The form and future of Sachin Tendulkar were on the lips of almost every Indian after the selectors responded to their humiliation in Mumbai by making only one change to a 15-man squad for next week’s crucial third Test in Kolkata.
With seamer Ashok Dinda coming in for Umesh Yadav – who is set to miss the fourth Test too with a back injury – the same group of players who lost to England on Monday have been given the chance to redeem themselves.
And all eyes will be on the struggling Tendulkar.
India’s most marketable export has endured runs of bad form before – inevitably, perhaps, given that he made his Test debut in November 1989. But his double failure at the Wankhede, where he was removed twice for eight by Monty Panesar, has sharpened the focus on a sequence that has brought him 153 runs in his last 10 Test innings.
Barely a news show goes by on Indian TV without a former Test player passing breathless comment on Tendulkar’s future. He turns 40 in April, and locals are fretting over a disturbing trend. Seven times in those 10 innings Tendulkar has been either bowled or lbw – previously, those modes of dismissal accounted for only 38% of his innings. The question of his fading reflexes is hanging over a nation.
“My concern is whether that great mind is tired of concentrating as the way he has been getting bowled suggests,” said former Test spinner Maninder Singh, apparently speaking for 1.2 billion people.
“Yes his reflexes have gone down but that is bound to happen with age,” said Sourav Ganguly, the former captain of India. “But I feel he is out of form. I want to earnestly believe that he will get runs in the two Tests.”
Tendulkar, meanwhile, has told the selectors his future is in their hands, indicating he is not about to retire from international cricket.
The front page of the Hindustan Times yesterday quoted an unnamed source saying that Tendulkar spoke to the Indian selectors on Tuesday when they chose the squad for the third Test in Kolkata next week.
Tendulkar is under severe pressure for the first time in his career after a run of form that has seen him average just 22.83 in Test cricket this year. He has made 13, 8 and 8 in the series against England so far and has not scored a Test hundred since January 2011.
The selection panel, chaired by Sandeep Patil, is reported to have spoken to Tendulkar on Tuesday.
“They had a frank discussion and Tendulkar told Patil that since he is not getting runs, he would like to leave it to the selectors to take a call (on his retirement),” the source was quoted as saying.
Indian fans, though, have other concerns, and it was instructive that the selectors rowed back from their initial intention of naming a squad for both the last two Tests. Fail in Kolkata, seems to be the message, and you may miss out in Nagpur.
Among the vulnerable are No 6 Yuvraj Singh, who made 0 and 8 at Mumbai, and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, who managed only two lower-order wickets in his first Test for 15 months, and may now be thwarted in his hopes of winning a 100th cap at Eden Gardens.
But the spotlight has also shone on off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who started the series so well by removing Nick Compton and Jonathan Trott on the second evening at Ahmedabad, but has since taken only four wickets at 85 each.
Less than a week ago, India were eyeing up a revenge whitewash. Now angst is in the air. It has been a remarkable turnaround.
India have not lost in Kolkata for a decade and won their past two Tests there by an innings. Anything other than a convincing home win and runs for Tendulkar are likely to lead to more anguish for the Indian cricketing public. - Cape Argus