Sachin Tendulkar: Enigma or Anachronism?

Mahinda Wijesinghe, courtesy of The Island

TENDULKAR 11 SACHIN 1In the sporting world, when all-time greats such as Pele, Muhammad Ali, Pete Sampras, Michael Phelps, Michael Jordan, Carl Lewis, Sir Donald Bradman, Walter Lindrum (the Bradman of Billiards, and probably the only instance when a rule of the game was changed  to circumvent a player’s personal skill) fade from the spotlight, and/or, in the not too distant future, when the phenomenal Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt hangs up his spikes, there will be a void, albeit a temporary one, until the next champion comes along.

Comparing one champion with a former one is a futile exercise. Conditions may vary, for example, the 1968 Mexico Summer Olympics was held at an altitude of 7,350 ft. above sea level which was the major reason, experts concluded, that enabled U.S. long jump athlete Bob Beamon to leap an incredible 29 ft.2 ft ins (8.90 m) in the rarefied atmosphere – a record that stood for 23 years! Additionally, changes in rules (as above in billiards), technological advances in training, sophisticated equipment and improved physical techniques make equitable comparisons a well-nigh impossibility. For instance, the scissors style was improved to the Western roll and then came the Fosbury Flop in the high-jump event, and so on. From cricket bats weighing a tad over 2lbs with basic willow wood to the modern 3lbs-plus carbon fiber reinforced polymer-supported sledge-hammer bats that current players now wield is yet another factor that hinders efforts of equating the past with the present.

Tendulkar 11 The recent retirement of India’s 40-year old cricketing idol Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar will not only leave a vast gap in Indian cricket but also in the sporting world in general. A staggering 200 Test matches, a stupendous 100 international centuries, a stunning 15,000-plus Test runs, who can come to level terms with this stupefying hat-trick of legacies?

These are Himalayan bench-marks, and all of this was achieved with dignity and aplomb. Not for him to display dissent when the umpire ruled him out, nor did he have skirmishes with fellow-players and/or administrators or indulge in disgusting sledging duels with the opposition, during his 24-year career. In this regard, our own Muralidaran is another striking example of such conduct despite his problems. Incidentally, the fact that both the most prolific run-maker (Tendulkar) and wicket-taker (Muralidaran) in Test cricket hails from the sub-continent is a matter of great pride for Asians.

Indeed, the authoritative Cricinfo website describes Tendulkar as “Perhaps the most complete batsman and the most worshipped cricketer in the world, Tendulkar holds just about every batting record worth owning in the game, including those for most runs and hundreds in Tests and ODIs, and most international runs.”

With an Indian population of 1.2 billion plus, Tendulkar could well be the most “worshipped cricketer in the world.” Of course he also holds the records for most runs and hundreds in Tests and ODIs, and most international runs. But does he “hold just about every batting record worth owning in the game”? That is perhaps a bit over the top.

Tendulkar 22Some of Tendulkar’s Test track records belie that statement.

  • For instance on 26 occasions, 24 International players have scored over 300 runs in an innings. Tendulkar failed to do so (see below), although his team-mate Virender Sehwag (309) succeeded in doing so. (Incidentally, Bradman was the first to do it twice, and missed his third triple century when he was left stranded at 299 not out!)
  • Tendulkar has never scored twin centuries although this has been attained on 72 occasions, including compatriots Sunil Gavaskar (thrice), Rahul Dravid (twice) and Vijay Hazare (once).
  • It took 14 innings for 16-year old Tendulkar to register his first century, while 14 other Indians have scored centuries on debut. Overall this feat has been accomplished on 98 separate occasions by international players.
  • Tendulkar has only 6 double centuries to his credit in his career comprising 329 innings, while alongside with the same tally are Virender Sehwag, Mahela Jayawardene, Marvan Atapattu, Javed Miandad and Ricky Ponting. Our own Kumar Sangakkara is ahead with eight double centuries made inside 200 innings. The list is headed, as expected, by Don Bradman – twelve double centuries, including 2 triples, off a mere 80 innings!
  • It took Tendulkar 195 innings to reach 10,000 runs while Brian Lara and Kumar Sangakkara also took the same number of innings.
  • The most number of runs in a series has been scored, naturally, by Don Bradman (974 – way back in 1930!). For India, the highest is by Sunil Gavaskar (774) followed by D.N.Sardesai (642) and Rahul Dravid (619).
  • Tendulkar’s highest Test score is 248. There have been 83 instances of international players going over the 250-run mark. Sehwag eclipsed this score four times (319,309,293 & 254) while Laxman (281) and Dravid (270) also stand ahead of Tendulkar.
  • The highest number of boundaries scored by Tendulkar in an innings was 35. There have been 38 instances of batsmen scoring more boundaries in an innings. England’s John Edrich (52) heads the list, with Virender Sehwag coming in second with 47.
  • In the latest statistics released by Cricinfo, of batsmen who have played over 50 Tests, Tendulkar with an average of 53.78 lies at No.11, while Sangakkara (56.98) is above him at No.6.
  • Tendulkar was not able to score a century in his last 23 Tests (39 innings).

As Mark Twain, the renowned wit, once said: “there are lies, damned lies and statistics”,while others reckon statistics are quoted much in the manner a drunkard uses a lamp-post – not for illumination but for support! Be that as it may, statistics still has its own values and uses.

In 2010, Jaideep Varma of ESPN Cricinfo fame introduced the Impact Index method which measures every player relative to the other performances in the same match. From his findings, Varma concludes that in the last 20 years the one man who has made the biggest contribution to the Indian side is not Tendulkar…’s Rahul Dravid. Elaborating further, Varma states:

“Dravid has more series-defining performances (eight) than Tendulkar does (six) in fewer matches.The great players tend to take the lead, they tend to dominate, which Tendulkar has not done in the big matches right throughout his career. Rahul Dravid is a superior Test player to him in terms of changing the cricketing history of his country.”

Incidentally, Tendulkar has played in a record-breaking 146 Tests alongside Rahul Dravid. The closest to this combination is the South African duo of Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis (137).

Tendulkar 33- ie photoThere are some commentators who tend to compare Tendulkar with Bradman, at least where the Indian’s stroke production is concerned. Perish the thought. How can one compare the record of two players whose relative Test averages are 99.9 and 53.7? Obviously there has not been consistency. Then if one looks at the destructive/aggressive intent in stroke production, (say) of Viv Richards, Brian Lara, Barry Richards, Garry Sobers, Gordon Greenidge, and even Virender Sehwag and Sanath Jayasuriya in their prime, all of them were Tendulkar’s superiors. Hence consistency and aggression too can be ruled out of Tendulkar’s repertoire when comparing with the best.

Sumit Chakraberty’s controversial book ‘Master Laster: What They Don’t Tell You About Sachin Tendulkar’ has also revealed, inter alia: “Of the top 45 batsmen who have scored 15% or more of their team’s total runs in the course of their Test career, obviously,Don Bradman tops the list, while Sunil Gavaskar is at number 16. Tendulkar is nowhere in this list.

In ODIs, India won the match 67% of the time when Tendulkar scored a century.  This happens to be the lowest win percentage for any opener or top order batsman. For instance, India won 82% of the time when Tendulkar’s  fellow opener Saurav  Ganguly scored a century. Australia won 100% of the time when Adam Gilchrist scored a 100. The corresponding win percentages are 93% for Virender Sehwag, 84% for Brian Lara, 80% for Saeed Anwar, and 83% for Ricky Ponting.

From the year 2000 to the present, whenever Tendulkar scored an ODI 100, India lost the match half the time. This is unparalleled in any other player’s stats.”

Now for a brief glance at some of Tendulkar’s ODI track record as compared with others:

  • Most runs in an innings is by Virender Sehwag (219) followed by rookie Rohit Sharma (209). Tendulkar’s highest is 200 made as late as in 2010.
  • Of batsmen who have played over 100 ODIs, Tendulkar’s batting average of 44.83 qualifies him to occupy only the 10th slot.
  • Most runs in a series was by Greg Chappell (686).
  • Most runs in an over was by Herschell Gibbs (36).  Tendulkar’s best is 28, and he shares the 11th position with Shahid Afridi in this regard, although the latter once made 32 in an over as well.
  • Saurav Ganguly and Gary Kirsten hold the record for scoring the most hundreds (4) in a calendar year.
  • Rohit Sharma (16), Dhoni (10) and Y.K. Pathan (8) are ahead in the number of 6’s hit in an innings, to Tendulkar’s best of 7.
  • The highest number of runs Tendulkar has scored with fours and sixes in an innings is 118.Rohit Sharma (144), Virender Sehwag (142) and M.S. Dhoni (120) are ahead.

In other words, Tendulkar  appears to have lost his place in the pantheon of top ODI cricketers as well!

Despite all of the above, isn’t it curious that Tendulkar has been hailed as the undisputed crowned king of Indian cricket and “holding just about every batting record worth owning in the game?”

However, to Tendulkar’s eternal credit, here is a boy who made his international debut as a stripling of 16 years and bowed out 24 years later, and maintained his dignity, poise and grace both on and off the field until he achieved an almost sacrosanct status in the eyes of the cricketing world everywhere. Not a single scandal tarnished his long career that was the lot of even icons such as his fellow-countrymen, Bedi, Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Azharuddin, Jadeja, and recently Sreesanth et al.

Tendulkar played the game as it was meant to be played when cricketing pioneers first put bat to ball at Broadhalfpenny Down in Hambledon, Hampshire many moons ago and retired to the nearby Bat and Ball Inn to discuss the day’s play!

Indeed the Indian batting idol can be rightly considered almost an anachronism in this day and age, and to remind us when cricket was a sport of gentlemen. Not too long ago, expressions deeply embedded in the English language such as ‘it’s not cricket’ (it’s not acceptable/not the done thing), and to ‘play a straight bat’ (being honest and honourable) illustrated the gentlemanly values embodied in the game, and conduct expected from cricketers.  Sadly, Tendulkar appears to have been “the last of the Mohicans” to remind us of those glory days.

For Tendulkar, cricket has been his life, from a teenager to an adult, the bat a mere extension of his arm. As his dear wife Anjali, who was trying her damndest to hide her tears behind her dark glasses while Tendulkar was making his farewell speech at the Wankhede stadium the other day, said: “Cricket can do without Tendulkar, but can Tendulkar do without cricket?”

The next day at the press conference Tendulkar answered this question: He said:”Kahinnakahintoh main khelloonga” – Somewhere, somehow, I will find a way to play.

Sachin Tendulkar was a dedicated, passionate professional. Despite the godlike stature he enjoyed, he was humble and grateful to the game that enriched his life. Little wonder that at the end of his final game he went up to the pitch and lovingly kissed the surface that he adorned for over two decades.

As the 6th century Roman poet Catullus concluded his elegy mourning the premature death of his brother, ‘Ave atque vale’ – I salute you, and goodbye.

Ave atque vale, Sachin!


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