Sachin has 50 tons in his sights
‘Little maestro’ is set to reach a landmark on this tour
WILL Sachin Tendulkar stroke his way to his 50th Test century in the coming series against South Africa, or won’t he?
The prospect of witnessing, on African soil, one of the greats of the game becoming the first to attain that landmark provides South African cricket fans with a dilemma.
Do they pin their hopes on a 3-0 rout of the No 1 Test side in the world by the Proteas, or do they reluctantly grant Tendulkar the opportunity to rake in yet another statistical accolade?
Both outcomes could yet transpire even if South Africa do dominate India, as they have in home Test series up to now.
India have ascended the Test ladder precisely because they are not a oneman show, and the modest No 4 batsman would never want to be singled out in the team context.
But, as with other icons of the game like Don Bradman, Garfield Sobers and others, his every move is followed by millions, specially in his home country.
Tendulkar begins the three-Test series next week having already recorded in 2010 the highest annual run aggregate of his career.
Six times since he began his Test career in Karachi in 1989 the little maestro has topped 1 000 runs in a calendar year. And with the Centurion and Kingsmead Tests to come before year-end, he could add significantly to his 1 396 runs to date this year. Before 2010 his best retur n for a year’s endeavour had been the 1 392 runs he collected in 2002.
What is his formline coming into his fifth Test series in South Africa? He was expected to score his 50th century against New Zealand at home last month, but his retur n from four innings in a three-match series was 126 runs.
Lest you think that represents a poor run, have regard for the fact that he has reached three figures six times this year – and on the last two occasions he notched 214 against Australia in Bangalore in October, and 203 against Sri Lanka in Colombo in July.
In the coming series the key to success for India’s batsmen is going to be how they handle the pace of the Proteas fast bowlers on bouncy wickets. Although India have won only one Test in 12 five-day matches here – the first Test at the Wanderers four years ago (before losing the series 2-1) – Tendulkar has scores of 111 in Johannesburg in 1992, 169 in Cape Town in 1997 and 155 in Bloemfontein in 2001.
He did not reach three figures on India’s last visit, something he is keen to make up for in what could be his last Test series in this country. Four years ago Tendulkar’s contribution to the Indian cause was 199 runs in six innings, statistics which have led to an overall average here of 39.76 – significantly lower than his career average of 56.55.
One factor which could lift his and his team’s perfor mances is the amount of preparation they have been getting in in the past week in a camp at the Claremont Cricket Club ground in Constantia in Cape Town.
The bulk of the 17-man squad will have got in three days’ good preparation before they move up to the Highveld for the start of the official buildup to Centurion.
One of the most enthusiastic participants in the sessions in the Cape has been Tendulkar. He and the other batsmen opted to face up to the quicks on the one strip on which the ball “was going around a bit” on Thursday. Coach Gary Kirsten chose the same strip for sessions of middle batting yesterday, too.
And Kirsten hauled out his impressive tennis serving skills as well, hitting scores of balls at Tendulkar yesterday at the end of the practice.
“That exercise is just for the guys to get used to the short ball... getting attuned to which balls to play at and which balls they have to drop their hands to (and leave alone),” the coach added.
“A lot of this preparation in the nets is about repetition. There is a difference from when a guy starts a session (of having balls hit at him). After you hit 80 balls at him, he’s already better at the end of it.”
Kirsten has predicted a close-run series. So what will be the one critical point in the action? “The side who can take 20 wickets. There will be bounce... maybe not much lateral movement (from the pitches). But both sides have very good batting line-ups.
“Building pressure on the opposing side will be key. So if you have one side bowling out the other in a session – and both sides can do that – and creating that pressure, that could swing the series,” said Kirsten.
TARGET TENDULKAR: Can Sachin make his 50th?