Tendulkar's frustration, Kohli's Midas touch

Sachin Tendulkar looked back at his stumps and appeared to check himself in the act of throwing his bat in frustration. It was a rare moment of McEnroe-esque angst.

Updated: September 04, 2012 13:49 IST
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When he was growing up, one of Sachin Tendulkar's idols was not a man who scored runs with bats, but one who used a tennis racket - sometimes to create magic on court, and equally to use as an instrument to vent his frustrations on the umpires, his opponent and perhaps the audience too. So much so, that John McEnroe titled his autobiography, "You cannot be serious" after the line he made famous by repeated utterances to the tennis chair umpires.

While Tendulkar exhibited equal artistry with his chosen implement - the cricket bat - one never got to see him rant at the world with a bat thrown in anger. If he ever flung a bat, it was in the dressing room.

Which made his gesture on the fourth, and what turned out to be final, day of the second Test against New Zealand, more striking. Batting on 27, after first having got his eye in and then hitting some pleasing boundaries, Tendulkar played across the line to Tim Southee, and was bowled. Apart from the fact that the bowler was Tim Southee, there was little difference in the dismissal to how Tendulkar had been out in the first innings to Doug Bracewell.

What made it different was what came after. Tendulkar looked back at his stumps and appeared to check himself in the act of throwing his bat in frustration. It was a rare moment of McEnroe-esque angst.

It wasn't as if Tendulkar hadn't played across the line before. He has played the very shot that dismissed him in both innings of the second Test many times - except that earlier, he never missed the ball, and it generally found its way to midwicket. It was a shot that Sunil Gavaskar had described a decade and a half ago as his "magic shot" for the way in which his right hand rolled over to end on top of the left one with the bat pointing upwards after the stroke was played.

From the time when Gavaskar first used those words to now, the Indian dressing room has changed beyond recognition. Tendulkar apart, no member of the squad that took on New Zealand had played a Test match in the 1990s. And in a stunning statistic, there wasn't someone from the New Zealand squad either who had played in the 1990s.

He is truly, the last man standing of a generation.

Of the generation that will come after, two men have shown promising signs of being able to hold the baton of batting greatness. Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli both did their growing reputations no harm and emerged as the leading run-scorers of the series.

However, it is important to remember that they are still taking their first steps in Test cricket. Their combined tally of Test matches is only 15 - even Suresh Raina, with 17 Tests, has played more than the two together.

Kohli and Pujara are promising, but they aren't the finished article yet. Pujara, for instance, was subject to a concentrated attack of short-pitched bowling by Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Doug Bracewell in the second Test. The bowlers had identified that Pujara could be drawn into hooking balls and that he wasn't always in control of the shot. It is how he was dismissed in the first innings.

Consequently, when Pujara batted the second time, New Zealand always had a fine-leg in place for him when one of the three pacers was operating. Often, there was a square leg too. Pujara wasn't always comfortable, ducking late at times and making an obvious effort to not be drawn into the hook shot, but he survived.

Pujara can surely expect more of the same from England and Australia when they come visiting, but because he handled it well against New Zealand, he inspired confidence that he would do the same later too. While the bowling averages of the New Zealand pace trio might class them as middling, they bowled very well in Bangalore.

Kohli, for his part, didn't appear particularly troubled by any one bowler or strategy. He is in prime form, and as it happens then, everything he's touching has turned to gold.

At the end of the third day's play, Kohli had revealed something of his mindset when he spoke about batting under pressure. He said he "liked playing in pressure situations" because the opposition attacked the stumps and there were plenty of gaps in the field to score from.

It almost sounded like Virender Sehwag, but Kohli backed his talk with action. Kohli never walked in to an entirely pressure-free situation in any of the three innings he batted in, but he was never dismissed below fifty.

There will be times in the future, when one or both will fail and be tested. It is important to show patience then, because when there are obviously talented people, they are always worth investing time on. VVS Laxman averaged 27 after his first 20 Tests, before hitting 281 in his 21st and changing Indian cricket. Rahul Dravid started his career on a high but had a form slump of his own before partnering Laxman in that Kolkata Test, where nine Tests against opposition other than Zimbabwe or Bangladesh brought him 474 runs in 18 innings.

Tendulkar himself has seen his share of form slumps. They may be trifling when put in a career context, but are undoubtedly painful when he is living through them.

That bat almost hurled in anger may have been the flaring of a momentary frustration, or it could have been something deeper. But for what it's worth, Tendulkar can take satisfaction in the fact that when he does leave, the Indian batting card will not look as orphaned as it threatened to, with the departure of Laxman and Dravid.

There were three occasions during the Bangalore Test that the cheers rang out loudest around the stadium. When Tendulkar walked out to bat, when Dravid was shown on the giant screen sitting in the commentary box and when Kohli walked out in India's second innings. The future is already here.

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