London, May 17: It would be no surprise if a gaggle of anti-blood sports protesters descended on Leicester’s Grace Road cricket ground on Wednesday before India’s second World Cup match and called for Sachin Tendulkar to be banned.
They’d all be Zimbabwean, of course. Inside the ground, Indian fans will be baying for more blood and carnage from their idol’s wide, heavy blade.
Tendulkar enjoys carving up Zimbabwean bowlers. He made the point in Sharjah in November, when he scored his 20th and 21st One-day centuries against them within the space of a week.
The first was murderous — 118 off 112 balls, 14 fours, two sixes. Andy Whittall went for 30 off three overs. Zimbabwe’s captain Alistair Campbell, in charge again for the Group A clash on Wednesday, said his side could have scored another 50 runs and still not won.
The second was apocalyptic; 124 runs off 92 balls, with 84 runs in boundaries. Henry Olonga, who had had the temerity to dismiss Tendulkar a few days before, went for 50 runs off sixovers. He is unlikely to be begging his captain for the new ball on Wednesday.
Paul Strang went for 45 off five, Grant Flower cost 28 off three. Campbell again: “There is little a team can do when…”
Tendulkar, a compact right-hander blending power and precision and with no weakness yet decipherable to bowlers, was once talked of as the best batsman playing today.
Now the talk is more of decades and generations and eras. Last year, the legendary, almost reclusive Sir Donald Bradman granted him a rare audience. The 90-year-old Australian and the 26-year-old Indian watched television footage of each other playing the same shot. They looked identical.
Their other striking similarity is their reputation as sportsmen. Bradman played in a time when players shook hands and applauded each other. He plundered a Test average of 99.94 off the world’s bowlers during a 20-year career, then told them how well they had played.
Tendulkar seems hewn from the same stone.
Better known in India than the PrimeMinister, he earns around $4 million a year while living with his parents in the same Mumbai house where he was born, a cover drive away from the park where he learnt the game.
To the locals, he is just Sachin, a very normal sort of fellow who just happens to play cricket — the national obsession — like a god. To his opponents, he is friendly and uncomplicated and merciless.
Today, players glare and spit and insult one another but if Tendulkar has ever “sledged” an opponent, then it must have been under his breath, with his hand over his mouth. And in Hindi, just to make sure it would not offend.
Tendulkar, just back following a two-month back problem, opened his World Cup with 28 runs against South Africa. He looked in good touch before trying to glide a ball down to third man and instead finding the wicket-keeper’s gloves.
Zimbabwe, meanwhile, won their first outing against Kenya. Campbell was pleased with his batsmen but said the bowling needed to improve.
With Wednesday looming, and withTendulkar seeking century number 22, he is probably right. Grace Road cloud turn bloody. It shouldn’t be allowed.