03-23-2006, 10:20 AM
Cricket's declining forces?
Cricket's declining forces?
By Sam Lyon
The sound of Sachin Tendulkar being booed by his home town crowd in Mumbai would, in years gone by, have been unthinkable.
Yet that is what happened following the great batsman's failure in India's first innings in the third Test against England. "Such a thing happening to players like me is OK, but certainly not when this happens to someone like Sachin Tendulkar" was former India captain Ajit Wadekar's exasperated reaction.
"This was done by people who don't understand cricket and go to the stadium for a picnic." Tendulkar is not the only great of the modern age who is suffering at the moment. West Indies' Brian Lara and Australia's Adam Gilchrist have also been finding runs hard to come by, but is their decline temporary or are their powers are on the wane?
That question remains to be answered, but surely now is the time to celebrate what the trio's genius has brought to the game, not point the finger. One, perhaps two, possibly all three of them could quit the international scene in the next couple of years and cricket would be so much the poorer for it.
Just pause a moment to reflect on their achievements. In Tendulkar's case, he has scored nearly 25,000 runs in Tests and one-dayers. Not even England footballer David Beckham can match the adulation the 32-year-old has enjoyed over the past 16 years. But surgery on an elbow injury last year was the latest in a line of injury problems that have taken their toll.
He averages just 29.75 from eight Tests in the past three months, with just one century in that time, and it seems some spectators are losing patience. Lara's form, meanwhile, has been hit or miss ever since his record-breaking 400 not out against England at Kingston in 2004.
He has made 22 scores of under 50 out of 31 innings since then - and only one over 50 in his last 13. Bowlers fancy getting him out early in his innings now, a suspicion backed up by scores of five, nought, one and one in the current series against New Zealand. "In the four innings he's played, he's got out four different ways. A pull shot, bowled behind his legs, caught in slips and a drive caught at point - it's not something that's consistent," said coach Bennett King.
Gilchrist is still paying the price for his working over by England during last summer's Ashes Tests. He averaged just 22.62 in that series and continues to look vulnerable outside his off stump. "You go through three or four low scores and you say, 'Oh, nothing's wrong. It's no big deal'. "But it's continued on and it's definitely been the longest run of low scores I've had to endure in my international career," Gilchrist said in a recent newspaper interview.
His performances have so often been the icing on a very rich Australian cake. In Lara's case, unfortunately for Caribbean cricket, he has been the entire West Indies cake for several years. And as he, Tendulkar and Gilchrist search for the answers to their poor form, other batsmen are now pre-eminent. Rahul Dravid and Jacques Kallis may not match them in terms of cavalier strokeplay, but they are ruthlessly efficient run-gathering machines.
Australia captain Ricky Ponting is arguably better than both - he can play long, patient innings when required, but can also single-handedly destroy an attack as he did in his 164 during a recent record-breaking one-day game in Johannesburg. In cricket, as in all other sports, a time must come when the old order changes.