Thursday, 16 September 2010

Great player poor captain

Sachin Tendulkar has got to be one of the most universally admired sportsmen in the cricketing world. Surely, no man has smashed so many records, pummeled so many bowlers across so many generations even as he won so many hearts. Despite attaining heights lesser mortals would not even dream of and achieving more than anyone has ever done before and perhaps anyone ever will, Tendulkar has remained firmly grounded, a far cry from many other cricketers whose achievements could be described on the backside of a dinner plate and yet strut about with the ego befitting an emperor.

And yet despite his collosal achievements and inspiring presence, leadership is an art Sachin Tendulkar has never mastered. Just today I was reading an article where Ravi Shastri has mentioned that even the presence of the great Tendulkar has not been sufficient to inspire Mumbai Indians.

Well, I'm a huge admirer of the man. Being from Mumbai, I guess I'm bound to be. And yet, its hard not to feel that far from being a helpless captain unable to solve a problem haunting his team, Sachin Tendulkar is himself the problem. Just the other day, Mumbai Indians- the team led by him- lost their nerve at the fag end of a game they had under complete control and managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

I did not witness the game, but the Cricinfo article took me back thirteen years in time. It was 13th February 1997. India needed 252 off 40 overs to win the finals of the Standard Bank Cup at Durban. At 198-3 after 30 overs, the target was a mere 54 runs off 60 balls with seven wickets in hand- an easy target even allowing for a strong opposition attack. And yet, against the run of play, India spectacularly imploded, losing by a mere 15 runs.

Something eerily similar happened at the Arnos Vale Ground at St. Vincent on 30th April 1997. At 201-3, India needed 49 runs at under a run a ball with seven wickets in hand- another breeze to victory, or so it should have been. Instead a flurry of mindless shots ensued and India were blown out for just 231. The main damager? The little remembered Ottis Gibson with three wickets at the fag end (not to mention a couple of run outs).

Fast forward a dozen years to 14th May 2009. Mumbai Indians needed 4 off 6 balls with three wickets in hand to beat Rajasthan Royals. They got bowled out, adding a solitary run to their total. A victory that had been a mere formality had turned into a ludicrous defeat- a tendency the Mumbai Indians had shown time and again in the first IPL season in 2008 where they actually played a lot better than statistics might suggest.

I'm sure you're wondering what's the connection between the three. Is there anything in common between those three games played thirteen years apart? There is. Sachin Tendulkar was the captain in all those games, as he was earlier this week when Mumbai Indians lost their nerve and lost a game that was all but won, as he was in IPL 2008.

It is reasonable to argue that cricketers at that level should be thinking for themselves and as such, should be able to hold their nerves. Fair point. Having never been in the dressing room and having never even played the game at anything vaguely resembling a serious level I of all critics am least qualified to comment. Nevertheless, the question needs to be asked: why does every team the great man has ever led show a tendency to implode when confronted with victory?

I admire Sachin Tendulkar as a batsman. For the sheer quality of his batting and the scarcely believable period over which he has sustained that quality, he is without peer. Across three generations, ten cricket playing countries and in all possible betting conditions, he has scored handsomely. Bradman may have his takers, but going beyond just the average, its worth pointing out that he scored all his runs in just two countries in an age when pitches were generally dead, when one had the luxury of time due to the combination of timeless tests (in Australia) and 120 overs a day (as against 90 a day these days), quite apart from unimaginative field placements, meant that scoring opportunities were far greater.

But great individual players do not necessarily make great leaders. Perhaps every man is bound to have his shortcomings. While Tendulkar's mastery and understanding of the game is unparelled in all the annals of the game, the cricketing Gods held back just a little bit in terms of his leadership.

That perhaps is the master's tragedy.

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