WOULD Sachin Tendulkar have played the same innings he did against the Australians in the opening tour game if he had still been Indian captain? It does set one thinking, that poser. A great deal hinges on that one question, for many would agree that the taming of Mark Taylor's nine-series winning team began with that masterly double hundred from the little man in Bombay.
Tendulkar is a man who has gone without sleep many a night because of the problems associated with being the captain of the Indian team. When he has handed the captaincy, pressures of a new sort suddenly had to be dealt with, one of the biggest being the fact that he never got a team which he wanted. Somebody or the other was always being shoved down his throat.
Add to this the fact that he was not often on the winning side, that he had to curb his natural game for fear that criticism would be levelled at him for not scoring enough and that he had to cope with all this at the ripe old age of 24. What would have been uppermost in his mind when Australia landed in India if he had not lost the captaincy by then?
Remember, Australia may be looking down and out at the moment but before this tour they were the reigning unofficial Test champions; India are a team which could not even beat Sri Lanka at home and spent the whole of 1997 without a victory in the five-day game. There was not a great deal to show in the one-day version either.
To get back to the original poser: would Sachin have gone for the bowling the way he did in Bombay had he still been the captain of the national team? Remember, that innings gave him the confidence to treat Warne in a cavalier manner in the first Test. And a lot of the sting in that Australian gentleman's tail was neutralised by just this one innings.
Tendulkar is in a class of his own, a class which is inhabited by a very few. Those who have had the privilege of seeing Viv Richards bat would recall the way he was hesitant in playing the first few balls of an innings and would, at times, even snick a catch here or there. If that period passed, then it was generally mayhem which followed. Notice Brian Lara too; he always appears to be giving the bowler an even chance and starts hesitantly. The first few strokes often appear to be chancy. The same goes for Tendulkar; of such stuff stuff are great cricketers made for they can ride the waves right on the edge, look as though they may die any moment, and yet come away with a hundred plus or even more, all of it made with great panache. This is their natural game, this is sheer talent, this is the way lesser mortals understand that there is a massive difference between genius and acquired skills.
Had Tendulkar ground his way to a double hundred in that tour opener, taking eight hours over it, Warne would not have been humbled. One has to give it to the leggie, even after Sachin compiled that masterpiece in Bombay, he had enough stuff left in him to take four wickets in India's first innings. But after the second innings, it was all over. A man of lesser talents would have been destroyed; Warne will need some rest before he returns to his old form.
And so, I ask again, what think you, gentle reader? Would Tendulkar have batted that way if he had been captain? I think not. And there, the series may well have been decided. But your reactions would definitely be of interest. Let them flow.