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Can't bat: India without Tendulkar

INDIA have done the normal thing in Sri Lanka, normal being defined as the result they achieve on each and every tour. They have been beaten, soundly, and in no uncertain manner. When former Lankan skipper Duleep Mendis led Lanka to a series win over India in 1985, he probably didn't envisage how easy it would become for his country to beat the living daylights out of their giant neighbour. But that's exactly how things have turned out over the years.

That is not the main issue which concerns me, however. What does, is the fact that India seem to be so full of talent at times, to the extent of bursting at the seams and being unable to accommodate everyone who deserves a place. Yet when it comes down to batting, the Indians offer one excuse for failure - Sachin Tendulkar wasn't present or he didn't make a contribution.

For a while, earlier this year, it looked as though the team had turned over a new leaf - Venkat Laxman and Rahul Dravid produced some extraordinary performances against the Australians and for once, without any contribution from Tendulkar, India won a Test match. But that was an illusion as it turns out. The dependence on the pint-sized Tendulkar is still there and, more ominously, it looks like his absence affects the performance of others as well.

Not that Tendulkar has actually won many matches for India on his own. I struggle to recall matches when Tendulkar won something off his own bat in the way that, say, Steve Waugh has. Or Brian Lara, Or Graham Gooch, Or Gordon Greenidge, Or Viv Richards. Or Kapil Dev. Or... the list goes on. Indian supporters would, no doubt, be annoyed when this is mentioned. But the truth generally hurts.

When Australia went to India, the Indian batsmen collared Shane Warne one of the best spinners in the world and hit him wherever they wanted. This happened on turning tracks where Harbhajan Singh was able to weave such a spell that he took 32 wickets in three Tests. Yet, when faced with Muthiah Muralitharan on a turning track, these great players of spin tucked their tails between their legs and collapsed like skittles. Let's remember that Warne went on to England and took an average of over six wickets per Test there - he cannot be written off completely.

In the first Test, just one batsman was able to cross 50. In the second Test, two went over the half-century mark. In the third, there were three scores over 50, two of them by one man. Sri Lanka's batsmen registered seven hundreds in the three games. No Tendulkar, no hundreds. Not even a few more scores over 50. That says it all.

Or does it? India's bowling was pathetic. Harbhajan took a grand total of four wickets. Muralitharan took eight and 11 wickets respectively in the two Tests which his country won; in the one they lost, he took four. Both spinners, both world-class, both bowling on the same wickets. Murali has never knocked over the Australians, the top team in the world, the way Harbhajan has.

I pity the long-suffering Indian cricket supporters. They are more fervent and supportive of their team than most. Yet they are let down time and again by a bunch which does not lack talent, is overpaid and overfed, but yet shivers before any opposition when Tendulkar is absent. Not that they win abroad when he is there - they may lose by a smaller margin. The Indian fan has to console himself with that.

India now stands eighth on the Test cricket ladder. There are only 10 teams which play Test cricket. That's an achievement of which the country with the world's second largest population should be justifiably proud.

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