Two years in a row I saw Pete Sampras losing the U.S Open finals in succession to Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt. Yet, when he faced Andre Agassi the third time around he took his game to heights mortals can’t imagine. Pete Sampras has always maintained that Andre Agassi brings out the best in him.
Sachin Tendulkar and V.V.S. Laxman have shown they have quite a liking for the Aussie attack, while we have seen Sachin being below par against Kiwis, a much more humble opposition, and that too for an extended phase. Any reasons? No, none that are apparent and exhaustive!
Similarly, why couldn’t Bjorn Borg win a single U.S. Open while his baseline game suited the hard courts more than the grass courts of Wimbledon where he won an astounding 5 times? Defies logic. What is the reason behind the love story between Laxman and Eden Gardens? None we could do a thesis about. How can Lleyton Hewitt win a Wimbledon and not a French Open? Baffles me. What sort of a kick does Sampras get out of playing Agassi that he raises his game to unexplored levels?
Such is the beauty of the sport that contradictions only add to it. Where else would you find such contradicting happenings and still find them exhilarating and enchanting? Why is it that sportsmen like one ground more then the other? Why is it that some players cherish one opposition more than the other? Why is it that some grounds earn the reputation of being a jinx for certain players? Why is it that some surfaces always stay an unsolved puzzle for some sportsmen?
The latest contradiction in this line is the repeated un-Sachin like performance against Kiwis. (Your writer refuses to accept it as failure) Who would believe that Sachin has been all at sea against bowlers like Daryll Tuffey and Jacob Oram while he has made mince meat out of the likes of Glen McGrath and Shoaib Akhtar? Not until you see it and find it absorbing too. The man who has given Shane Warne literal nightmares gets comprehensively beaten by Daryll Tuffey, gets out to a slower ball in a Test match and scores runs at a strike rate of less than 50 per 100 balls, now that’s what I call un-Sachin like.
A part of the run drought that Sachin is going through against the Black Caps could be attributed to the awful pitches India was treated to in New Zealand. But the Indian pitches were haven for batters. I was just left wondering if it was Sachin himself or some impostor at the Motera who struggled painstakingly before edging a slower ball to the slips (Yes! He got out to a slower ball in a test match).
A part of it could be attributed to that uncanny knack of Kiwis to be able to draw the opposition down. If they can raise their own game to the opponents’ level, they are good at dragging the opposition down. More than the Kiwi bowlers being spectacular, it has been Sachin who hasn’t looked the scavenger that he is. But come Australia and the man changes into a hungry predator. Who knows why?
In the last three matches of one day series in NZ he gave the impression he wasn’t really there. His body was there, but the mind somewhere else, thinking something else, or as if he didn’t want to be there. He played like mere mortals, not being able to cope up with the likes of Daryll Tuffey. What is it that Kiwis have that Sachin’s mind goes wandering? What makes him play the Black Caps like a disillusioned student going through a biology class? Ironically enough, it’s the same New Zealand side that Tendulkar smashed around for his highest One Day score.
As we go wilting away at our keyboards, Hewitt may one day win a French Open; Laxman may fail at Eden Gardens; and even before this piece is out Sachin might have scored a masterful century against NZ in the ODIs. After all, it’s the philosopher who overcomes his own doubts and the scientist who answers his own queries.
But no scientific laboratory could explain why certain things remain as jinxes and why some others become a gold rush. It wouldn’t be sport if some biomechanics could explain this.