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.

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