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May 25, 1999


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On the horns of a dilemma

Prithvi Anand

Sometimes you feel how Sachin Tendulkar can take all this. Superstar at 15, a nation swooning over his smallest move, the burden of expectations of 900 million people going on 1 billion, the price of being a celebrity extraordinaraire.

He also has an evolved sense of how people around him operate. Tackling envy and venom, plotters and manipulators around is not easy. It was a wise man who said: "You have to be clever to be honest."

Now a strange situation has developed in the wake of India's win over Kenya on Sunday. Batting at number four, Tendulkar has smashed 140 runs. It is difficult to argue with success and still more difficult to tinker with success. The Indian team is unsure whether to put him at number four or revert him to his customary opener's role, a position where he has scored most of his runs and all 22 but Sunday's hundred.

How exactly did Tendulkar's new batting position emerge on Sunday? Only on the eve of the last match at Leicester, coach Anshuman Gaekwad was singing a different tune:

"Tendulkar is our best player. He must play as many overs as he can. It would be negative thinking to try to protect him against the moving ball."

A match later this "negative ploy" was employed and it has come good. Now what is to be done with this success?

An ordinary thing, like settling a batting order is never easy when it involves your best player. Tendulkar, it must now be accepted by one and all, is the one breathes life in this Indian team. He is the one who makes a "killing" and then everyone feeds off him. All other batsmen prosper in his company. It is as if the team starts believing in his presence. If he leaves early, panic can set in.

It is this threat of panic which has forced the team management to take the middle road. The policy at this moment is: "If the wicket has any life in it, Tendulkar must bat lower down."

In case India is batting second and the conditions have eased, Tendulkar would start at his customary opener's slot.

India just can't afford to see his back early against Sri Lanka on Wednesday. The Indian team management is right to the extent that this World Cup, now in its 11th day, has not been very kind to opening stands. But for the century stand between Herschelle Gibbs and Gary Kirsten for South Africa against England, the early batting of all teams has struggled against a freshly lacquered white ball with its hard seam.

If Tendulkar perishes in these circumstances early, India is gone. It was this theory which led for the team management to decide against him opening in the Bristol game.

What Azhar said at the end of the game, that "since Sadagopan Ramesh had succeeded against Zimbabwe, they wanted to retain his slot," is hogwash. The only worry one has is what Tendulkar himself feels about the issue.

Such is his standing in the team that others can only put forward their theory and request him. Nobody can decide the batting slot for him. On the other hand, Tendulkar himself is one who doesn't argue with the team decision. Not only he is a team-man, he also knows if he sticks to his desire and fails, he would be lampooned. He could be guilty only to the extent that he has not let his own conviction be imposed on the matter. He prefers going by consensus on this matter. Fair or unfair, Tendulkar would hate to be seen as a villain of the piece.

It is this situation which the team management must try to settle out. If they are confused and defensive, not much can be expected from this team.

Also, it does not give much confidence to the rest. They are indirectly told they do not inspire much confidence. People who are handling a bunch of young men should try to get the best out of everyone and not the other way around.

So, Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly, the most successful opening pair in India's one-day history, seem to have been unglued for the moment. They may have hit a few thousand runs and many hundreds together but they seem unlikely to be retained, at least till the next round, that is if India makes it.

My prediction is, Tendulkar would bat at number four only. But as they say, you can never tell with this team.

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Prithvi Anand

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