Sachin: SA got off ‘lightly’
Dale Steyn and Sachin Tendulkar (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - They were periodic victims of his uniquely nonchalant brand of assault and battery ... every team in the world was.
But somehow South Africa, in broadest terms, kept a fair lid on the great, multiple record-holding Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar better than most.
The diminutive, 40-year-old right-handed batsman announced on Thursday that he would step down from Test cricket – thus ending his glittering association with all international combat having starting it aged 16 – after two likely swansong appearances against West Indies in November to bring up 200 Tests.
Sadly this means that 198-cap Tendulkar will just miss out on a scheduled series in South Africa shortly afterwards (if the disputed Indian tour in fact takes place) although it will be interesting to see what happens in the off-chance that the veteran picks up an injury and cannot turn out against the Caribbean tourists.
Some people partial to the Proteas may suggest – and not without reason given Tendulkar’s struggle for major scores in Test cricket of late – that skirting the trip also spares an ageing superstar a possible battering at the hands of No 1-ranked South Africa’s trumpeted pace attack.
Curiously, though, Tendulkar has very belatedly in his stellar career warmed to the task of producing dominating performances against Graeme Smith
’s team: he sports a century in all but one of his last five Test matches against those foes.
He can also quit soon with the satisfaction of knowing, albeit among so many other personal landmarks globally, that he scored a classy, fighting 146 in his last of 25 Tests against South Africa, the blue-chip New Year fixture at Newlands in 2010/11.
It was a performance that went a long way, even against a Dale Steyn
at his bristling best, to ensuring that India earned a third-Test draw there to share the series 1-1 – a fine outcome given that country’s previously shaky record in the five-day arena on these shores.
Yet the fact remains that statistically, South Africa largely kept Tendulkar on a damage-limiting leash.
With just those likely two remaining, poignant home Tests against West Indies to come, the Mumbai-born cult figure will bow out with Test figures not too dissimilar – whether he blows hot or cold in that mini-series -- to his current 15 837 Test runs at an average of 53.86, including 51 centuries and a top score of 248 not out against Bangladesh in Dhaka.
In short, he has registered more runs and more centuries than anyone else in the game in both Test and one-day international cricket – this hardly leaves him short of memory material to regale his grandchildren with one day, does it?
But he found South Africa, with their consistent accent on frisky shock bowling, harder than most to tame, as evidenced by the fact that of all Test-playing nations, he fared second-worst in batting average terms against them.
Only India’s neighbours and arch-rivals Pakistan, who curtailed him to a 'mere' 42.28, were more successful in muzzling him; against the Proteas the figure is 42.46.
But even with Australia the dominant Test force for much of the Tendulkar era, he gave them far more angst over the years, averaging 55.00, whilst against co-superpower England the figure is 51.73.
Also just a little oddly, Tendulkar has flourished even less against South Africa on benign, often spin-friendly Indian tracks than he has on the bouncier strips of our country: he averages 36.25 from 10 Tests against the Proteas at home but 46.44 from 15 away.
Still, South African connoisseurs are well familiar with particular innings of undoubted pedigree from his blade, with perhaps his finest in the Test environment against those opponents coming in what was by all accounts a magical, high-tempo classic (again at picturesque Newlands) in the 1996/97 season.
I was based abroad at the time but have several friends who insist the Tendulkar-Mohammad Azharuddin counter-attacking alliance of 222 for the tourists – from a hitherto parlous first innings score of 58 for five in reply to a whopping South African 529 – was one of those sporting occasions of which to emphatically boast: "Ah yes, I was there."
Their near-legendary defiance, albeit still in an eventually losing cause, came against an attack including illustrious spearheads Allan Donald
and Shaun Pollock
, and also the highly unorthodox left-arm spin phenomenon of the time, Paul "Gogga" Adams.
As we prepare for Tendulkar to take his Test-level leave of us all before 2013 has run its course, his ODI figures (he retired from that code in December last year) hardly deserve to be too marginalised.
Again, there is a pattern of plunder from the stroke-player worldwide (18,426 runs at 44.83) that is not quite matched when broken down into games against South Africa alone: the Tendulkar average pulls back to 35.73.
Yet which South African fan of that more instant brand of cricket can contain a wince when recalling his then first-man achievement in scoring a double-century in the 50-overs game against the hapless Proteas at Gwalior in February 2010?
That day the tourists’ designated main strike combo of Steyn and Wayne Parnell
were smashed for 184 runs in 20 overs between them, with Tendulkar quite obviously at the forefront of the surprisingly controlled mayhem.
The first match of any kind Tendulkar played against South Africa?
It might make a decent quiz question: the first ODI on the hastily-arranged, Clive Rice
-led mission to India way back in November 1991, breaking the country’s more than two decades of pariah status.
Oh yes, and a fresh-faced, 18-year-old Tendulkar didn’t exactly under-deliver, top-scoring for the narrowly winning Indian cause with 62 in a low-scoring encounter before a massive audience at Kolkata.
We may not be his favourite team to thrive against, but Sachin Tendulkar has shown the fullest range of his repertoire at the crease against us all the same.
As with the rest of the planet, he leaves us no lack of rich recollections as an all-time legend of batting.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing