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Tendulkar at 31 — looking back, looking ahead

MUMBAI, APRIL 23. Sachin Tendulkar turns 31 on Saturday, already cricket's eldest statesman, having carried the burden of Indian batting in 447 international matches over 15 long years, but that burden is easing now with the emergence of new stars in the team.

Teammates and former players agree that the emergence of Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag and V.V.S. Laxman as top notch batsmen is taking a good deal of pressure off him and the batting genius will be able to play more freely in the years ahead. Their rise is both an opportunity and a challenge for Tendulkar.

No other international cricketer who made his debut before Tendulkar did in 1989 is still playing the game. ``Someone told me to my surprise the other day that I am the senior-most international player,'' he remarked recently.

He has more Test centuries (33) and more one-day hundreds (37) than his age. He has scored 22,604 runs in both versions of the game and his hunger for runs remains undiminished.

What will be the impact of the emergence of new batting stars on Tendulkar? Has his batting changed over the years and become less exciting and how long is he likely to play for India? PTI posed these questions to a galaxy of present and former cricketers and here are their responses.

Anil Kumble: I am not sure if the emergence of young players has made him relax but I'd certainly say he is more comfortable now.

I don't know if his game has changed in the conventional sense but today he knows his game very well and also knows exactly when to accelerate. In that sense he is more solid now. He has many more years of good cricket still in him.

Harbhajan Singh: I don't think emergence of new and other players has eased the pressure on him. Cricket is an intense game and irrespective of how many good players are around you, Sachin still wants to perform to his optimum level. I don't think he has dropped any intensity of his even when so many good batsmen are there in the team.

He was more flamboyant in his early years but Sachin today is an extremely difficult batsman to bowl to. If he gets into double figures, he more or less closes the options for the bowlers. If I were bowling to him, I would like to get him early before he gets set.

Waqar Younis: Tendulkar has just gone a little compact. He has started playing like a very mature batsman now. Earlier he used to slash and run down the track. With the passage of time he has understood what Test cricket is and that he has to stay at the crease. Now you do not see him play any flashy shots.

If you do not change your game, the bowlers are going to catch you... Tendulkar has changed his game and is even more difficult for bowlers.

He is on the rise at the moment. You are seeing the best part of him. You do get out a few times because sometimes the bowler has to win, but Tendulkar has done really well and I think he is enjoying his cricket now more than what he was three or four years ago. He has set his own benchmarks, scoring 50 runs is not enough.

Ajit Wadekar: Sachin is a fully matured player now. Previously he used to take risks but has now realised that scoring 100 or 110 runs will not serve the team's cause and so now he tries to build an innings from the very first ball he faces.

Sachin has also realised that he needs to stay in the middle to guide the youngsters so that they could be moulded into reliable batsmen for the future. It is their good fortune to be guided by a player of his status and is a learning experience for them.

I think the emergence of other batsmen has helped Sachin concentrate on other departments of the game. I don't think the emergence of young batsmen is a challenge to Sachin.

Madan Lal: The emergence of other players has not affected him. He is still a very powerful and tremendous player. The other players have grown with him. He sees it as a challenge. The performance of other players spurs him on.

His game has changed — he is more wiser and mature now. With experience he has learnt to choose his shots.

Syed Kirmani: Tendulkar's attitude, application and approach have changed, but the basics have not changed. He has brought in a lot of improvisation to his batting. He is matured and one reaches the pinnacle after 25 years of age.

Obviously, one cannot be exciting all through his life. There are ups and downs in one's performance due to vagaries and uncertainties of the game. However, there were others and he has never been exciting to the extent that both the print and electronic media have made it to be.

The emergence of others should motivate Tendulkar in a big way. There are seven others who have been performing well and naturally, it is a challenge to Tendulkar.

K. Srikkanth: Tendulkar's maturity level has gone up. He is one of the most solid batsmen in the world now. Whatever changes we find in him have been for good.

He has not become less exciting. Not at all. Perhaps, he is not taking risks like a youngster would. Maturity and finesse always come with age.

Emergence of other players must have eased his pressure. In my opinion, he can serve at this level for another four or five years.

Sandeep Patil: I don't think there has been much of a change in Tendulkar's approach though lot of people think otherwise. Even today he will not hesitate to dispatch a bad ball at any time of his innings. May be he has started adopting minor changes when the situation demands like he did at Multan when he played second fiddle to Sehwag.

He has been carrying the burden of Indian batting since a decade and I don't think the emergence of Laxman, Dravid or Sehwag will change his style of batting. Though we should agree that it has eased the pressure on him and now he can concentrate more on planning his innings.

Brijesh Patel: The emergence of new players has eased the pressure on Sachin considerably. He can play more freely now. He has not changed his game much. He is still playing in his normal way and scoring runs — that is the most important thing.

Robin Singh: I think he has matured as a batsman and has curbed his strokeplay to some extent. The emergence of new players is good for Indian cricket. The fact that Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag are scoring consistently is good because he can be more relaxed now. He can concentrate on playing the long innings.

He can keep playing as long as he wants to, he is one of the class players in contemporary cricket and it will be his decision when he wants to quit.

Chandu Borde: Tendulkar has become more selective about his shots. Previously he used to take the aggressive approach but now he is showing more patience when he is in the middle.

I don't think the emergence of players like Laxman, Dravid, Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh has had any effect on him. But the pressure has eased tremendously on Sachin.

The way he is playing, Sachin can continue as long as he is fit.

Dilip Sardesai: Sachin has not changed his batting style. I personally don't think he has changed his approach.

One thing people should try to understand is that as you grow up you tend to eliminate all the risks. So is the case in cricket. Sachin has matured completely now and has eliminated whatever little risks were there in his batting, which is good for Indian cricket.

I don't think the emergence of new batsmen will affect his game in any way. Sachin is too good a batsman to see the emergence of another batsman as a challenge and if at all it affects him adversely it is a very good sign for the team as it will have only have positive effect and he will start plundering more runs.

And what does Tendulkar himself think of the situation?

``I have never thought on these lines. I believe all 11 players and the whole team contributes to the victory. I have never felt that I am under some kind of pressure,'' he said during the recent tour of Pakistan.

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