India Today - - COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE - Ge­of­frey Boy­cott

The year was 1996, the venue was Edg­bas­ton in Birm­ing­ham, and I was there. Eng­land won that game by eight wick­ets, and it was a low-scor­ing af­fair, too. How­ever, the rea­son I, and many oth­ers, re­mem­ber that game is the way Sachin Ten­dulkar set about the hap­less English bowlers in the sec­ond in­nings. On a fourthin­nings pitch that of­fered ev­ery­thing and more to the seam­ers, and made the ball seam and swing, Sachin sin­gle-hand­edly took the fight out of a ma­raud­ing Chris Lewis. Of the team score of 219, he made 122. The sec­ond high­est scorer was San­jay Man­jrekar, with 18.

The dis­ci­pline and fo­cus re­quired for an in­nings of such cal­i­bre are per­haps at odds with flair and ag­gres­sion, yet Sachin dis­played plenty of both. What struck us all was his com­plete fear­less­ness in the face of a hos­tile bowl­ing at­tack with blood on their mind, and his re­fusal to call it a day, even as his fel­lows de­parted in a steady pro­ces­sion from the other end. That tem­per­a­ment, I be­lieve, can only be­long to some­one whose tech­nique makes him well-nigh in­vin­ci­ble, should he so choose. It is the ap­proach of some­one who has vis­ited, and con­quered, weak­nesses that have felled many lesser play­ers.

I have seen so much of Sachin over the years that I now find it im­pos­si­ble to pick and choose my ‘Sachin mo­ments’. To give a ran­dom ex­am­ple, I re­call him get­ting ready to tackle Shane Warne dur­ing an Aus­tralian tour of In­dia. Con­ven­tional wis­dom would dic­tate that In­dian bats­men get ready to counter Aus­tralian pace, given the state of things, but con­ven­tional wis­dom would be wrong. What sense does it make to plan for pace when the pitches sup­port spin? Sachin was per­haps the only mem­ber of the team who un­der­stood that. And he took the trou­ble to ask Lax­man Si­vara­makr­ish­nan to bowl at him, round the wicket, into the bowlers’ rough. The re­sults are his­tory, clichés be damned.

I re­mem­ber that prac­tice ses­sion largely be­cause it im­pressed upon me Sachin’s un­ortho­dox in­tel­li­gence. Here was a bats­man who had spot­ted a pos­si­ble loop­hole and was work­ing on it. He wasn’t go­ing through the mo­tions as many do, no mat­ter how hard they prac­tise. Prac­tice alone does not make you per­fect. Only per­fect prac­tice makes you per­fect. If you’re prac­tis­ing the wrong things, you are merely get­ting bet­ter at be­ing wrong. For the greater part of his ca­reer, Sachin has dis­played this uncanny abil­ity to prac­tise right. And that has trans­lated into foot­work that is a coach­ing man­ual’s joy. If you ig­nore the bumpy ride of the past year and a half—and you should be­cause that was sim­ply na­ture do­ing its job—I have never seen him put a foot wrong. Like a well-trained dancer, Sachin has, time af­ter time, got into the best po­si­tion to play a shot. That’s be­cause, as I was telling Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron re­cently, you need to get your feet set first. The arms and hands sim­ply fol­low.

In Sachin’s case, the foot­work be­comes even more im­por­tant be­cause, like Sunny Gavaskar, he is a small man.

Prac­tice alone does not make you per­fect. Only per­fect prac­tice does. For the greater part of his ca­reer, Sachin has dis­played this uncanny abil­ity to prac­tise right. And that has trans­lated into foot­work that is a coach­ing man­ual’s joy. Ge­of­frey Boy­cott is a for­mer English Test cap­tain who has

fol­lowed Sachin’s ca­reer as a lead­ing com­men­ta­tor

And small bats­men take smaller strides when they play for­ward. If your foot­work isn’t right, and your step is just about a foot and a half and you are too far away from the pitch of the ball, the out­come can be fatal, not least be­cause you’re caught at the crease and rooted to the spot. Dur­ing his best time, which was pretty much all the time bar­ring the past 18-odd months, I have never seen Sachin caught at the crease. Ever. But those feet have fi­nally stopped mov­ing as well as they should, I feel. And that’s what time is all about, isn’t it?

The other as­pect of Sachin’s tech­nique that has al­ways de­lighted me is his judge­ment of length. I prob­a­bly do not need to ex­plain this, but we’ve seen so many play­ers play back when they should be play­ing for­ward, and vice versa, that this bears rep­e­ti­tion. Even a player of the cal­i­bre of Ma­hen­dra Singh Dhoni nicked one to the wick­et­keeper dur­ing the re­cent Kolkata Test against the West Indies be­cause he stayed back in­stead of com­ing for­ward. That isn’t some­thing you would nor­mally as­so­ci­ate with Sachin. The lad just pos­sesses a sub­lime sense of length. And that’s all, re­ally. Foot­work and judge­ment of length. Th­ese are, or ought to be, the ba­sics of any good bats­man’s tech­nique and the beauty of Sachin’s game has al­ways been that he has kept things sim­ple.

This is largely what has al­lowed him to play any kind of bowl­ing on any kind of pitch. This is also what al­lows him to play those per­fect drives, cuts and pulls with min­i­mal ex­pen­di­ture of en­ergy. That econ­omy of move­ment comes from hours upon hours of ded­i­cated prac­tice, whereby per­fectly or­tho­dox tech­nique wins over on-the-spot, some­times des­per­ate, in­no­va­tion, ev­ery time.

For any­one who cared to no­tice, Sachin’s feet were al­ways aligned wicket to wicket, bat per­fectly in line with the off stump, the back-lift en­abling the re­lease of the bat and a cock­ing of the wrists. The fact that he hits with such power can be at­trib­uted to the per­fect trans­fer of weight as well as the re­lease of his wrists at the top of his bat swing.

You can also sense that there is a def­i­nite plan be­hind each and ev­ery in­nings, that tech­nique is sub­servient to Sachin’s as­sess­ment of the game, and that he isn’t us­ing tech­nique sim­ply for the sake of it. While this may not be ac­tu­ally pos­si­ble, he gives the im­pres­sion that he has thought ev­ery in­nings through, pre­pared for ev­ery ball, stud­ied ev­ery in­di­vid­ual bowler, and con­ducted a per­sonal risk as­sess­ment for ev­ery shot. All of which make him a game con­troller, and a game changer on oc­ca­sion.

There is no shame in the grad­ual de­cline that Sachin has been go­ing through. And I com­pletely un­der­stand his de­sire to con­tinue to play. Through all the ups and downs, Sachin Ten­dulkar has never stopped en­joy­ing him­self. And now that he has fi­nally called it a day, the judge­ment, as usual, is per­fect.



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