Would he have been a T20 star? | cricket.com.au



Would he have been a T20 star?

If Sachin Tendulkar was turning 21 today, instead of 41, would he aim for Tests or T20s?

In any discussions of or reflections on Sachin Tendulkar’s astonishing international cricket career, it’s unlikely that much time would be devoted to instances of single figures.

But for the man who earned more Test caps and made more one-day international appearances than any other in the game’s 137-year history, his return of a solitary Twenty20 international appearance for India stands as a stark achievement.

Not only as an indelible marker of the era in which he played, but also as an ironic footnote to remind us that in the fledgling years of the 20-over game India’s powerbrokers deemed it was not a format they were much interested in pursuing.

Indeed, India played just one full T20 international – against South Africa in 2006 where Tendulkar scored 10 from 12 balls – prior to the first ICC World T20 tournament being staged the following year.

But as Tendulkar celebrates his 41st birthday, and the first of his adult life as a retired international cricketer, it’s worth pondering just how different his career statistics might read if he had been born in 1993 rather than 1973.

If, instead of walking away from the game after 24 years of playing at its elite level, he was a sprightly 21-year-old considering whether his future lay in cricket’s historic long-form, it’s more lucrative and hyped ultra-short form or a hybrid of both.

Greg Chappell, Tendulkar’s coach when he was in charge of the Indian team from 2005-07 and now Cricket Australia’s National Talent Manager, believes that the Little Master’s influences – if not his priorities – would be significantly different if he had been learning his craft as a teenager in Mumbai’s Shivaji Park less than a decade ago rather than the mid-80s.

“The big difference I guess from when Sachin was growing up is that back then he would have largely been watching Test cricket, and even one-day cricket as it was played had similarities to Test cricket in a lot of ways,” Chappell told cricket.com.au.

“His heroes, and the heroes of the guys he was playing against as a teenager, would have been the players who had established themselves primarily as Test cricketers.

“But as a young cricket fan today, particularly in India, you would be watching a lot of 20-over cricket.

“And that in itself promotes the glamour and excitement of batsmen clearing the fence, and playing those sorts of innovative, higher-risk shots.

“I have no doubt Sachin could cope with whatever form of the game he set himself for because of his incredible talent, but I guess the bigger question would be ‘whose game would he choose to model himself on?’.”

(above photo won the Wisden and MCC Cricket Photograph of the Year competition for 2013. Taken by Atul Kamble)

As Chappell points out, young Indian cricketers have long trodden a different path to the international arena from their Australian and English counterparts.

This is due largely to the less formalised competitions of their upbringing that are played in gullies and on maidans (parks) rather than through structured junior clubs and age-specific coaching clinics.

Tendulkar has spoken about his childhood obsession that saw him practice each morning for several hours before a game began in Shivaji Park at 10am, followed by two more hours’ training after the match finished at 5pm.

“I did this for 55 days in a row when I was 12,” he once said.

But his training regime would have borne scant resemblance to the strokeplay being honed by aspiring youngsters in India’s maidans, streets and few vacant spaces today, where the reverse slog sweep, inside-out lofted cover drive and ramp shot over the wicketkeeper’s head are undoubted favourites.

By contrast, Tendulkar’s focus was on his not losing his wicket and if his concentration began to wane, his coach would place one rupee coins on the top of the young batsman’s stumps with the promise that if they remained intact until the end of the session the teenager was allowed to pocket them.

Tendulkar still considers the coins he earned to be among his most prized cricket trophies.

As a man charged with spotting the next generation of batting and bowling prodigies, Chappell has noticed a distinct shift in the skills and the mindset that young cricketers bring with them when they graduate to under-age representative and even international ranks.

“What I’m seeing more and more these days is that rather than people being skilled as batters and then trying to adapt their games to become hitters, they are now starting out as hitters who need to learn to become batters if they’re going to succeed in the longer forms of the game,” Chappell said.

“There’s a big difference between being a hitter and being a batsman. So the young cricketer of today is undoubtedly developing a very different style.”

There’s no doubt that Tendulkar’s extraordinary natural acumen along with his relentless drive to succeed and to keep perfecting his game to remain ahead of opponents who were equally hell-bent on plotting his downfall would have seen him succeed in the 20-over format.

But whether he would have abandoned a technique that was, at its heart, built around a watertight defence in order to better enable him to reach and clear boundaries at every point of the ground as is expected of the world’s dominant 20-over strikers is open to debate.

For a start, he would most likely have needed to forego the incredibly heavy bats that he opted to increasingly use throughout his career, with some weighing in at more than 3lbs 4oz (in excess of 1.5kg).

As Chappell noted, the risk of employing such a hefty blade is that a batter is then forced to engage the bottom hand which, in turn, impacts on the range and the flexibility of their footwork.

Given that Twenty20 batting is all about improvisation and last-second alteration of stance, grip and weight transference in order to not just combat but punish whatever delivery is served up, it’s doubtful that Tendulkar could have used the chunky bats that helped his trademark punches, flicks and glides scorch to the boundary.

While his stellar one-day international career yielded a total of 195 sixes – the fourth-highest in the 50-over game’s history – his return over that time of 43 sixes per 100 ODI innings played sees him ranked at number 10 of the all-time big hitters using frequency as a criteria. (*see table below)

Of course, by the time Tendulkar entered the latter phases of his ODI career he was focused on playing a different role – batting through an innings while more explosive hitters the likes of Virender Sehwag, M S Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh played cameos around him.

But even his career ODI strike rate of 86.23 per 100 balls faced only sees him sneak into the top 30 of the fastest scorers to have played more than 100 ODIs for their country.

Of those who have played less (and faced a minimum 500 deliveries) it’s no surprise to see Australia’s Glenn Maxwell – the current stand-out performer of IPL 7 – at the head of the list with a remarkable ODI career strike rate to date of 124.2 runs per 100 balls faced.

However, while his batting pedigree, career focus and bald statistics might suggest that a Sachin Tendulkar born two decades later might not have been the sort of brutal hitter who routinely clears ropes and fills T20 stadia, there is little doubt the ‘Little Master’ would always be a marquee player.

As those who shared a dressing room with him clearly attest.

"I often think if T20 had come when he (Tendulkar) was 18 he would have been a great player even in this format," his former Indian and Mumbai teammate turned television commentator Sanjay Manjrekar told IndiaToday in a recent interview.

"I have seen him from early days when he was 14.

“We had single and double wicket competitions and six-a-side games, and he used to smash bowlers to smithereens.

“Scoring at 8-9 (runs) an over was unheard of in those days (so) I think world cricket is deprived to see that side of Tendulkar.”

Certainly his former national coach is unequivocal in his view that, regardless of the era in which he was destined to play, Tendulkar would have remained a defining figure.

“No matter the form of the game, he would have found a way,” Chappell said.

“That’s what good players do – where others see problems the good players see challenges and invariably find a way to overcome them.

“Sachin would have had no problem fashioning his game to suit whatever format he wanted to play – he could pretty much do whatever he wanted when it came to batting.” 

Ratio of sixes per innings in ODI cricket 













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