Are you going to get out or do I have to go around the wicket and kill you?

I was once looking through one of those ‘ten best sledges’ lists. I liked the one attributed to Malcolm Marshall when tormenting David Boon in the Caribbean. After giving Boonie a torrid time, he supposedly said, “Are you going to get out, David or I am going to have to go around the wicket and kill you?” I thought of that when I saw Stuart Broad’s dismissal today.

Australia was putting the cleaners through England again. Johnson started a new over to Joe Root and the Aussies gave Root a single to get the newly arrived Stuart Broad on strike. I repeat: gave. This was reminiscent of England’s tactics yesterday when at the beginning of his innings, they gave Clarke a single at the end of an over to keep him on strike. Broad was immediately brought into the attack. To his credit, Clarke dispatched the next two short balls to the boundary. It was interesting mind games which England lost.

Coming back to Johnson and Broad, Johnson went around the wicket. Johnson bowls quite a lot around the wicket to right handers but using the tactic to left handers could only be seen as intimidating. And it worked – the first delivery was a searing throat ball which Broad got inside of gloved down the leg side. I think he even might have walked.

Johnson has arrived over four years late and I wonder what impact he will have on the series. Johnson was expected to be a super star in the 2009 Ashes and was great disappointment. Moving forward to Australia in 2010-11, Australia were still pinning their hopes on Johnson. He delivered in Perth but it proved to be a flash in the pan.

What can Australia expect from Mitchell Johnson this time around? He has started the series rather spectacularly (yes, Warnie predicted it) but can he go on with it? While the Brisbane pitch had no demons, it did offer the pace bowlers life and bounce (as an indication, just three batsmen were bowled in the entire match, and all in second half of the match, and there was not one lbw). That will be missing in Adelaide and Johnson has in the past tended to perform well only when conditions were conducive.

Naturally the Aussies were excited about their victory. It was their first victory in ten starts and it was an emphatic and important victory at that. But as Michael Clarke said, “It’s only one Test”. Well, that’s not all he said but the rest was said in the heat of the moment and is not fit for print (that was just after Gary Lyon affected one of the biggest run out botches in the history of Test cricket).

Cricket in Cyberspace will be available for Christmas

I don’t suppose many will have noticed that dongles has not been as active as usual.  Over the past few months I have let a few go through to the ‘keeper.  Warner skipping his club match, ball tampering scandals, Ponting, Clarke and Warnie fighting in public, me catching up with Hilfie at the first ever Shield match at Blacktown, meaningless One-Day series in India. You name it, I didn’t have time to write about it.

This is because I have been putting the final touches on my first book.  It has gone to the printer today.  Early next month Cricket in Cyberspace will be available – just in time for Christmas.  The book will feature selected posts from 2002 to April 2009 with 23 bonus original drawings.  Stuart Clark was kind enough to provide the foreword.

“The first story is about Adam Gilchrist and the day he made an off-the-cuff comment about Murali being a chucker. I remember that! I also remember the ACB blowing up deluxe. I agree with dongles. Now that I do a bit of work in the media, I hate the clichés, I detest the party line, I want to know what you really think.

For the rest of that afternoon, I read the book in between commentary stints. I couldn’t put it down – but I don’t like cricket books. What’s wrong with me? For a guy that doesn’t like cricket books, I read the whole book that afternoon and on the train to work the next day. The stories, my recollection of the events that happened and the good times and bad that came with being a professional cricketer.”

You will need to save up about $30 to buy a copy.  More details will follow in early December.

Cricket in Cyberspace

2006 - Take me out to the ballgame. Gillie launches himself into the record books

2006 – Take me out to the ballgame. Gillie launches himself into the record books

2005 - Ricky receives a lecture for blaming everyone but himself for getting run out

2005 – Ricky receives a lecture for blaming everyone but himself for getting run out

Nothing Small about the Little Master

As the accolades for Sachin Tendulkar continue to poor in, I am left pondering what does it all mean?  I am glad to celebrate the career of The Little Master – it is a fitting end to an incredible career but I’m the kind of guy who likes to quantify just how good someone is, or was.  To do this, it is necessary to put aside the emotion and look at facts.  It is universally accepted that Bradman was the best.  Looking at Tendulkar’s mountain of records and this incredible send off, then surely he must be second best, right?

But perhaps it is not so cut and dried.  The approach that sees Bradman at the top is to look at the stats that count.  Bradman has way less Test runs that Tendulkar – less than half.  And Bradman has way less Test hundreds then Sachin but, a lot more than half.  And Bradman played barely more than a quarter of the number of Tests that Tendulkar did.  In the end, we always get back to the average and that is why Bradman’s place at the top is not in dispute.  If we look at Tendulkar’s average (53.78), he belongs with the greats but in that company his average, is well, average.  My friend Rocket pointed out to me an article that rated Tendulkar 29th on the all time list when some mathematical measures are used.

Now before you stone me, let me say that I don’t agree with that assessment.  Sachin’s sheer numbers and the way he compiled them count for a lot.  And the assessment of greatness is more complex than mathematics.  It is hard to imagine a more popular player, although that is also hard to compare given population differences, changes in media, technology and cultural differences.  Just as it is difficult for non-Australians to understand the importance of Bradman in the 1930s, it is hard for non-Indians to understand Tendulkar’s importance to India in the 1990s, 2000s and beyond.  Whatever, it is easy to argue that Sachin has earned status credits above all other contemporary batsmen.

Now that is out of the way, I’m going to have a look at some details about Tendulkar.  He started his 200th and final Test match exactly, to the day, 24 years after his first Test match.  I recall marvelling when Steve Waugh retired, that he had played Test cricket for almost half his life.  Tendulkar was not even 17 when he played his first Test and over 40 when he retired.  He has played Test cricket for much more than half his life.  Perhaps icon is an overused word today but Tendulkar is an icon.

He holds lots of records and I’m not just talking about his income.  Tendulkar played 200 Test matches.  He scored 15,921 Test runs and made 51 Test centuries.  Daylight follows all of those landmarks.  And then there is his equally illustrious One-Day career.

Tendulkar scored his first Test century in his ninth Test match, less than a year after his debut, when he was still 17 years old.  That was 119 against England at Old Trafford.  Who would have thought there were another 50 to come?  He was dropped just after that and returned just over a year later on the tour of Australia in 1991-92, being recalled for the third Test in Sydney.  That match is often remembered for Warne’s Test debut and the mauling he received at the hands of Ravi Shastri.  It should be remembered that Tendulkar also got the better of Warne to the tune of 148 and it has to be said that Warne never really recovered.  Warne’s overall Test bowling average was 25.41 but he averaged 47.18 against India.  And that was mainly thanks to Tendulkar.

I referred to Tendulkar’s average before and it is worth noting that like Lara, the other megastar of the era, his average was better against Australia (55.00) than his career average.  It is also worth noting that Tendulkar played more Tests against Australia (39) than any other nation and scored over one thousand more runs.  At a time when Australia were the undisputed kings, they never got the better of Tendulkar, except on occasion and at the end of his career.  Those stats must count in Tendulkar’s favour.

Tendulkar’s top score was 248.  That’s a good score but it’s not really huge.  Tendulkar was not a producer of huge scores.  He took ten years to pass the 200 mark.  Perhaps it doesn’t matter but there is something about monumental scores that inspires awe.  In that department, Bradman and Lara stand alone, both in numbers of double hundreds and journeys towards three hundred and beyond.  Some guys just have a talent for huge scores.

As is my custom, I have not focussed on One-Day cricket.  I’m not going to stray from that much on this occasion either but I must recognise that you can’t tell all of Tendulkar’s story without looking at One-Day cricket.  He has the most of everything in that sphere as well and that is important when you consider how important One-Day cricket is to India.  And let’s not forget that he was first man to score 200 in a single One-Day innings.  And 49 of his 100 international centuries came in the One-Day arena.

Tendulkar has been well past his best for the past couple years but that is par for the course these days.  In fact, I picked a few guys you might have heard of, who played long and hard in all sorts of eras, to provide some comparison.  The men who earned the right to retire when they wanted, as a general rule, were in decline when they finally hung up the up their boots.  Bradman, excepted of course.  Here is a list with the average for their last ten Tests.  Length of career and their age at retirement is in brackets.

Tendulkar: ave 23;  200 Tests (24 years, 40)
Bradman: ave 111;  52 Tests (20 years, 40)
Border: ave 39;  156 Tests (15 years, 38)
Ponting: ave 45;  168 Tests (17 years, 38)
Hayden: ave 29;  103 Tests (15 years, 37)
Dravid: ave 46;  164 Tests (15 years, 37)
Lara: ave 42; 131 Tests (16 years, 37)
Hutton: ave 32;  79 Tests (18 years, 39)
Gooch: ave 21;  118 Tests (20 years, 42)

In conclusion, you only have to look at Tendulkar’s send off in Mumbai to realise his standing.  The ovation for his final walks to the crease had to be seen and heard to be believed.  No people celebrate like Indians and no crowd has the capacity to make noise as an Indian crowd.  In recent times we have seen some rousing receptions for departing heroes – Ponting and Hussey to name a couple, received guards of honour in front of crowds on home soil. I was present for Hussey at the SCG and that was grand.  But the Little Master received something else.  In the end, I don’t think it matters whether he is second, third or fourth (or 29th) amongst the greats.  I don’t think it can be disputed that he is a giant of the game of cricket.  His importance to the game, and especially to India, cannot be overstated and the scenes at his farewell were reflective of that.  Farewell Sachin Tendulkar – cricket will not be the same without you.

Tendulkar’s Final Hurrah is under way

It was about a month ago that Tendulkar announced that he was finally going to hang up his boots.  At the end of this two Test series against the West Indies, having played is 200th Test, Sachin Tendulkar will retire.  It is hard to believe that it is finally happening.

I recall when Steve Waugh announced that he would retire at the end of the summer of 2003-04, concluding with four Tests against India.  The fanfare that accompanied that was impressive.  It may not have affected Waugh but it did seem to unsettle the team.  Emotions ran high as the great man reached the end of his career, concluding on the final day of the Sydney Test.

It is hard for an Australian to think of that experience and translate it to Tendulkar’s situation now.  To start with, you have to magnify it by about 40 times to take into consideration the population difference.  Then multiply that by two to factor in a higher proportion of cricket lovers in India.  And double that again because all that feeling is concentrated into two Tests instead if four.  By my calculations the celebrations, emotion and focus relating to Tendulkar’s retirement would eclipse the Waugh experience by about 160 times.  And even that may not do justice to the importance of Sachin Tendulkar to India.

Australia could not send off Steve Waugh with a win but I fancy India’s chances against the West Indies.  That being said, things were a little shaky for India for a while.  Chasing a modest 234, India was five down for less than 100.  They were saved by Rohit Sharma, playing is first Test match.  He followed up his stunning 209 in the final ODI against the Aussies with 177 on debut, sharing a 280 run partnership with Ashwin.  A 219 run lead may render redundant a second innings for Tendulkar.

I wonder will Tendulkar manage another century this series?  Tendulkar has scored exactly 100 international centuries (Test and ODIs).  There was a long interval between the 99th and 100th centuries (just over a year) and that 100th one did come a long time ago (18 months ago).  It’s hard to know with the Little Master but he is well past his best.  He has not scored a Test century for 21 matches (more than two and a half years) and has averaged just 25 in is past 10 Test matches.

I saw a funny cartoon quite some time ago.  Sachin stood before the selectors and one of them said, “We want to discuss retirement plans.”  Sachin replied, “When are you retiring?”  I thought it was very funny but completely true.  He is finally leaving now and I think it would be rather nice if he finishes on 100 centuries and 200 Test matches.  Statisticians like round numbers.  Still, if he makes one more to go to 101 tons, he will be able to write a book  called ‘The Little Master’s 101 on scoring tons’.  Something like that.

I shall be penning a more substantial piece for the final chapter on 18 November.