There’s one unwritten rule in Indian cricket: you don’t tell Sachin Tendulkar what to do. In the 2007 World Cup, Greg Chappell tried, and told Tendulkar to bat in the middle order. He paid with his job.
Chappell and the then skipper Rahul Dravid had felt that the conditions in the West Indies demanded a power-hitter in the middle order and the choice was between Virender Sehwag and Tendulkar. Since Sehwag refused to come down the order, Tendulkar was approached and after much convincing, the master batsman reluctantly agreed.
“Rahul and myself were convinced no other batsman in the team would be able to do it. Sachin finally agreed. Next day, he got back to Rahul and made it known that he was not happy doing it. He felt that his reputation demanded two places higher in the order,” Chappell later said.
In hindsight, Chappell said he would have given the same suggestions, but would have allowed Tendulkar to decide. Quite a climbdown for him.
“...that experience has taught me a lesson. Today, confronted with a similar situation, I would still put the idea across to him and explain. But if he shows any kind of discomfort, I won't push. I would let him decide,” he said.
You might be wondering why we are suddenly bringing up Sachin Tendulkar and the incidents of 2007. His team, Mumbai Indians, has just beaten the Kolkata Knight Riders in a thrilling match and they have consistently been one of the better sides in the tournament.
But has Tendulkar the IPL batsman been delivering? The Mumbai Indians skipper has managed a team-leading 477 runs, a strike-rate of 109.40 – that’s basically means he’s faced 436 balls to score those runs. The question we need to ask ourselves is whether that’s good enough in T20 cricket.
Take Chris Gayle, for example, 511 runs off 273 balls. If he fires, its game, set and match for the Bangalore Royal Challengers. Or even Shaun Marsh, 504 runs off 344 balls. Or even Virender Sehwag's 424 runs off 240 balls. These are the kinds of batsmen we need at the top of the order; batsmen who are looking to hit every ball for six. What Tendulkar does is good, but will that be enough for Mumbai?
And the reason we brought up Chappell earlier is because someone has the unenviable task of going and telling Tendulkar that he isn’t doing it right. In fact, Tendulkar has faced the most balls in this edition of the tournament – no one else has even touched 350 – but when you look at the payback, it just doesn’t add up.
Perhaps, Rohit Sharma, Andrew Symonds or even Kieron Pollard might just give Mumbai Indians the push they are sorely lacking at this moment. Tendulkar hasn’t had a regular partner, but that's no excuse for him not taking advantage of the first four overs when the field restrictions are in place.
On Sunday, he was actually taking a single and turning the strike over to Harbhajan Singh. The commentators were going ga-ga and saying that Tendulkar is playing the smart game. But seriously, when one of the best batsmen in the world turns over strike to a pinch-hitter, what are you supposed to think?
We all know that if Tendulkar decides to go after the bowling, he still can be very devastating. But right now he seems to be thinking like a captain – he worries about the rest of the batting not firing. When instead, he needs to go back to the basics, think like a batsman and perhaps take a leaf out of Sehwag’s book with the ‘see ball, hit ball’ approach.
It isn’t too late. The play-offs could see him turn it on and that’s what everyone is hoping for.