally, It was felt that I was asking two batting innings for batsmen while the idea was to give a fair chance to both teams. It was the case of you getting to bat only once, a team only had 10 wickets spread over two innings of 25 overs each. This would give a new meaning to one-day cricket. We have to be fair to both teams.

In ODIs on a number of occasions at certain venues in the world, it was felt that if you win the toss, you have kind of won the game unless you bat really poorly. The main reason being the dew factor. My idea was that both teams bat for 25 overs in dry conditions and also bowl 25 overs each in wet conditions. So, in this case winning the toss was possibly a 60 per cent advantage and not 90 per cent. Many times in ODIs, it is not skill against skill, sometimes it is skill against the skill of the other team to adapt to the conditions.

Sometimes it was the case of bad light and rain. If you remember the 2007 World Cup final, Sri Lanka was batting against Australia in the dark. Take the case of the 2002 Champions Trophy final in Sri Lanka that was impacted by rains and was extended to two days. First time Sri Lanka batted first, they played all 50 overs. We batted for 15 overs and rain interrupted the game. So, in all we played 65 overs. The next day again Sri Lanka batted for 50 overs and we batted some 12 overs. Again, it was a rain-interrupted game and both teams were declared joint winners. While in reality in two days, we had played close to 125 overs. So, in case we had 25 overs each, both teams would have planned accordingly.





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