Looking for the 'lost' Tendulkar

He has to sort out the devils in his head and enjoy his cricket.

Twenty three years of international cricket, closing in on the 34,000-international runs landmark and 100 international centuries are staggering numbers and an apt reflection of Sachin Tendukar's longevity. But, it's also a fact Tendulkar has been a pale shadow of himself over the last couple of seasons both at home and away.

So far in 2012 (at the conclusion of the second Test match against England), Tendulkar has scored 274 Test runs in 12 innings with a highest score of 80 at a paltry average of 22.83. Tendulkar's highest score in his last 10 Test innings is 27 - these numbers just aren't enough for a No. 4 batsman, let alone for arguably one of the three greatest batsmen of all time. It's obvious Tendulkar's eye-hand co-ordination isn't what it used and that coupled with his unsure footwork has seen the 'Little Master' getting clean bowled with alarming regularity in his last few innings.

In the second Test against England at Mumbai, which India lost comprehensively, Tendulkar was twice dismissed by left-arm spinner Monty Panesar. In the first innings, Panesar clean bowled Tendulkar with a ripper of a delivery that turned away from the leg before crashing into his stumps; and in the second innings, the tweaker made India's No. 4 look like a novice beating him regularly before trapping him plumb in front with a straight delivery.

Not many bowlers have outthought Tendulkar twice, and so comprehensively, in the same match in his illustrous career. If it hadn't done so before the Mumbai Test, the manner of his two dismissals should set alarm bells ringing in Tendulkar's head.

Tendulkar needs to get among the runs in the last two Test matches against England, for himself than for anybody else; otherwise the growing clamour for his retirement will continue unabated until he calls it a day. It's a pity to see a legend struggle in a profession he has dominated for more than two decades, but Tendulkar now has to take it upon himself to probably introspect and bring around a change of attitude when he comes to the crease.

And, by this, I mean finding it within himself to rewind the years and play with the freedom and joy he used to until a few years back. Tendulkar should realise his record speaks for itself and he now needs to enjoy his cricket in the twilight of his career; and he can only do that if he understands he doesn't carry the burden of team alone on his shoulders anymore and overcomes the shadowy devils that have entered his head.

There are other capable batsmen in the line-up, and Tendulkar will help himself and the team, if he walks in with a clear mind. That's not to say he goes hammer and tongs from the outset, but at the same time, it is imperative he doesn't play himself into a shell from the outset, because that's when Tendulkar is most likely to be dismissed. Tendulkar has to take calculated risks when he walks in and play each delivery on its merit and be sue of his footwork before turning the screws on the opposition bowlers instead of being made to look out of sorts, especially considering the position he bats at, as it puts the other batsmen under pressure.

However, if Tendulkar fails to score big runs at Kolkata and Nagpur, he will have to make a call on his international career, because it is painfully obvious the Sandeep Patil-led selection committee isn't going to have a word with him about his future plans. Tendulkar runs the real risk, if he hasn't already done so, of tainting his rich legacy with painful struggles in the sunset of his career.

Tendulkar is a legend, an institution and a role model in cricket, and the intangible benefits of having him in the dressing room on youngsters may be seen in the long run; but the sad reality now is that instead of looking forward to watch him bat, a fair number of fans may cringe when he walks in now. This is not the exit Tendulkar deserves and hopefully he realises or is made to understand that before it's too late.

For now, the bat is in Tendulkar's hands as he seeks to dispel apprehensions about his dismal form and get back among the runs. Over to you, SRT!