It will soon be half a century since Don Bradman retired from cricket. There have been many pretenders to his crown. But now Sachin Tendulkar has succeeded the "greatest batsman in the game". Tendulkar, like Bradman, has torn all bowling to tatters. And cricket writers have perforce had to fall back on the thesaurus for new words to describe his game.
Tendulkar invariably has evoked images of Bradman. Indeed, on his first visit to Australia in the summer of 1991-92, the veteran bowler and critic Bill O'Reilly wrote that "not since the days of Bradman has cricket seen a batsman like Tendulkar".And in a recent TV interview Bradman himself got his wife to vouch for the fact that "this fellow is playing much the same way as I used to play; his compactness, his technique, his stroke production all seem to gel as far as I was concerned".
For the cognoscenti it is sufficient that Tendulkar is Tendulkar. As William Hazlitt observed, "first-rate powers defy calculations or comparisons and can be defined only by themselves. They are sui generis and make the class to which they belong".
There are cricket theoreticians who have drawn attention to Tendulkar's faults, like his grip and his front-footed approach. But it could be pointed out that there has never been a great artiste or a sportsman who has been a slave to a technique. The emphasis on basic principles as listed in the text book does not usually make an attractive batsman. Fortunately Tendulkar's responses and reflexes have been swift and effective enough to counter any drawbacks.
It is enough for the common man that he can "dream dreams" and be thrilled by Tendulkar's power play - as he pivots himself on his back foot for the pull, very much in the Bradman fashion; and if this stroke is all power, with the right forearm and muscles very prominent, Tendulkar pleases the aesthetic senses as, on bended knee, he punches the ball to cover. And most delectable of all is the drive past the bowler which reveals the strength of his wrist. It is played without any visible effort and is the sort of stroke that would drive any bowler to despair.
Tendulkar has from time to time disappointed his large following, but when he has fallen cheaply it has not been through a crude shot but through some miscalculation. It is as if the schoolboy in him has surfaced to chance his luck and while he returned to the pavilion, the grimace and shrug have been unmistakable signs that he is in a chastened, penitent mood.
Tendulkar has learnt from his mistakes, especially during his short stint of captaincy, but after Azhar's return to the helm of affairs, he has been free to himself. He has worked hard at the game, even to the extent, so the story goes, of getting the former Test leg-spin bowler Sivaramakrishnan to bowl from round the wicket into a specially prepared "rough" at the nets. So he was ready fro Shane Warne's tricks when the real test came at Chennai and Bangalore.
Tendulkar has been at his best when the going was tough. Cardus once compared the Australian batsman to being "like lost souls in a fog, being led by Bradman's torch". This metaphor has often come to mind when Tendulkar has carried the Indian batting as he did at Sharjah recently. His batting then was incandescent. When he departed, it seemed, as if the lights in the room had gone off and our television sets were on the blink.
No essay on Tendulkar will be complete without a reference to him as a bowler.As in his batting, he likes to explore and improvise and utilise everything that lies within the reach of a bowler : leg-breaks and offbreaks and cutters with a bit of swing. With this comes the confidevce of youth. When all his seniors were diffident and shied away, who will ever forget that last over of his in the Hero Cup semi-final of 1990 when he won the match for India ? In the field, without quite the flexibility of Azharuddin, he is swift and sure.
And finally one final comparison with Bradman who came on the scene during the dark days of depression of the thirties to lift the spirits of his countrymen. By his exhilirating strokeplay Tendulkar has done as much to take our minds off the sad state of affairs in this land.