THE first time Sachin Tendulkar got the job of captain, he was 23 years old and eager. Hes 26 now and, on the face of it, not that eager to accept the crown. Though the trappings of captaincy are too many to be able to develop a mendicants attitude, the reluctance reportedly stemmed from the fact that the honchos of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) washed their hands of dealing with the Azharuddin affair. Instead, they preferred Tendulkar to do the hatchet job when the selectors and he met for team selection. There was also a lot of left-over hurt in Tendulkar from the way hed been removed from captaincy the first time around.
In his first incarnation, he came to the job with a lot of energy and involvement. He would speak to team members individually, try to psyche them to their potential. Unfortunately, 97, the first year of his captaincy, coincided with his own slump in form. Though even in that dismal form he scored over 1,000 runs in one-day internationals in that year, it wasnt enough to quieten the media theory that the pressure of captaincy was eating away at his batting performance. There also might have been some merit in that. You dont want the teams nuke to be bogged down with the mundane details that take up a captains mind. You want to be able to tell him as he goes out to bat, "Go get em tiger."
Close friends say that in his first stint as skipper, Tendulkar was a lamb among wolves. That decisions were being taken on his behalf which he didnt agree with and which were detrimental to his interests. The difference between his composure then and now is huge. He cant be dictated to now. His friends add that his man management has become better and though the excitement is still there, its tempered with the right kind of wariness. They also talk about the long-term psychology hes developed, outgrowing the day-to-day attitude of his first tenure. Says former India all-rounder Ravi Shastri: "We all hope his new stint as captain is like the way he plays his cricket. I think hes going to be a lot more assertive and crack the whip from day one."
Plus, now it looks like Azharuddin has finally got the boot. Apparently, Sachin was reluctant to accept captaincy with Azhar in the team. So were a host of other contenders. Says an Indian team selector: "It wouldnt be wise for Sachin to state this condition in the beginning but he will be there during team selection and a captain has great weightage."
Friends say the first time, decisions Sachin didnt agree with were taken on his behalf. It wont happen now.
Initially, the apprehension was that Shiv Lal Yadav and Ajit Wadekar might opt for Azhar being retained as captain because of their known closeness to him. In fact, the other three selectorsMadan Lal, Anil Deshpande and Ashok Malhotrawere anticipating moves by Wadekar to that affect. Says a selector: "We thought that if Wadekar said that Sachin is not interested in captaincy, we would ask him to give it in writing. But it didnt come to that."
Now that the selectors have brought the maestro back, they should give him a long rein. The South African board, for instance, gave the captaincy to Hansie Cronje for three years at a stretch. With Sachin, they should look until the 2003 World Cup scheduled in that country.