Sachin Tendulkar: The on-side trap

Monty Panesar had probably never sprinted so fast on a cricket ground till the moment he castled Sachin Tendulkar in the first innings of the second Test at the Wankhede stadium. So frenzied was Panesar's celebration that his high-fives missed his teammates' palms by as big a margin as Tendulkar's failed attempt to work him into the leg side.

When the left-arm spinner trapped Tendulkar LBW in the second innings, his reactions were more muted. Tendulkar had closed his bat face again, not as much as in the first innings, but he had still been looking to play towards mid on rather than down the ground.

Right through Tendulkar's career, the one sight that has defined him has been the full face of his bat pointing proudly down the ground. Power, MRF, Adidas. No one has had to strain their eyes to read the sponsor's name.

But his game has evolved around his often injury-prone body. Having missed a lot of cricket with a tennis elbow injury in 2004-05, he returned with a slightly lighter bat and a shorter backlift. This didn't stop him from playing the straight drive entirely, but he brought it out a little less often. Instead, he would wait a split second longer and tuck the ball into gaps on the leg side.

This probably became the definitive Tendulkar 2.0 shot, especially in the subcontinent, where bowlers would aim straighter and the ball would come slower off the wicket and with less deviation, allowing him to flick and glance all day.

But since his return to Test cricket after missing the West Indies tour last year, this shot has brought about his downfall a little more often than he would like. In that time, Tendulkar has batted in 28 innings. In exactly half of those innings, he has been out bowled or LBW. That 50 per cent figure is well above his LBW-plus-bowled percentage of 38.13 till the 2010-11 South Africa tour.

Other great batsmen have had similar spikes in the frequency of their bowled and/or LBW dismissals late in their careers. Usually, they are more susceptible to one form of straight-ball dismissal than the other. In his last 12 innings, Brian Lara was out LBW six times. Rahul Dravid, in his last 12 innings, was bowled nine times. Gordon Greenidge was LBW in nine out of his last 19 innings. Ricky Ponting was LBW five times in six innings last year, against South Africa and New Zealand. He admitted he had been "in probably a rut technically that I hadn't been in right through my career," sorted out his troubles and went on a purple patch in his next series against India, scoring 62, 60, 134, 7, 221 and 60*.

Ponting's head, during that spate of LBWs, had been falling over to the off side, unbalancing him. Tendulkar's woes also stem from what looks like an obvious problem. Seven of his 14 recent LBW and bowled dismissals have come about when he has missed a straight ball while attempting to play through the on side. He has been getting out in this manner much more frequently in the 2012-13 home season. Against the Kiwis in Bangalore, he was bowled by Doug Bracewell in the first innings and Tim Southee in the second.

The gate

In both innings, the ball beat snuck through as he closed his bat face in an attempt to work it towards the midwicket region. The second time, Tendulkar reacted with a gesture of admonishment, raising his bat as if to bring it down angrily upon the turf and stopping himself midway.

Tendulkar clearly knows what has been getting him out. And he must be working extremely hard in the nets to weed out this problem. But he hasn't quite internalised it in his muscle memory yet, as shown by his twin dismissals to Panesar in Mumbai.

He will continue working on this niggle in the nets, and will hope that this work will pay off in Kolkata and Nagpur. As Ponting showed last year, great batsmen are never too old to make a successful technical adjustment.

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