There is a theory propounded by some who have had lobotomies that Sachin Tendulkar is a selfish man who plays only for records. I was reminded of it on a cold evening last May in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, an hour or so after the Mumbai Indians' interest in the IPL had ended. The press conference was over, but Tendulkar was still seething.
We stood out on the steps near the old St George's Park pavilion and he raged about losses earlier in the competition. The refrain was the same. "There's no way we should have lost that game." The man already owns half the batting records in the game. Surely it is not that which keeps him going. He will not tell you what does, but it is easy enough to read between the lines. After all, Tendulkar is the most visible face of a generation whose interest in cricket peaked after an unheralded side led by Kapil Dev pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the annals of sport by beating the West Indies to lift the 1983 World Cup.
"I don't want to put too much pressure on myself thinking about the next World Cup," he says. "It would be a dream come true if we can pull it off, but there are plenty of steps on the ladder and we can't get carried away by emotion." For the moment, there's an IPL to win, a Twenty20 reputation to be made. Last year's misadventure in South Africa cut deep. In the first season, Tendulkar missed seven games, and his return coincided with a resurgence that took Mumbai to within a whisker of a semi-final place.
But for a no-ball meltdown from Dilhara Fernando in Jaipur, the costliest franchise in the competition would have sneaked a last-four berth and home advantage for the final stages. In South Africa, the story went very differently. The Mumbai Indians started well, but then unravelled slowly as the season wore on. As in the opening season, they made a habit of losing close games. If you went by numbers alone, Tendulkar did not have a poor season, aggregating 364 runs in 13 games at a strike-rate of 120.13. Of his teammates, only JP Duminy scored more (372 runs), but at no stage did Tendulkar produce the sort of defining innings or scoring streak that a Matthew Hayden or Adam Gilchrist did.
He already has 314 runs from just seven games this season. Yet, the most telling statistic is another one. He has hit just one six in the entire competition, while stroking the ball to the rope 45 times. Without overhauling the game that has brought him such stunning success in Test cricket and the 50-over format, Tendulkar has adapted to the version that he appeared least suited for. In The Future of Cricket: The Rise of Twenty20, which was published last year, John Buchanan, the former Australia and Kolkata Knight Riders coach, wrote of how many of the stalwarts of the older generation were unsuited for new-age cricket. "Tendulkar has been lauded, and rightly so, as one of the very top batsmen in the history of cricket," he wrote. "But is he an effective T20 player at this stage of his career?
"In the position he plays - as an opener or No 3 - the T20 game requires not only the finesse and skills he has, but also the power and domination, an ability to take the bowlers on while being creative. You have to be inventive and fearless. And I don't see those qualities as part of Sachin's make-up at this stage of his career. Sachin Tendulkar is still a great player but not in this arena of T20."
As with so much else written about the man - remember the "Endulkar" headlines in 2006? - those words seem foolish now. It wasn't without reason Bob Dylan asked "writers and critics who prophesise with your pen" to keep their eyes wide. Such has been Tendulkar's ability to adapt to situations over the past two decades that even a half-hour snooze could result in a missed masterpiece. Dileep Premachandran is associate editor at Cricinfo and Asian cricket correspondent of The Guardian @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org