June 03, 2005

Tendulkar could pay price for persisting with heavy bat

By H Natarajan

"People don't have surgery on their elbows for tennis elbow unless other more conservative methods have failed,” Prof Bruce Elliott, biomechanics expert at the University of Western Australia.


Prof Elliott’s comment is loaded. To me it subtly underlines the gravity of Sachin Tendulkar’s problem. John Gloster, physio of the Indian cricket team who accompanied Tendulkar for the left elbow operation in London last week, says the master should settle for a lighter bat. Therein lies the very grim and uncertain future of India’s national cricketing treasure leaving Indian cricket much to ponder about in the months to come over the opinions of Elliott and Gloster.

My mind rewinds back seven years, when Tendulkar was still 25. I had written a lengthy front-page article then for The Indian Express highlighting the dangers of Tendulkar’s persistence to play with an ultra-heavy bat that had more wood at the bottom. And with three grips adding to the load, his bat weighed 3lbs, 2 ounces at one point of time that he subsequently scaled it down. His back injury was a wake-up call, I wrote, and he needed to do a hurried rethink in persisting with a bat that was bound to aggravate the wear and tear subjected from an age when his body was not fully developed.The average career longevity of a top international cricketer is about 10 to 15 years while Tendulkar’s international career is close to 16 years. His medical bulletin will only get longer under the circumstances. Greg Chappell may have used the public pronouncement that Tendulkar will never be the same batsman as a psychological ploy to fire up the maestro, but all the same one cannot discount the realities of injuries and surgeries that have taken a toll on his body and game. And that could well be, I feel, one of the reasons for his relatively less aggressive approach. Something that was unthinkable a few years back.

Tendulkar will now be forced to do some serious thinking about his bat. To my knowledge, the only batsmen who used monstrous bats of 3-plus lbs that Tendulkar preferred for a major part of his career were Clive Lloyd and Lance Cairns – two men who are a foot taller than Tendulkar and who have much greater muscle mass than the diminutive Indian.

The extra weight undoubtedly gives Tendulkar the kind of punch that finds even his defensive blocks - with minimum backlift - streak to the fence. But there is no mistaking that he is paying the price now for defying conventional reason. If one does not now see him often now playing the imperious loft - in the arc between long-on and long off - of the bygone years, it’s probably, I suspect, to protect his back that has already had its share of serious problems. And now he could well may get even more selective with strokes like the bread and butter drives. It’s the left-hand that controls the right-hand batsman’s drives and it’s the left elbow that has gone under the surgeon’s scalpel. The impact of the ball hitting the bat passes through the forearm to the elbow. This repetitive impact produces trauma to the tissues surrounding the elbow to cause inflammation – something that has troubled him now for a year. It has not only kept him away from the game for long periods of time but also made him increasingly mortal at the crease.

Super-heavy bats also expedite the fatigue factor. “This could be one of the reason why Sachin may not have played as many big innings,” feels Balwinder Sandhu. There is logic in what Sandhu says. Brian Lara, the man with whom Tendulkar is often compared, plays with a bat weighing 2l.4bs. Sir Don Bradman played with 2.2 lbs and Sunil Gavaskar 2.6 lbs or less. The lighter bats could be one of the reasons why these men – all short statured - went on to play far too many bigger knocks than Tendulkar.

One of the leading sports medicine experts in the country says, Dr Dilip Nadkarni, says that he have done over 10,000 surgeries in a 15-year span, but less than 10 have been for tennis elbows, and none on cricketers. It shows the rarity of surgeries for tennis elbow.

Explains Dr Nadkarni: “Conventional surgery for tennis elbow involves releasing the inflamed tendons at the elbow. It is an open surgery, where the tension in the tendons is released by stripping them off the bone. This surgery has more predictable results. The drawback is that one may lose some power at the wrist. But in Sachin’s case one need not have such worries. From the reports we have read quoting the doctor who operated on him in London, what has been done is debridement (surgical excision of dead, devitalized, or contaminated tissue) and the remodeling of the affected tendon on the lateral elbow.”

Nadkarni feels that Tendulkar has to be very careful here on and listen to the advice of the doctors to avoid aggravating the injury and risking his career.

Tendulkar needs to do take drastic steps to save his career from coming to a swift and untimely end. He should ascertain from biomechanic experts if alterations in grip - the postion where he is holding the bat as also the firmness with which he is holding it – could help matters.

If it does, he has to work with a coach who not only knows him as a player but also understands his thinking. Vasu Paranjpe could be the man not only because he is a brilliant analyst but also because he has known and coached Tendulkar from his formative years.

He should also find out from biomechanics scientists the ideal bat weight, keeping in mind his physique and his medical condition.He should considering reducing his workload by playing selectively and maybe even quit playing the more demanding ODIs to ensure longevity in Tests. There will be pressure from sponsors and agents, no doubts, but tough decisions have to be taken.The realisation is slowly and sadly sinking in, more than at any time, that what we may be witnessing is the beginning of the end of a truly mindboggling career. How long will Tendulkar’s international career last? It could be till the next World Cup or thereabouts, but it could come to much, much earlier end if his medical woes worsen. A lot depends on how he goes about the rehab process and how much his body responds to it.