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|July 28, 1999||
My only fear is that he will try too hard to succeed
Harsha Bhogle on Sachin Tendulkar's appointment as captain
When they met in Nagpur (like Test matches, are selection committee meetings going to be rotated!), India’s selectors had three options in front of them. They could have done nothing and in doing so, have retained Azharuddin as captain; they could have picked separate captains for the Tests and one-dayers or they could have appointed just one man for both jobs.
Once they had taken that decision, Sachin Tendulkar picked himself.. The selectors chose to have one man in charge and so out went Ajay Jadeja who had very strong qualifications for doing the job in the one-day game.
So once again after a tour of England, Azhar finds himself at the crossroads. In 1996, he was 33 and though that is not a very popular age in Indian cricket, he was able to fight back. Now he is 36, five months past it in fact, and I must admit that this time it will be a huge job for him to keep his place in the team.
He has just had an operation which is the sign of a man who is still looking ahead; he is as fit as anyone else in the team but he must convince the selectors that he can score runs consistently. He could point to his record which says that he is averaging 40 in one-day internationals in the last two years but from now on, I suspect he will be judged from series to series.
You can live with that kind of pressure when you are in your early twenties. But when you have experienced it all, it isn't very easy and it will be very interesting to see how he reacts in the months ahead for he has made it very clear that he will continue to play.
Jadeja would have been an interesting choice because he has a lot of things going in his favour. He is a very shrewd human being and has a very common sense approach to the game. While he is ambitious and committed, it isn't the end of the world for him if he doesn't play and that can sometimes be good; for while intensity can drive you along it can also strangle you. There is little doubt that he would have brought a fresh approach to the job and given that he wouldn't have been challenging anyone for the title of lead performer, he could have taken one step back and looked at the game from a wider perspective.
That is not something that Sachin Tendulkar can do and that is where his biggest challenge will come from. The responsibility, and its attendant frustrations, troubled him last time and the last thing India want is to lose the fire in their main batsman.
But there is enough reason to believe that he will be a different man this time. He is older and wiser, has a daughter and with another baby on the way has enough things to take his mind off the game. This will be critical because he tends to get wrapped up in the game all the time. While that is fine for an individual performer studying his game, it can be stifling when it involves people with varying levels of ability and commitment.
There is one other factor. In 1996-97 Tendulkar had in Madan Lal a coach of limited ability; a big hearted cricketer but a poor motivator. And he had a terrible bunch of selectors in the way. It was a curious twelve months for he found himself with the likes of Sujith Somasunder, David Johnson, Pankaj Dharmani and Noel David. Anil Kumble was out of form, Venkatesh Prasad was overworked, Javagal Srinath finally succumbed, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid were finding their feet in international cricket and Azhar was playing a peculiar brand of attacking cricket.
Now he has a far more considerate set of selectors to work with, has a coach who isn't as blunt and has a more experienced team around him. He has two home series coming up and the tour to Australia has only three Tests. By the time the year ends, he should have grown well into the job.
My only fear is that he will try too hard to succeed and while that is not wrong in itself, it might lead him down that same stressful path again. For a man who has only known success and who has largely kept failure at arm's length, his inability to get his team to produce the results he wanted hurts.
But these are challenges that must be overcome and you have to back Sachin Tendulkar to do that.
Mail Prem Panicker
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