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The Butcher of Bandra

At 25, Sachin is the best batsman to have played the game, but for the peerless Bradman

 

Is Sachin Tendulkar the greatest 25-year-old to have played the game? That’s an easy question to answer. Yes. No other great—Don Bradman and Gary Sobers included—has stepped on the escalator of international cricket at 16, as Sachin did, and gone only one way, up, every year for nine years. No other great, Bradman and Sobers combined, has played as many Tests—61—or even a fraction of the one-dayers (196) by the time he was 25. And, as a result, no other great has managed to score 33 international centuries, 61 fifties and 11,622 runs so quickly.

And if your random access memory is a mere 8 MB (months per batsman) it gets even more easy to get the adjectives flowing: 446 runs of emphatic arrogance against Shane Warne’s Australia; five centuries, six fifties and 1,235 runs in 23 one-dayers this year; a century apiece in all the big finals—in Sharjah, Calcutta, Colombo—and at Lord’s for those who had missed. And already the leading ton-getter (17) in instant cricket alongside Desmond Haynes.

THE GREATS AT 25
Player Tests Innings Runs Highest Average 100s 50s
Sachin Tendulkar 61 92 4552 179 54.84 16 19
Gary Sobers 37 64 3322 365* 59.86 11 9
Don Bradman 23 34 3091 334 99.71 13 5
Javed Miandad 40 68 3044 206 54.36 7 18
David Gower 28 64 2548 200* 43.93 4 13
Viv Richards 23 39 2309 291 62.41 8 7
Allan Border 25 38 1655 162 51.72 5 9
Sunil Gavaskar 15 30 1359 220 52.27 5 8
ONE-DAY WONDERS
Player Matches Innings Runs Highest Average 100s 50s
Desmond Haynes 238 237 8648 152* 41.48 17 57
Mohd Azharuddin 291 268 8285 153* 38.18 6 51
Aravinda De Silva 238 231 7605 145 36.74 11 51
Javed Miandad 233 218 7381 119* 41.70 8 50
Sachin Tendulkar 196 189 7070 143 41.10 17 42
Viv Richards 187 167 6721 189* 47.00 11 45
Allan Border 273 252 6524 127* 30.63 3 39
Arjuna Ranatunga 241 227 6778 131* 37.24 4 45

These eight months of carnage have conclusively put the Butcher of Bandra ahead of the Prince of Port of Spain—Brian Lara. What they have also done—courtesy television, courtesy one-day cricket, courtesy Warne who thinks Sachin is the best since Bradman, courtesy Mike Atherton who thinks even Dr W.G. Grace couldn’t have batted better than Sachin in the Diana Charity match—is open up a whole new can of Pepsi: "Is Sachin already the greatest player ever to have played the game?" This, again, is an easy question to answer: No.

To see what Sachin is up against, get a handle of Bradman’s average: 99.96 when he retired after 52 Tests; 99.71 after 23 Tests when he was 25. If cricketing ability was distributed normally (as most other human attributes are), a table of Test match averages should have looked something like this. Number of batsmen with an average of 100; one; average of 95-99: two; 90-94: four; 85-89: seven; 80-84: 11; 75-79: 16; 70-74: 22; 65-69: 29; 60-64: 37 and 55-59: 46. Yet, no batsman apart from Bradman has achieved an average greater than 61. And although Sir Don himself is reputed to have said "This fellow is playing much the same way as I used to," Sachin’s career Test average of 54.84 just about touches the lower end of that scale. So, there is a long, long way to go. It’s not a reality lost on Sachin. "I’d rather prefer to average 99.95 than sign all these contracts," he said somewhere.

"Much has been said of Sachin’s greatness... and it shows the dangers of attempting value judgements in an atmosphere of euphoria," says the online cricket-zine ‘Googler’s Gazette’: "To compare his batting style with Bradman is baffling—he hits more sixes in a busy month than Bradman did in his entire career. To compare him to Pollock (Graeme) or Richards (Vivian and Barry) is to compare unlike geniuses. To compare his 1998 to Lara’s 1994 is equally incongruous. Perhaps with his new-found versatility in bowling he is aiming for a comparison with Sobers."

Yet, probably because of their similar physiques, probably because of their voracious batting appetites or probably because of their common desire to pulverise the bowling, comparisons with the Great Don—who totted up that stupendous average in spite of losing eight years during World War II—are perhaps inescapable for Sachin. In an opinion poll conducted by the Internet cricket magazine ‘Cricinfo’, to the question "Is Sachin the greatest batsman since Bradman?", an amazing 64 per cent (3,247 votes) said "Yes"; only 35 per cent (1754 votes) said "No".

Bradman or Sobers or just himself? At 25, and hopefully only beginning to peak, the answer will soon be evident. But as cricket writer Scyld Berry points out Sachin is already the "Master of his Generation". Expand on that, and all doubts about whether he is merely the greatest 25-year-old or the greatest ever will cease. In an age when one-day cricket sets the standards for the longer version of the game and is the arbiter of who’s hot and who’s not, Sachin is clearly the winner as the master of the one-day generation: With 7,070 runs at 41.10 in 196 matches—with 4,944 of those coming as an opener—Sachin is up there as the greatest one-day player of all time.

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