March 16, 2005

Sachin Tendulkar.

Sachin Tendulkar reached a major milestone today when he completed 10,000 runs in Test cricket. He is only the fifth player to do so, and reached the figure in the fewest number of innings - 195. Brian Lara also took 195 innings to reach the milestone. But Tendulkar has an astounding average of 57.80, which is comfortably more than Brian Lara's 52.91, who is second in averages among the five. Here is a good account of all the numbers involved, and here is a list of top 50 run-getters in Test cricket. Notice that Sachin has the highest average among the top 22 players, and only three players in all of the list - Bradman (99.94), Barrington (58.67) and Hammond (58.45) - have more average than him. He has a substantially more average than most of the contemporary players - only Dravid (57.46), Ponting (55.78) and Kallis (55.56) have averages close to his. These figures and more staggering numbers in the One-Day format suggest for sure that he is among the greatest batsmen of all time. And considering that he is still 32 and has a good chance of playing for four more years, one can only guess where he will end up.

In some sense, these numbers define Sachin Tendulkar's career. People always ask whether statistics truly reflect a player's quality. There can not be any definitive answer to this question. One can not claim that statistics are everything, on the other hand it is also foolish to say that they do not mean anything. In Tendulkar's case, the evidence from the records is too overwhelming. He is truly THE most prolific run-getter of all time. And that purely means that in the art of batting, as it consists the task of making runs, Tendulkar has few equals. But there is lot more to Tendulkar than what his records suggest.

Let us deal first with what has become a very common criticism of Tendulkar - that many of his runs have not resulted in Indian victories. The following is a brief account of facts:

To date Sachin Tendulkar has scored 34 Test centuries, and 11 of them (32.35%) have been in matches that India went on to win. Eight of them came in matches that India lost, and 15 in draws. That percentage puts him a fair way down the list of players with ten or more Test centuries – Adam Gilchrist is on top there, as 11 of his 13 centuries (84.62%) have come in matches that Australia went on to win. Australians dominate the top of this list – Damien Martyn is second, with nine of his 11 Test tons so far leading to wins (81.82%), and Don Bradman is third. He scored hundreds in 28 Tests, and Australia won 22 of them (78.57%). Then come Michael Slater, Matthew Hayden, Steve Waugh and Mark Waugh, before the first non-Aussie – Inzamam-ul-Haq, who has scored centuries in 20 Tests, of which Pakistan have won 15 (75%). Warwick Armstrong scored centuries in six matches, and Australia won the lot – he's one clear of yet another Aussie, Darren Lehmann, there (centuries in five Tests, five wins). At the other end of the scale Bevan Congdon of New Zealand and India's Vijay Manjrekar both made centuries in seven Tests, but didn't finish up on the winning side in any of them. Jimmy Sinclair of South Africa uniquely scored three Test centuries in his career, and ended on the losing side each time.

It is foolhardy and logically incorrect to take this to mean that Sachin Tendulkar scores mostly when there is not much pressure, or that he has not helped India to win often. A careful reading of the above reveals that the top seven with most victories when they scored 100s are Australians. Cricket is a team game and all too often Indian team rose or fell with Tendulkar. An undeniable fact is that in 90s, except for stupendous successes at home, often thanks to Sachin,
India had been a struggling team and any spark that was shown by the team had been mainly due to Tendulkar.

In March 1998, in Chennai, Australia were 71 ahead of India on first innings, and as Tendulkar explained then: "They had a lead and I said this will be the innings of a player's life. Because 75-plus by any player would be a big score in the second innings and would help us win the game."

In a quiet moment, the Indian coach, Anshuman Gaekwad, corralled Tendulkar and told him, "I want you to score." Tendulkar, who was still only 24, replied: "I will get it for you, don't worry." He scored 155 and India won the Test.

For a major part of his career, there was no consistent performer to effectively complement his efforts.

Still, if we are intent on nailing Tendulkar, then we must crucify his team as well. If he has failed us, they have failed him, specifically in their willingness to turn an ensemble piece into a one-man show. Perhaps we should acknowledge too that our own expectations distort the picture. To indict him for getting out for 136 against Pakistan is to disregard the fact that the rest of the team contributed 86 runs between them, and 52 of those came from Nayan Mongia. Similarly, if we are quick to remember Tendulkar's cheap dismissal in Barbados in the second innings, we are quicker to forget that, in a low-scoring match, he had already made a valiant 92.

Only in the last five years or so, Indian team is coming to perform collectively and there is much less dependence on Tendulkar. It is totally unfair to belittle Tendulkar's legacy because we have not won too many matches during the peak of his career.

Tendulkar's legacy goes beyond his staggering record in the fact that he captured a nation's imagination. Ever since he stepped out to play for India, and courageously and with extra-ordinary skill stood up to the feared bowlers of Pakistan, the Indian nation had been obsessed with him. He was one truly great star who gave the adoring public something to look up to and feel proud. And the amazing achievement of Sachin is that he remained wonderfully down to earth through all this. This and this are very good articles, both written a while ago, which go into this phenomenon.

That is what Sachin Tendulkar means to Indian cricket. For the people who grew up watching him bat - me being one such - he was the center of universe. He defined my whole existence till the age I moved on with life, as everyone does. For millions of cricket fans, Sachin was not just another cricketer. He gave them immense happiness with his exquisite straight drive, he made them bitterly sad when he got out. And he did all this purely through his amazing skill and impeccable temperament. There was nothing Tendulkar could offer to Indians other than his super-human batting prowess, his indefatigable hardwork and discipline and a most heartwarming humility.


At 11:57 PM, March 17, 2005, Anonymous Navin Rustagi said...

I think that saying that 11 centuries have resulted in victories doesn't speak too much about him, As many of the centuries were scored in the 1st innings batting 1st. That is a situation when he is under the least amount of pressure. However saying that the ability to score so much when you have no pressure is also quite desirable and rare , But many more have that ability.Persons like steve waugh and Brian lara have given far more glorius moments in cricket than tendulkar.Also the fact that He has made so many runs in cricket is partly due to the fact that he started out early in cricket. He would not have got that chance had our team been as good as the current Australian team , So the index of the number of runs scored is not a truly universal scale of greatness as opposed to the scale where you count the number of important innings played. Also I would like to point out that The average batting standard of west Indies has been much worser than that of India , yet in my opinion Brian Lara has flourished so well . Let me summarize the whole essence of what I say here. His statistics are enough to put him as a very good batsman but not enough to put him as
a very great batsman .


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