Here's how Tendulkar should go about getting his much antipated 100th international ton...
It used to be a pleasure to watch Sachin Tendulkar bat; the joy of witnessing the shots that flowed as he took the attack to the bowlers, constantly challenging them to maintain line and length under fire. At the moment, it's painful to witness his prodding and poking as he seeks to eke out his hundredth century. Whereas he took the attack to a top-class leg-spinner in Shane Warne and won the battle of Chennai in 1998, he fiddled with a trundler like Marlon Samuels and the steady Devendra Bishoo at Eden Gardens, while Rahul Dravid comparatively burned along at the other end.
Sachin Tendulkar reaches his 51st Test century with a six on Day Three of the third Test against South Africa at Newlands in Cape Town on January 4. Pic/Getty Images
In his prime, those two West Indies spinners wouldn't have been able to contain Tendulkar. He wouldn't have allowed either a minute's peace with his quick footwork and more importantly, an attitude which exuded; "No bowler shackles me." It wasn't just Warne, he challenged all the best bowlers. He especially enjoyed antagonising the metronomic magician Glenn McGrath. On occasions, he deliberately provoked him into bowling aggressively, a frame of mind from which McGrath derived the least success. So why is Tendulkar suddenly allowing a trundler to tie him down?
It was quite revealing the other day to read where Tendulkar felt he couldn't forego a practice session to rest because the adoring Indian public would blame any failure on indifference. He's always appealed as an attention to detail person when it came to batting but I could never understand his desire to hit so many meaningless balls in the nets. Most of the class players I've seen practiced diligently but never excessively.
Unlike Lara... This was always a major point of difference between the two top batsman of their time, Brian Lara and Tendulkar. Lara cared about his batting and thought very deeply about the process of making big scores quickly but he wasn't obsessed by practicing his skills. He was also able to enjoy his life away from the field, whereas Tendulkar, again, probably not wanting to give a demanding public a reason to criticise him for letting them down, has lived the life of a monk.
It's difficult to say how much a demanding and clamoring public has affected the way Tendulkar batted over the years. However, there's no doubt that on occasions he's sacrificed personal satisfaction for clinical success. One of the more incredible aspects of Lara's successful career was the way he batted in the same manner throughout. This is quite remarkable, as even the best of batsmen tend to become more conservative as they age. Lara, by living a relaxed lifestyle and also employing a strong will, was able to almost defy Father Time.
Despite outside and extraneous pressures there's no doubt the hunt for one hundred hundreds has contributed to Tendulkar's recent conservative play. This isn't the first time statistics have got the better of Tendulkar. Watching him bat in England in 2007, where he was dismissed four times as he neared a century, it was obvious the thought of accumulating another three figure score had brought on a bout of caution. Tendulkar is not at his best when he's playing with extreme caution; his body language betrays him and this acts as a spur to both opposition bowlers and captains.
The big runs... He showed just recently he could still shed the conservative approach and return to being the plunderer of his youth. A blazing 175 against Australia and then he scored even faster to register the first ever double century in an ODI, to turn back the clock and bat like a youthful Tendulkar. His scintillating stroke play on those occasions indicates he can still dictate to any attack when the mood strikes him. Unfortunately, this frame of mind hasn't surfaced recently in the Test arena.
It's hard not to wonder how much of the conservative approach is Tendulkar's desperation to record the milestone century for his own satisfaction and what portion is to please his fans. Just for once Tendulkar should try forgetting his fans and play in his preferred style. That's not only his best chance of completing the celebrated century but it's also the way to please everyone.