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Mon, 18 Nov 2013 16:30:00 GMT | By Harsha Bhogle

Phase of the Fab Four best of the Tendulkar eras

Long before the internet and very long before cell phones were available in India, there was Sachin Tendulkar. And he was playing cricket for India. You need to state it starkly to realise the eras he has traversed and his longevity in an era where burnout is common. And so to pick a phase that stood out is difficult and dangerous because he appealed to cricket lovers in different ways at different times.

Phase of the Fab Four best of the Tendulkar eras

There was the utter romance of the phase from 1988-1992. It was an era of curiosity because we knew he was good but we didn’t possess the imagination to make a projection of just how good he could be. Honestly, it was that. Not one of us could have had the courage to look this far into the future. But it was a wonderful phase; it was like scientists learning something new about a phenomenon. He was 15! Children are mugging up on directive principles of state policy and trying to get their head around electronic configurations when he was dreaming of playing Ambrose, Walsh, Bishop and Marshall!
The centuries in Sydney and Perth changed that. From now, it was no longer curiosity, it was a phase of discovery. You had found gas but you didn’t know how much the well contained. And so each time Tendulkar went out to bat, you looked closely to see if you could get clues; to see if there was a new challenge overcome, indeed even to see if attacks were vanquished and challenges nullified. The little gem in Chennai in 1993 against England was one of those. It was a century so comfortably achieved that you didn’t know what to make of it. And once he had started to open the batting in limited overs internationals, he was to take that aspect of batting to another level.
And that is why 1996 onwards was the blossoming. I try telling that to young cricket lovers today; that for all their adulation of Tendulkar, if they are younger than twenty, they haven’t even seen the most glorious era of his batsmanship. Before T20, before all the fiddling with playing conditions to try and make everyone into a batsman, he had a strike rate of over a hundred over an entire season where he made almost two thousand runs. It was a phase where he played the defining innings of his career. It was also a phase before Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman established themselves as world class batsmen, before Sehwag appeared on the horizon and after Azharuddin had finished playing his best cricket.
That was when Tendulkar was destroying bowling and taking batsmanship to another level. That was when we knew that a batsman to carry forward the legacy of Sunil Gavaskar had been sighted. And as Rahul Dravid said recently, it was a phase where, by taking all the attention towards himself, he allowed the rest to find their feet in international cricket. It wasn’t as if he planned it that way but his breathtaking batting gave the others the opportunity to develop their craft, the time to make mistakes and learn. I believe that this phase of Tendulkar’s batting was to lay the base for the most glorious era of Indian batsmanship that followed; where he became, not the solitary artist but a part of an ensemble cast that also featured Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman and Sehwag. If I had to turn the clock back and pick a phase, I would pick this.
In the years to follow, there were other challenges. Injuries impeded his ability to play with the freedom he so yearned for, the climate in the team affected his state of mind. It didn’t stop him scoring runs, merely diminished the great joy of seeing him bat. And that is why that fantastic second wind from 2008-11 would compete with the phase I have chosen. His batting didn’t have the audacity the younger Tendulkar routinely displayed, jaws didn’t drop because he was the Sachin Tendulkar by now but he was overcoming other challenges; he was arresting the decline of his own faculties and asking those that felt the end was nigh to come back another day.
I wonder if he will sign off with a special…… maybe in Mumbai?

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