Sachin has 50 tons in his sights

‘Lit­tle mae­stro’ is set to reach a land­mark on this tour

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - MICHAEL DO­MAN Tests

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.

NEIL BAYNES

TAR­GET TEN­DULKAR: Can Sachin make his 50th?

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