" In my judgement, they are the favourites, he said."
Retired batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar on Tuesday heaped wholesome praise on the superb batting exhibition put up by South Africa, especially their captain A B de Villliers in the deciding fifth and final One-Day International against India last Sunday here.
“I felt that South Africa batted really well. I wouldn’t want to take away the credit away from Quinton de Kock, du Plessis and de Villiers. I thought de Villiers batted really well,” said Tendulkar at the Mumbai Cricket Association’s BKC ground after his first net session in a long time.
“If you see the first 20 balls he faced and at no stage, I still remember I was watching a little bit and Shaun Pollock kept saying he has not shifted to sixth and seventh gear. It was rightly so, he has figured out how to pace his innings and he did it beautifully. I would give credit to the way he batted.”
Asked whether de Villiers is ahead of his time, Tendulkar said, “Yes, he is. Absolutely! Maybe he is possibly at the peak of his career. He is really, really batting unbelievably well and it seems that he has got more time than anyone else.”
However, true to his public demeanour he steered clear of any controversies over the preparation of the track at the Wankhede Stadium for the finale of the series that SA won by a whopping 214 runs after raking up a record-high (by all opposition against India) score of 438 for 4.
“I don’t know what (Indian team director) Ravi (Shastri) spoke to the curator (Sudhir Naik),” replied the batting great and the only compiler of a staggering 100 international hundreds in the game’s history when asked about the pitch and the raging controversy.
Shastri had reportedly used unparliamentary language to Naik in an angry exchange of words about the placid nature of the track prepared for the crunch game midway through the match, according to a complaint filed to Mumbai Cricket Association by the curator, himself a former Test opener.
Tendulkar today started preparations for the three-match T20 exhibition cricket tour of the USA next month where he and retired Australian great Shane Warne would lead opposing teams in the ‘Cricket All-Stars Series 2015’, at New York, Houston and Los Angeles.
Tendulkar, who bid an emotional farewell from all forms of the game in November, 2013 at the Wankhede, advised the Indian team’s fans and critics to adopt a balanced approach to its performances.
“We have a very good team. Each team will go through phases. There will be patches where you will play well and there will be tough phases where things will get really difficult and things won t go to your plans. But that doesn’t mean that every weekend you pass a judgement on your team.
“When they do well you say ‘wow they have done really well’ and following week if they don’t do well you start criticising them. I think we need to show more balance and we all are passionate about cricket and we need to be patient also.”
Tendulkar, who was on the cricket advisory committee formed by the BCCI, gave a diplomatic answer when asked whether the Indian squad needed a foreign or home grown coach except to say he should act as a friend, philosopher and guide to the players.
“I believe that a coach should be a capable coach and it doesn t matter whether he is a foreign coach or an Indian coach. The coach is one who keeps the team in a good space mentally and also conducts the practise sessions well.
“From my experience I can say that a good coach is one who can treat you as a friend, who can be a guide for the team. He should be someone who can always come to your help when you have a problem whether with batting or bowling or something else, you should feel comfortable to go and discuss it with him, I like those type of coaches.”
“I am not involved so I am not one of those guys who would pass a loose statement not knowing the facts. I would be in a better position to say when I am involved in it,” was the way he put it. He was more forthcoming about the rule changes made by the International Cricket Council in ODIs and their effects over the last few years.
“It is the rules which has made all the difference. When I played, I remember the four fielder rule was there throughout the 50 overs and in the Powerplay you could change your field, but here more or less all 50 overs the rule changed, you could only have four fielders outside and that definitely put more pressure on the bowlers, I felt.
“With four fielders outside the circle the batsman has more option of scoring runs in boundaries, the batsmen who are prepared to take more risks. That is also to do with the T20 format, the batsmen have been practising certain shots which earlier nobody would play.
“But if you are talking about totals, it’s definitely to do with field changes. The rules changed and that made teams set up higher totals. “The statistics itself show that in the last three years, in the amount of matches played in Australia, you see the number of times the teams have gone 320-plus. I mean in the last 20 years they have not done that and in the last two years if you are able to do it then there is definitely (something) to do with the laws.”
He credited Zimbabwean Andy Flower on pioneering the reverse sweep and recalled what he had predicted at that time. “I still remember 15 years ago when Andy Flower started playing the reverse sweep in Test cricket I said he is possibly 10-12 years ahead of everyone else because in time to come everyone will start using that shot.
“Today, if somebody plays a reverse sweep nobody is surprised because people expect the guys to go out and try all these shots. And that’s because the game is moving forward.” Talking about his new innings and playing once again against Warne, Tendulkar said last year at Lord’s he found out that the passion for the game was retained by the retired international stars which was the spark in organising the exhibition T20 series.
“Last year, we met at Lord’s and had an amazing time. It was good fun in the dressing room as well. Post match also, there was a cocktail party in the Long Room at Lord’s where I got to meet a lot of players who were actually not playing that game but they were much very there to watch us play.
“Overall, it was a humbling experience when you meet so many players and discuss cricket. I realised then that even though we have retired the passion for cricket is very much alive and that sort of spurred me in this direction and start Cricket All Stars.”
Tendulkar said the series was about promoting the game and the players would have fun in interacting with the crowd on baseball grounds.
“I believe that all the players who are taking part in the All Stars League are all great players and all of them have played at the highest level for at least 15 years. Their record proves what type of players they were. I just want to say that we are all coming together to promote the game and support the game.
“I feel that the interaction of the players with the crowd will be a bit different. When you play for India, you are not in the mood to crack jokes, you only have to focus on the match. But here you have baseball grounds, so the fine leg, third man, deep point, deep square leg, all these fielders who are placed deep will literally be five feet away from the spectators, so some of the players might even get a chance to have a laugh with the spectators.”
Tendulkar said the response to the initiative in US has been very good and he has got feedback that native Americans would be among the crowd. “I think the response has been fantastic, really overwhelming and as the time goes by and we get closer to the first game, I am sure it is going to get even more. It is nice to see that all the people living there are taking interest in cricket and not just the Asians, the Americans have also decided to turn up and that is the feedback I get from my friends.
“A few of my friends who have settled there in the 90s, they had no idea about baseball or basketball, their American friends took them to stadiums and made them understand what baseball is. So I told him it is time for you to reciprocate and get some Americans inside the stadiums and make them understand cricket and I am sure they would love it,” he added.
Asked about who he will be opening with, Tendulkar said the team compositions have not been decided yet. “We haven’t selected our teams but there is a new surprise, Virender Sehwag is also a part of it. It would be nice. Whether it’s Hayden, Ganguly or Sehwag, whoever, they are all top players and we all are looking forward to it and so is Viru and that is what he told me.”