Deba Prasad Dhar l MUMBAI
Let’s forget their form-metre for a while. In pure range of skills, Sachin Tendulkar and Kevin Pietersen remain apart and afar. But the greats show a touch of fallibility too, even if occasionally.
Let’s start with Pietersen and re-live for a while that engaging slugfest with Dale Steyn in Headingley this year. Steyn was collared for 64 runs off 72 balls. It was a template on how to browbeat a top bowler if you have the eye of a KP.
But so far in India, his bat has been groping in the dark while negotiating a left-arm spinner. In the first dig of the Ahmedabad Test, Pietersen failed to cover the line to find his sticks in disarray. The second dismissal bordered on the comic. Pietersen missed an innocuously low full toss – attempting a sweep – which he could have dispatched to the cow corner. Fair to say Pragyan Ojha has got him into a psychological rot.
An interesting pattern emerges if you scan the statistics. Sulieman Benn, Shakib Al Hasan, Daniel Vettori and Rangana Herath, all left-arm spinners, have had Pietersen’s number at some stage.
Call it an oddity, even Tendulkar has a high incidence of dismissals against left-arm spinners. A certain Ray Price of Zimbabwe has claimed him thrice – something that Maninder Singh believes is a freak coincidence. So what’s it about the left-arm tribe that even the best cannot fathom at times? We are told that batsmen are slightly unsighted when left-arm spinners land it on a blind spot, the area between leg and middle stump, but isn’t that true about the left-arm quicks as well?
Bear in mind both Tendulkar and Pietersen are largely untroubled against away-spin of a wrist spinner. It is supposed that leg-breakers give right-handers more liberty than left-arm spinners, who are in the side as ‘business bowlers’ and are usually difficult to score off.
This is instructive where Tendulkar is concerned. Remember how Nasser Hussain stifled him with a ‘negative’ field in the 2001 Bangalore Test. Ashley Giles bowled an imprisoning length outside leg. His reservoir of patience drained out, Tendulkar left the crease to be stumped on 90. That’s the only instance of Tendulkar being stumped in Test cricket. It was Virender Sehwag who brought a refreshing approach to the innings by hitting Giles inside out.
Tendulkar, in contrast, has somehow relied on the riskier slog-sweep to counter a negative line, preferring it over the defensive sweep. But in recent times, Tendulkar has shown an intent to go for the lofted shot. Briefly, the stroke was on view against Graeme Swann in the first Test until he misjudged the position of the midwicket fielder and lobbed a catch.
By the way, Tendulkar’s tormenters also include Monty Panesar who’s certain to feature in the Wankhede Test. Panesar was the first of the frontline bowlers Pietersen faced on Thursday – is anyone surprised? There were no signs of Pietersen’s left-arm paranoia as he savaged Panesar with a ramrod straight bat. Whether he’ll be able to do that in the exalted setting at Wankhede remains to be seen.
So how will the action unfold with Tendulkar? Panesar bowling to India’s batting legend could be one of the gripping moments in the Test. For the record, Tendulkar was his first Test victim in 2006 series here. A year later, Panesar claimed Tendulkar again and quite cheekily asked him to sign the ball. ‘Once in a blue moon’ – inscribed Tendulkar on the ball, perhaps hoping that the combat would be renewed soon.
Five years later, that time has finally come.