Here’s the secret to Sachin’s success: always stay focused on the next ball

Sachin Tendulkar’s success in winning the ICC international cricketer of the year award counts among the finest achievements of a brilliant career. Nor was it a sentimental decision bestowed upon a favoured son. Tendulkar played 10 Tests in the period and scored 1064 polished runs at an average of 81. Along the way he rose from 25th to third in the rankings. Not bad for a 37-year-old deemed to be on his last legs. Not bad for a player whose nerves were supposedly shot.

Two main forces lay behind this astonishing renaissance. Despite suffering two structural injuries in Mohali, the Indians look fitter than ever before. Even Virender Sehwag has been spotted in the gym. Not so long ago he left a tour of Sri Lanka saying he was missing home cooking. Now he is streamlined and sharp.

The Little Master . . . Sachin Tendulkar.

Tendulkar has always looked trim but that gets harder as the years pass. A few extra pounds can cost a sportsman the fatal fraction. Focusing on fitness is easier when the collective standard is high.

Moreover, this fitness drive confirms that ambition remains intact, and ambition is the elixir of youth. In the supposed twilight of his career, Tendulkar finds himself in a proud team that has for the first time in its history claimed top spot in the rankings. And the World Cup is around the corner. Tendulkar has achieved most things in his career but has never lifted the game’s most prestigious trophy.

There is another more vital reason behind this renewal. Tendulkar loves the game. Even after all these years, all these grounds, hotels, fielding drills and press conferences, it’s not an effort for him to play or practise. Cricket is his game and his way of life. He does not need anything else. Always it has been the same. The most underestimated thing about him has been his longevity, his constancy.

Throughout 20 years of intense pressure and unrelenting exposure, he has retained his delight. Through it all he has managed to focus on the next ball and the next innings. There have been no demons. Remaining simple is difficult, and he has managed it. By no means is it the least of his contributions. He has never stopped appreciating the game, never let it become a chore. He enjoys cricket, and batting in particular. He’d play from dawn ’til dusk if they’d let him, and again the next day.

Has any cricketer of his calibre changed less? Has any sportsman of his duration shown so few signs of mental wear and tear? Garry Sobers comes closest. For him, too, the game never became an ordeal.

Of course, the body grumbles but the Indian’s mind has remained attentive. To an extraordinary extent, Tendulkar plays for the same reasons as in his youth. It’s not that he has failed to grow; just that from the outset he saw the game in its true light, as an end in itself.

That cannot be said of other great players, many of whom began to fade in their early 30s. In the latter part of his career, Viv Richards became a caricature of himself. Brian Lara became ever more fitful. Both are remembered for their glorious periods; both left something on the table, an unexpressed part of their genius. Contrastingly, Tendulkar is best judged over the long term. Moreover, Indian cricket has kept rising in his time, from backwater to mainstream, from victories on manufactured pitches to triumphs on foreign fields, from match-fixing to match-winning.

Tendulkar’s technique has also helped him keep going. Natural and classical were interwoven at birth. Throughout, too, he has been a perfectionist. After stumps he can sometimes be seen on the square, practising the shot that had brought him down. Before series he will anticipate the challenges that lie ahead. He is a professional constantly in search of a better way.

The challenge has never bored him. As much can be told from the singles he constantly creates out of thin air. Every run is valued, not least because it frustrates the bowler. Moreover he plays straighter than any rival, relies less on cross-bat shots than, for example, Ricky Ponting. Accordingly, he does not depend as much upon eye and foot. That has helped him stay the course. It has been a glorious career, the best of them all, and it’s not over yet.

Not so long ago, Tendulkar scored 200 in a 50-over match against South Africa at Gwalior. Admittedly, he cannot bowl these days but his wonky elbow is holding up and his mind remains fresh. Put it this way: at 37, he has for the first time been saluted as player of the year. Others have their moments. He has lasted the course.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald

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