Glowing tributes pour in for birthday boy

Published: Saturday, April 24, 2004, 17:19 [IST]
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New Delhi :Friends and rivals paid glowing tributes to Sachin Tendulkar on his 31st birthday, saying the Indian superstar remained the most difficult batsman to dislodge.

Tendulkar, who recently helped guide India to their first ever Test series win in Pakistan, has been a consistent performer for an incredible 15 years in international cricket.

He has scored 9,470 runs in 114 Tests with 33 centuries -- just one short of equalling compatriot Sunil Gavaskar's world mark of 34 -- and 13,134 runs in 333 One-dayers with a world record 37 tons.

Tendulkar's teammates believe the champion batsman has not lost his focus and appetite for runs despite the emergence of new batting stars like Rahul Dravid, Venkatsai Laxman and Virender Sehwag.

They point out the pressure has still not eased on Tendulkar, who has been carrying the team's burden since making his Test debut aged 16 in Pakistan.

Sehwag may be the only Indian to slam a Test triple-century, but India still rely on Tendulkar to improve their fortunes. Such is his stature that he grabs headlines as much with his failures as with his successes.

"I don't know if his batting has changed in the conventional sense, but today he knows his game very well. He is more solid now," Indian leg-spinner Anil Kumble told the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency.

"I am not sure the emergence of young players has made him relax, but I'd certainly say he is more comfortable now."

And that will be uncomfortable news for bowlers, who have been finding themselves at the receiving end of his array of shots for more than a decade.

Tendulkar is now the most senior member of the team, but still plays the game with the enthusiasm of a youngster making Test debut. The desire to dominate and win has still not diminished.

Former Pakistani skipper Waqar Younis said Tendulkar had now become more compact and started playing like a very mature batsman.

"With the passage of time he has understood what Test cricket is about and that he has to stay at the crease. Now you do not see him play any flashy shots," he said.

"If you do not change your game, the bowlers are going to catch you. He has changed his game and has become even more difficult for bowlers."

Tendulkar may have curbed a few strokes of late, but remains one of the most entertaining batsmen in the world.

"He was more flamboyant in his early years, but is an extremely difficult batsman to bowl to these days. If he gets into double-figures, he more or less closes the options for bowlers," said teammate Harbhajan Singh.

"He might have scored 20,000 runs and 70 centuries in international cricket, but still wants to perform to his optimum level."

Former Indian skipper Ajit Wadekar said Tendulkar's presence in the middle was a boon for young players.

"He is a matured batsman now. He has realised he needs to stay in the middle to guide youngsters so that they could be moulded into reliable batsmen for the future," he said.

"It is the youngsters' good fortune that they are being guided by a player of his status. It is a learning experience for them."

Tendulkar concedes a lot has changed since his debut Test series.

"I think as you grow old, things change. Similarly with cricket. It's a gradual change for the better. I am also trying to be as compact as possible."

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