There are two cricket series’ happening right now in the world. The overhyped ‘Ashes’ in Australia and the dull ‘India vs Srilanka’ series in India. Two batsmen are stealing the show as usual — Virat Kohli and Steve Smith. Virat smashed two double hundreds and a century against the hapless Srilankan bowlers while Steve Smith just scored a 229 yesterday against England after scoring a century in the previous match. As usual, cricket commentators started the usual question — Is Virat Kohli the greatest ever? Is Steve Smith better than Virat in tests?
Virat is a great batsman, no doubt. Steve is a great batsman, no doubt. Are they the greatest batsman? No. Virat and Steve are playing in an era where cricket has become a batsman’s game and not one where there is equal opportunity for batsman and bowlers. The grounds are shorter, the pitches are flatter and the sports equipment are top class. The larger need to attract people to the ground and make them watch on TV has created a context that has taken the sheen out of the game.
If you want to evaluate a player’s greatness, ask the following questions -
- Where did he come from?
This question will tell the background when the player entered into the cricketing scene. Where was cricket at that time? Who were the great players and the best teams in the world at that time? Who were their teammates and who were their inspirations when they grew up? How was the team doing and who are his teammates?
2. What did he do?
This question is about the player’s achievements — The runs scored, consistency, the character that he displayed and the longevity
3. What did he do for the game and the future generation?
This is about the player’s impact on the game and also, on his teammates, future players all over the world
Let us examine question 1. Virat plays for the best team in the world and has evolved from a team that had the best batting line up in the world. Steve comes from a team that has been the most dominant force in world cricket in the last three decades. Even Ponting, Lara come from teams that dominated the world cricket. So it is natural that a good player will get a great deal of confidence when they represent a strong team. Sachin came into a team that always had a few good batsmen but the team as a whole was never a dominating unit like the Windies or Australians. The supporters of the team never got any confidence that their team was going to win. Lara, Ponting, and Kallis made their debut in their early 20s but Sachin made his debut when he was just 16. Imagine a 16-year old making his debut for a country that is known for huge gaps between seniors and juniors culturally from schools to workplaces. When Sachin entered the scene, the most dominant teams are Windies and Australia and the dominant bowlers were Waqar, Wasim, Marshall, Ambrose, Walsh, McDermott. His record
A batsman needs to be judged by his overall record and his record against the best team in that generation. Tendulkar scored 3630 in 39 matches against Australia, the most dominant side of his generation, at an average of 55 which is higher than his test average of 53.78 with 11 hundreds and 16 fifties. Lara scored 2856 runs from 31 matches at an average of 51, which is lower than his test average of 52.89, with 9 hundreds and 11 fifties. We need to let data speak and that too in the right way. Shane Warne is wrongly rated as the best spin bowler ever. What is his record against India, the best team against spin bowling? 43 wickets in 14 test matches at a poor 47.19 average per wicket which is double his test average. How can we call him the greatest spin bowler ever?
Let’s examine 2: There were several outstanding players like Lara, Ponting, Dravid, Kallis, and Sangakkara and they all had great averages plus consistency. One of the defining questions would be — who did bowlers fear the most among these great players? I don’t think any bowler would be scared of Dravid or Kallis or Sangakkara. They are workhorses who grind and get runs. Ponting is an attacking batsman but was not feared. There were only two batsman who bowlers feared the most — Lara and Sachin. Ask Brett Lee and Warne, they will tell how Sachin gave them nightmares. Ask Murali and McGrath, they will tell how Lara dominated them from the word go. So the greatest ever title is evidently between Lara and Tendulkar.
Greatness is defined largely in terms of consistency but there is something more which Lara and Tendulkar have demonstrated during their career. Lara is the classiest and stylish batsman the game has seen. Lara also has the highest individual innings in tests with a record-breaking 400*. Tendulkar is no less when he became the first batsman to score 200 in a one day match. One can argue test is more difficult than one-day matches which may be true but Tendulkar compensated that with 100 hundreds. He was one of the youngest to start his career and one of the oldest to retire. Tendulkar scored a 100 when he was just 17 and scored a 200 when he was 38. He has the highest runs in tests and ODIs. My Jamaican friend used to make fun of me when I make this comparison and say ‘Are you serious, man? Have you watched Lara play? He is an artist man’. I didn’t ask him whether he has watched an India vs Pakistan match in India and whether he has experienced the euphoria when Tendulkar walked into bat. Go to question 3 below to see why Sachin is better than anyone else.
But before that, Let us compare with some legends from the past. Since Bradman is incomparable, the only other two players who can be compared with Tendulkar are Viv Richards and Sunil Gavaskar. Viv was the most destructive batsman of his times and bowlers were scared of bowling to him. He could hit sixes to the stands even in those times when the grounds were longer. But Viv was part of a team that was the dominating force and he didnt have to face his teammates that had the likes of Marshall, Garner, Holding, Andy Roberts etc. Sunil Gavaskar on the other hand faced the most destructive bowlers of all time and scored 34 hundreds which was a world record. But he couldn’t adapt to ODI format. So Sachin stands out even here.
3. What did he do for the game and the future generation?
Tendulkar gave character, inspiration and confidence to the future generation. He taught how to fight fire with fire and his ‘desert storm’ in Sharjah in 1998 made every Indian stand with pride. When a match started, every Indian believed that they can win. It is this confidence that Tendulkar injected into the fibre of not just the cricket team but also to the whole nation. He backed up his consistency on the field with a dignified conduct outside the field. This is what Tendulkar has given in addition to all the other traditional measures that great players are evaluated. Look at the Australian, Windies, Srilanka, South Africa teams today. They don’t have the same confidence that the Indian team has today.
When he came into the cricketing scene, it was an ordinary sport. when he left the sport, it is one of the richest sports in the world. BCCI is one of the richest sporting bodies in the world. Do you know what was one of the most important factor that attracted so much TV audience? Sachin Tendulkar.
He left the team better than how it was when he arrived. He left the game better than how it was when he arrived. I think on question 3, there is simply no comparsion for Sachin. Mathew Hayden’s gem of a comment sums it all up -`I have seen God. He bats at №4 for India’.