Triumphant Little Master bats away criticism

Published: Saturday, June 30, 2007, 23:53 [IST]
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Belfast:Sachin Tendulkar, after becoming the first batsman to score 15,000 one-day international runs, could be forgiven for wanting to scream "Who says I'm finished?" just as an angry Sebastian Coe did after winning his second straight Olympic 1500 metres title at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell was typically blunt when assessing Tendulkar's future after a wretched World Cup in the Caribbean.

The 'Little Master' managed just 64 runs in three matches, including seven and nought in the defeats by Bangladesh and Sri Lanka respectively which sealed India's shock first round exit in March.

"At the moment he looks like a player trying to eke out a career," Chappell wrote in Mid-Day, an Indian newspaper based in Tendulkar's home city of Mumbai.

"If he really is playing for that reason and not to help win as many matches as he can for India then he is wasting his time and should retire immediately," added Chappell, the brother of former India coach Greg Chappell.

Tendulkar, who made 93 in India's six-wicket win over South Africa at Stormont here Friday, having required 50 runs at the start of his innings to reach the 15,000 mark, didn't follow Coe's example when invited to respond to his critics.

But his message was equally clear. "It is their job to have opinions. When I hold a cricket bat in my hand it's a far tougher and bigger job."

Few would dispute Tendulkar's claim to just such an occupation in being persistently landed, however unfairly, with the prime responsibility for the success or failure of the national side in cricket-crazy India, the world's second most populous nation.

Yet Tendulkar was the first to say that, unlike Coe's achievement, or Muhammad Ali's in regaining the world heavyweight boxing title at the age of 32, his latest landmark didn't mean he'd reached a sporting pinnacle.

"After playing for 18 years, I feel it's just one of those things," said Tendulkar, who has now scored 15,043 runs in 387 one-day international matches at an average of 44.24 with 41 hundreds.

No one could seriously suggest Tendulkar's innings on Friday, coming just days after his 99 in South Africa's four-wicket series-opening win on Tuesday was a selfish affair.

It lasted just 106 balls with two sixes and 13 fours, most of them sublime, and ended with the right-handed opener bottom-edging a cut onto his stumps - not the shot of someone with a blinkered desire to score yet another hundred.

"It's obviously a happy feeling - especially when we ended up on a winning note," Tendulkar said after India had levelled the three-match series at 1-1 ahead of Sunday's finale.

And yet this innings was played in a fledgling cricket nation during a minor tournament against a side with little in the way of match practice since the World Cup.

Tendulkar, 34, may hold the record for most Test hundreds with 37 but Chappell and many others name recently retired former West Indies captain Brian Lara as the greatest batsman of the generation.

Left-hander Lara's ability to make match-winning centuries against world number ones Australia without compromising his attacking game gives him the edge over Tendulkar in the eyes of some observers.

India captain Rahul Dravid, also 34, though was in no doubt about the current worth of Tendulkar who has, as Chappell acknowledges, had more injury problems than Lara.

"I think he's achieved everything he ever wants to achieve in this game," Dravid said. "But it's about motivating himself and trying to do his best for the team and ensure we win games. It's great to see."

How long that is the case remains an open question. Meanwhile the bulk of India's United Kingdom tour sees them play England in a Test and one-day series starting in July.

When Tendulkar is in England he could meet with Coe, who as head of the London 2012 Olympic Games organisation may yet end up facing more criticism than he ever did as an athlete.

Then again, a treasured one-line comment may get a second airing.


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