London: Move aside the Glenn McGraths and Muttiah Muralitharans, the only bowler who has tested Sachin Tendulkar to an extent that the Indian batting icon “didn’t know what to do” while facing him was stunningly the late Hansie Cronje!
The ex-South African captain, who died in a plane crash after being banned for match-fixing, was the one man Tendulkar found hard to deal with and bowling technique had nothing to do with it.
“Honestly. I got out to Hansie more than anyone. When we played South Africa he always got me out more than Allan Donald or Shaun Pollock. It wasn’t that I couldn’t pick him? It’s just that the ball seemed to go straight to a fielder,” Tendulkar told an English newspaper.
Cronje, primarily a middle-order batsman, was efficient with his medium pace fetching 43 wickets in 68 Tests and 114 ODI wickets in 188 matches before his spectacular fall from grace owing to the 2000 match-fixing scandal in which he was the prime accused. He died in a plane crash in 2002.
Tendulkar said facing Cronje was always a tricky proposition for him.
“I was going great guns in Durban one year and played some big shots against Donald and Pollock. Hansie came on and I flicked his first ball straight to leg-slip. I never knew what to do with him,” he said.
Tendulkar once again named McGrath as the best fast bowler he ever faced and despite dominating Shane Warne, the Indian icon considered the Aussie to be the best spinner he came across.
“I did OK against him (McGrath). But, among the spinners, Warne at his best was still something special,” he said.
The 37-year-old batsman, who has spent over 20 years in international cricket, is often compared to Sir Don Bradman and Tendulkar recalled some special moments he spent with the late Australian legend.
“We went to see him on his 90th birthday. It was very special. We were talking about averages and I said, ‘Sir Don, if you were playing today, what would you have averaged?’ And he said, ‘70 ? probably.’ I asked, ‘Why 70 and not your actual average of 99?’ Bradman said, ‘Come on, an average of 70 is not bad for a 90-year-old man.’
“This is what I tell my son. Whether you’re an 11-year-old boy or Don Bradman we should never forget it’s just a game we can all enjoy.”
His passion for the sport is well-documented and Tendulkar said even after spending over two decades in the international arena, he tries to re-invent himself.
“It’s tough to talk now about the South Africa series and the World Cup. The focus is on the the Test series against New Zealand (commencing at Ahmedabad on November 4).
“We have got three Tests to play before South Africa. When we go there the focus would be on that. Before the World Cup, there’s lot of cricket to be played,” Tendulkar said.
He emphasised the importance of keeping the focus on the job closest at hand and maintain the winning momentum going into the mega-event starting on February 19, 2011.
“It’s all about focus. We want to focus on the cricket before that. The momentum is important and we would like to keep that momentum.”
He also described the recent whitewash of Australia in the Test series as “unbelievable” and praised the winning knock by VVS Laxman at Mohali in the opener, that India won by one wicket, as “terrific”.
“It was extremely important. Against Australia, it’s always a special series. We have players, who have done terrific things against them. To win 2-0 was unbelievable, especially in the first Test and win from that position. Laxman played a terrific innings. Ishant played well too,” he said.
Tendulkar said, to emerge as winners at Bangalore in the second match, after having allowed Australia to rattle up close to 500 runs in the first innings, was “unbelievable”.
“Even in the second Test, they had scored 475 in the second innings. To win from that position on the fifth day was unbelievable. It was special to have that crowd at Bangalore on all five days,” said Tendulkar, who scored a double hundred and an unbeaten half century to lead the team to a seven-wicket victory and a series sweep.
Tendulkar said, while the team had played remarkably well over the last few years, it was equally important to keep up the good work to maintain the top rank.
“What we have been able to achieve as a team in the last few years is remarkable. (We) want to continue doing this. It feels good to be number one, but we want to continue playing well to stay there.”
Asked whether he was playing his best cricket ever, a run that has fetched him the ICC Cricketer of the Year Award, the batting genius said he would aim to perform even better.
“I would like to do better, would like to work harder. I don’t like to count the numbers. The closer I look at the ball is more important than the numbers (centuries, runs and the records). I believe in action, not talking and want to keep my fingers crossed,” he said.
Tendulkar made it clear that age did not count and only performance should be taken into account when asked whether he was satisfied with the bench strength of the team.
“We have talented players. It does not matter whether they are seniors or juniors if they are doing well for the country. It is expected (of the player) to do well when he is in the squad of 15,” said the batting maestro at another promotional event.
He got annoyed when a question was put to him whether he suffered nervousness when he reached 90s while batting and said the record books showed the truth.
“If that’s the case I won’t have 95 (international) hundreds. Sometimes you achieve certain targets, sometimes you don’t. If you go back and look at the last 21 years, you will get the right answer,” he shot back.
Reiterating the need for the Indian team to maintain the current standards of play, Tendulkar said it surprised him when people ask whether the Indian side has improved or the world standards have declined.
“We need to look at what we have achieved and what we want to do and not what the opposition is doing. The focus should be on maintaining the standard. When we play well, I don’t know why, but people think otherwise (that world standard has dipped),” he said.
“If somebody plays well credit should go to them. You work hard and get the results, (but) sometimes you work hard and do not get favourable returns,” he added.
The champion batsman was not willing to comment on the reported ban put by the BCCI on the use of twitter by the players on match days.
“I don’t know. These are reports. I don’t know what exactly has taken place between them,” he said.
According to media reports, the BCCI action has followed tweeting by Rohit Sharma indicated the calling off of the rain-hit third and final ODI against Australia on October 24 before an official statement was made by the authorities.
But he added that Twitter was a fine medium to connect with the fans.
“I thought it is a great platform to connect with well-wishers. I do it when I feel like doing it and not when people think I should do it,” he explained.
“Yes. Obviously, going past Brian Lara was something special. But I’m even happier now and hopefully it continues.”
Talking about the changing face of the game, Tendulkar said Australia are in decline after retirements of their heavyweights.
“To not have (Matthew) Hayden, (Justin) Langer, (Adam) Gilchrist, (Glenn) McGrath, (Shane) Warne – it’s a big loss. They still have some world-class players but their batting revolves around (Ricky) Ponting. When you want to create a vacuum in their batting you need to get Ponting,” he said.
Tendulkar feels given Australia’s loss of aura, England are serious contenders to lift the Ashes this time.
“I think England have a better chance. I favour them slightly. I would say (Eoin) Morgan could be the key performer in the Ashes. Morgan and (Graeme) Swann,” he said.
“He (Morgan) is a very solid player who can control the pace of his innings. He can become a really good Test batsman even though he has only played a few Tests so far. After Morgan you’ve got the experience of (Andrew) Strauss, (Paul) Collingwood and Pietersen. They’re a really well-balanced side and this is a great opportunity for England,” he added.
India is one of the co-hosts of next year’s World Cup and Tendulkar said the pressure would be of an altogether different level.
“It’s going to be massive. Everyone in India is looking forward to a mega tournament and although people haven’t started talking yet about 1983 (the last time India won the World Cup) it will happen soon. But, given our recent form, people have a right to be excited and have extremely high hopes,” he said.