Sunday, February 5, 2012

Who's the Greatest of them all?

A never-ending debate was reignited a few days ago, when Griffith University Professor Dr. Nicholas Rohde used economic theory to compare batsmen across different eras, and concluded that India’s star batsman Sachin Tendulkar was the greatest batsman of all time. Immediately statistics were thrown around by passionate fans – some agreeing with the research while some questioning the application of economic theory to sports.

Cricket has undergone a lot of change since the first Test match, which was played between Australia and England on 15 March 1877 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Pitches have changed, so have the outfields, the equipment and the level of the game.  From timeless Tests to Twenty20, cricket has come full circle. When the game has changed so much, can we really compare players across different eras?

Every player is a product of his generation. Thus it’s a bit ridiculous to say that had ‘X’ been playing during the 40s, he would have struggled on bowler friendly pitches. And were pitches really as bowler friendly as we often assume them to be? Uncovered pitches produced some of the highest scores – 6 of the top 10 Test match aggregates of all time were scored before 1960. If we compare the batting averages of the top seven batsmen by decade, the 1940s stand as the best era for batting with an average of 41.13. Yes, Bradman never had the luxury of playing with super bats and protective equipment, but he also had the luxury of not very high standards of fielding, limited opposition and lax lbw rules –  in Bradman’s time you could only be given out if the ball pitched and hit in line with the stumps and then went on to hit them. This ruled out the in-swinger, the off-cutter, and the off-spinning deliveries that pitch outside but come in enough to hit in line.

Thus, every era had its pros and cons. We really can’t say that with an average of 99.94, Bradman was a “better” batsman than Sachin or Lara or Richards - statistically yes, but stats reveal very little. Here we must make a distinction between the “best” and the “greatest”. When calling some “better” than the other you can only compare players from the same era. Greatness on the other hand spans across eras. It is, however, very subjective. One person’s criteria of judging greatness may be vastly different from another’s. For some, Bradman may be the greatest for being way ahead of his contemporaries, while for some, Sachin, with his longevity and completeness, may be a greater player than the Don.  We don’t need any research to prove who is right. It is a fan’s personal preference.

In a game that has changed by leaps and bounds, we only do disservice to players by blindly comparing one with the other. Let each have his favorite. Let Bradman be the greatest for one. Let Sachin be the greatest for another. Let Cricket be the uniting factor for both.


An Economics researcher claims to have found an answer to one of the biggest debates in international cricket by picking Indian icon Sachin Tendulkar as the greatest Test batsman ever over late Australian legend Sir Donald Bradman.

"Griffith University researcher Dr Nicholas Rohde has used economic theory to compare batsmen from different eras, and says India's Little Master, who will pad up against the Aussies at the MCG on Boxing Day, is history's premier willow wielder," reported 'The Australian'.

The 38-year-old Tendulkar has a world-record 15,183 runs from 184 Tests at an average of 56.02 since making his debut in 1989.

Bradman, on the other hand, played 52 Tests from 1928 to 1948, scoring 6996 runs at an astonishing average of 99.94. He died in 2001 aged 92.

Dr Rohde said a theoretical analysis puts Tendulkar above Bradman.

"The rankings are designed to allow for meaningful comparisons of players with careers of different lengths," Dr Rohde said.

"It's an emotional issue and there will always be debate between followers of Test cricket about the relative career performances of various batsmen," he added.

The rankings by the researcher have been created according to a player's career aggregate runs, minus the total number of runs that an average player of that era would accumulate over the same number of innings.

Allan Border (seven) and Steve Waugh (nine) are the other Australian batsmen in the top 10. Rahul Dravid (fourth) and Sunil Gavaskar (eighth) are the other Indians in the list.

Dr Rohde said it was possible that Tendulkar and Bradman could swap their places many times before the Indian retires as a dip in form would affect his standing. 


A study conducted by a Griffith university researcher has put Sachin as  the greatest cricketer of all time, Sachin Tendulkar has officially usurped Sir Don Bradman as the greatest Test batsman. A study done by an Australian professor found Tendulkar greater than Bradman.
Researcher Dr Nicholas Rohde used economic theory to compare batsmen from different eras. India’s Master Blaster, who pads up against the Aussies in Sydney this week, emerged as history’s premier willow wielder.

Bradman played 52 Tests for Australia from 1928 to 1948, scoring 6,996 runs at a peerless average of 99.94. He died in 2001 aged 92. Tendulkar, who debuted in 1989, has so far amassed a world record 15,183 runs from 184 Tests at an average of 56.02.

Tendulkar, whom Bradman once described as the player who most reminded him of himself at the crease, has been seeking a historic 100th international century in Australia this summer.
According to the study, Tendulkar occupied the top spot in the rankings with Bradman at number two spot. South Afrcia’s Jacques Kallis came number three while the Great Wall of India Rahul Dravid occupied the number four spot. The legendary West Indian, Brian Lara, was at number five.
Another West Indian Garfield Sobers, former Aussie Captain Allan Border and Sunil Gavaskar emerged sixth, seventh and eighth respectively. Australian Steve Waugh and Pakistan’s Javed Miandad completed the top 10 list.

While ahead of the Sydney Test match Australian fast bowling legend Glenn McGrath has predicted Sachin Tendulkar will remain stranded on 99 international centuries at least for the rest of the summer, cricketer Michael Hussey said that the stars were aligning in a way that Sachin could get his 100th ton at the Sydney Cricket ground.
And India’s captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni in a press conference admitted that five straight losses overseas have hit the “belief of the team” but said that his boys are capable of bouncing back in the Sydney Test against Australia beginning on Tuesday January 3.

The God of Big Thing | Bobby Ghosh

As India's top cricketer--and the world's best athlete--Sachin Tendulkar carries the burden of a billion dreams

 Source: The World's Best Cricketer: India's Sachin Tendulkar - TIME,9171,2114425,00.html#ixzz2kq52NKDS

Sachin Tendulkar wishes people would just get out of his head. Since March 16, when he smashed cricket's equivalent of the sound barrier by notching his 100th century--a single-innings score of 100 or more runs--for his country, the player deified by a billion Indians and revered by half a billion other cricket fans has been dogged by questions about what he would do next. Having reached a mark previously considered impossible, would he play on? Or would he walk away from the sport he has dominated for more than two decades? And if so, would he become a businessman, a TV pundit ... a performer of miracles?

The incessant inquisition, carried out by Indian media that have long banked on Tendulkar's popularity to sell papers and score ratings, finally got to him on the very day of his 100th 100. "Critics haven't taught me my cricket, and they don't know what my body and mind are up to," he told the Indian magazine Open. It wasn't for them to judge when his time was up, he said; when he feels "unable to serve India, I will stand down and give it all up."


It was an uncharacteristic display of pique from a player who is known as the Master Blaster for his aggressive batting style but is almost as famous for his placid demeanor off the field. No one is ever going to confuse Tendulkar, 39, for John McEnroe. By the time we meet, a month later, Tendulkar has regained his composure, but his manager has asked me not to use the R word. Retirement is not on Tendulkar's mind.

In fact, he'd like to have nothing on his mind at all--no critics, no records, absolutely nothing. When he goes out to bat, Tendulkar seeks "the zone." It's a mental state familiar to great athletes in which the mind filters out the crowd, the opponents, the score and other distractions; performance is guided by a magic combination of intuition and muscle memory. Tendulkar speaks of it in terms more spiritual than sporting: "I need to surrender myself to my natural instincts," he says. "My subconscious mind knows exactly what to do. It's been trained to react for years."
Tendulkar admits he hasn't yet mastered the ability to get into the zone at will, for which bowlers around the world must be grateful. He has breathing techniques, tricks to psych himself up, but even so, he makes it only "50% of the time," he says.

It's a miracle he can get there at all. Of Tendulkar's many achievements as a cricketer, perhaps the most difficult is the one he must repeat every time he bats for India: carrying the hopes and dreams of an entire nation on his back. It is the heaviest burden borne by any modern sportsman, and his ability to carry it for more than 22 years while utterly dominating his sport makes a good case that Tendulkar is the world's greatest athlete.

God at Bat
In cricket, a batsman who hits a century, or a "ton"--another term for a 100-plus-run innings--displays the most consistent measure of batting prowess. Great players end their careers with anywhere from 25 to 50 such scores. Tendulkar's ton of tons is beyond great. Every sport has record breakers, but of his contemporaries, only Michael Jordan, Lance Armstrong and prescandal Tiger Woods come anywhere close to matching him in redefining the realms of possibility. Leo Messi may be the best soccer player on the planet, but he has Cristiano Ronaldo nipping at his heels; Tendulkar leads his closest challenger, Australia's Ricky Ponting, by a staggering 29 centuries.

Even more impressive is Tendulkar's record as top scorer in both of cricket's main formats--the exhausting five-day tests and the intense one-day internationals. Usain Bolt would have to win the marathon as well as the 100 m at the London Olympics to approach that level of achievement. Unlike in baseball, a cricket batter keeps hitting until he is out. Tendulkar once hit 241 runs while whacking 436 balls without getting out. You need a calendar to keep score for this guy.

Tendulkar's genius stems from a combination of physical attributes--superhuman hand-eye coordination, lightning reflexes, powerful wrists and near perfect balance--and a voracious appetite to keep accumulating runs to utterly dominate bowlers. Opponents have tried to intimidate him with speed and bounce, with guile and spin, all to no avail: he has no Achilles' heel.

He performs within a national sports culture that is uniquely difficult. Cricket is important in England and former British colonies in the Caribbean, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, but it competes with soccer, rugby and other sports for popularity. In India, cricket is the all-consuming passion. Although it was introduced by the British as a pastime for elites, Indians turned the tables on their colonial rulers and made cricket a true people's sport, played with as much enthusiasm in the streets and slums as on the manicured lawns of exclusive clubs. It's hard to think of another nation so obsessed with a single sport. Indians like to say that of their top 10 sports, cricket ranks No. 1 through No. 9--and nobody knows or cares what comes 10th.

So to begin to comprehend Tendulkar's place in the Indian consciousness, imagine how Americans might have felt about Michael Jordan if they followed no sport but basketball. Then imagine that Jordan's team represented not just Chicago but the entire nation. You might begin to understand that the common Indian expression "Cricket is my religion, and Sachin is my god" is not really a joke. Tendulkar says he tries not to think too deeply about the adulation and claims his fans' hopes for him don't match his own. "Something which still gives me sleepless nights," he says, "is, 'How will I go out and keep that standard and live up to my own expectations?'"

Tendulkar's deification is also testament to the fact, deeply discomfiting to most Indians, that their giant nation is a sporting Lilliput: heroes are few and far between. Every Olympic year brings forth great hand wringing about India's inability to compete with other large nations--India's haul from Beijing in 2008, a gold and two bronze, was its best medals tally ever. (China won 100.) Its only consistently world-beating performer outside the cricket pitch has been chess champion Viswanathan Anand.
The scarcity of sporting success feeds a national inferiority complex. Growing up in India, I learned to take comfort in pseudoscience trotted out by PE teachers that we were genetically disposed to pursuits of the brain over brawn. (It didn't work; I was good at neither.) "We'd come to think of ourselves as too soft, too physically weak to win on a playing field," says historian Ramachandra Guha. "Sachin showed us that was nonsense--not only could we play, we could consistently beat countries that were supposedly of stronger physical stock." (Indians routinely refer to Tendulkar by his first name, a sign of both affection and possessiveness.) It helped too that Tendulkar was no physical giant who could be dismissed as a one-off: at 5 ft. 5 in. (165 cm), he's almost exactly the national average for male height.

When Tendulkar played his first match for India in the fall of '89, he was only 16, one of the youngest debutants ever; I was 22, already too old to fantasize about a career as a cricketer. But I could live vicariously through the prodigy. After all, we shared a middle-class upbringing and a sketchy academic record. I did not imagine myself smacking the big Australian bowlers around as Tendulkar did at Perth in 1992, when he scored a breathtaking 114. Even so, I partook of his success: I walked taller, dreamed bigger and felt, like hundreds of millions of Indians, that I too could take on the world. Our chance was just around the corner.

Pitchman Perfect
There had been great Indian cricketers before Tendulkar, but his arrival coincided with momentous events that would catapult him and his country to dramatic successes. In the summer of 1991, India began to liberalize its economy, unshackling private enterprise and unleashing a burst of consumerism. Almost overnight, we got access to dozens of TV channels. The market was flooded with new companies and products, including foreign brands that had long been denied access to India. The TV channels needed programming, and cricket was an obvious lode of ratings gold. The new brands needed pitchmen, and who better than the Master Blaster?

He already had the makings of a marketer's dream: cherubic in appearance, soft-spoken and scrupulously well behaved, he was the ultimate Mr. Nice Guy. His father was a well-known novelist, but Tendulkar himself was a man of few words, steering clear of controversy on the field and off. When four colleagues were thrown out of the sport for match fixing, he largely kept mum. When he eventually broke the hearts of millions of Indian women and got married, it was not to a Bollywood star or supermodel but to a pediatrician turned homemaker named Anjali. The couple mostly stayed home and worked hard to keep their two children out of the limelight.

At the start of his career, Tendulkar, like most cricketers at the time, had to hold down a job in order to make ends meet; he worked at an apparel manufacturer. In 1990 he did his first ad, an embarrassingly low-rent affair for a cheap moped. Two years later, he was endorsing Pepsi and was on his way to becoming cricket's first millionaire. In 1995 he signed a five-year, $7.5 million contract with a sports-management company, the first deal of its kind in India.

For much of the 1990s, his exploits on the cricket pitch were solo efforts: he was world-class, the team around him less so. That great 114 against Australia in Perth? Despite Tendulkar's brilliance, India lost the game by a humiliating 300 runs. That pattern was repeated over and over again.
Still, his wondrous bat would keep Indian hearts beating. Says Anirban Blah, who runs the celebrity-management firm Kwan Entertainment: "We'd watch as long as Sachin was batting, because there was a chance we could win. The moment he got out, we switched off the TV set and went back to work, because we felt victory was no longer in the cards."

But Tendulkar was influencing a new generation of players such as Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly who would soon arrive on the national stage with an aggressive, winning mentality that owed as much to Tendulkar's exploits as to India's new economic confidence. By 1998, the Indian team entered most games with a decent chance of winning. The following year, I wrote a story for TIME on the upcoming World Cup. There was little debate over who would be the first cricketer on the magazine's international cover: Tendulkar, representing not just India but the rising power of Asia over the game.

India didn't win the 1999 World Cup--Australia did--but Tendulkar served notice that India's time was coming. By then he was unquestionably the world's best batsman. Sachin became a popular first name for newborn boys, and his face was seemingly on every second billboard and TV commercial, hawking everything from cars to cameras and cookies. India's economy, roaring along, growing 6.4% annually, was extremely good to its cricketing god.

He was great for the Indian cricket industry too. With hundreds of millions tuning in to watch him play, India became the biggest TV market for the sport, and cricket's Mumbai-based governing body supplanted its traditional power structure in the hallowed halls of London's Lord's Cricket Ground. This also had an impact outside of cricket. Says Shashi Tharoor, an author and member of India's Parliament: "Eventually, when an Indian company bought the great English car companies Jaguar and Land Rover, it made perfect sense--we already owned their national sport."
But the pressure was beginning to show on Tendulkar. A long-untreated case of tennis elbow hurt his performances, and a spell as team captain was a failure. The man of few words didn't communicate with his teammates well enough and couldn't motivate them.

Surgeries in 2005 and the next year took him out of the game for a spell and brought with them an epiphany. During his recovery from the second surgery, he took part, unannounced, in a couple of friendly games, away from the spotlight and with hardly any spectators. For the first time in years, playing was just plain fun. Competing for India had become "so much about commitment and pressure and doing things correctly," he says, he'd forgotten to enjoy himself. Those practice games, he now says, were "a game changer for me."

And it showed. Back in national colors, he demonstrated a new gusto for batsmanship that disheartened bowlers everywhere as much as it thrilled spectators: his stunning 154 against world champions Australia at the start of 2008 may be his finest performance ever. The records came fast and thick: most runs, most centuries. Riding on a rejuvenated Tendulkar, India for the first time became the world's No. 1 team, and last summer the country went nuts when the team won the World Cup on home soil. During the victory lap, teammates hoisted Tendulkar, their top scorer for the tournament with 482 runs, on their shoulders. "Sachin has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years," said up-and-coming star Virat Kohli. "It was our turn to carry him on our shoulders."
Ton of Pressure

No sooner had the fireworks died down, however, than pressure began to mount again on Tendulkar: he'd scored his 99th century during the World Cup, lighting up South Africa for 111 runs, and his countrymen wanted him to go past that new milestone. Wherever he went, he was asked when he'd score the ton of tons. The rest of the team suffered a dramatic slump in form, losing its No. 1 status to England. Criticism centered, unfairly or not, on Tendulkar. At 38, he was long in the tooth for a pro cricketer; wouldn't the honorable thing be to retire gracefully?
Those questions preyed on Tendulkar's mind, making it harder and harder to get into the zone. He came tantalizingly close to the ton a couple of times and claimed, implausibly, not to be especially stressed by the quest. But it was a full year before the 100th came, in Dhaka against Bangladesh, the final run coming in an easy single rather than a thumping blow; afterward, he admitted to feeling "50 kilos lighter."

So what now for the Master Blaster? Twenty-two years is a long span in any sport. When I ask him to sign a copy of that 1999 TIME cover, he adds a tongue-in-cheek inscription, "Time flies!" He may not want to talk about the R word, but he turned 39 in April, so speculation about his plans will only grow. Several members of the great Indian team of the 2000s have hung up their gloves. In April, he was nominated to the upper house of India's Parliament, the equivalent of Britain's House of Lords. The position is mostly ceremonial, and it's hard to imagine it will turn into a long-term career: Mr. Nice Guy seems ill-suited to the rough-and-tumble of Indian politics. And anyway, "the Honorable Sachin Tendulkar" seems a steep demotion from god.

The traditional postplaying career of TV punditry would likely be too small-bore for someone with an estimated net worth of $115 million. And his value as a national pick-me-up is waning. High on economic success, India may no longer need a dose of Tendulkar to feel good. "India's self-confidence, which he helped to build, is now strong enough to cope without Sachin," says Guha. "There is life in India after Sachin, but I don't know what life for Sachin can be after cricket."
Unless there is more cricket. Freed of the huge weight of expectations he has carried for much of his career, the world's greatest athlete can now pursue a pure enjoyment of the sport he has enriched. History suggests an unburdened Tendulkar is a prolific Tendulkar, especially if he continues to unravel the mysteries of the zone. The satisfaction of reaching the zone is personal and intense, he says, even when there's no winning outcome. He then quickly adds, "But I would want an outcome." A world-class player can tolerate nothing less. So everybody please pipe down and let him play.

I am He | Open Magazine Graphic Novel

 (Please click on the pictures to enlarge)

Recalling the best among Sachin’s 99 tons

Sachin during his 114 run innings at the WACA, Perth in 1992
Australian spin wizard Shane Warne was once quoted saying, “Outside grounds (in India), people wait until he (Sachin) goes in before paying to enter. They seem to want a wicket to fall even though it is their own side that will suffer.”

Over the years, the frenzy has only heightened. Since half a decade, Tendulkar is being welcomed with standing ovation all around the world and grim faces are seeing him off. For instance, the Australians have been bidding him adieu since the past two tours. It has been four years now. This is Tendulkar’s third tour since 2008.  And from what we see, what we noticed at MCG — where a packed stadium turned up to see the last of the trio of Dravid, Laxman and Tendulkar — might get repeated for a couple more tours.

Since his first visit to the country, when he scored his second and third international hundred, the Indian batsman has gone on to add a mountainous 96 more to his name and 17 more against Australia alone. Yet when experts sit and try to table his hundreds — lamenting the missing one — the innings that reaches the tip of the Everest, most often gathering consensus, is the 114 he made at Perth during his first Australian safari.
“There was no player (that day) who could really face the Australian attack. The ball was deviating left, right and centre from the cracks. No-one really knew how the ball would travel after pitching”
It was important because as Laxman says, “For somebody on his first tour of Australia, especially when the team is not doing well, and to score a century on a fiery track like Perth at a tender age said a lot about Tendulkar’s talent.”

It is important because as Mark Taylor puts it, “At the WACA it takes a special player to pick up the bounce and pace of the wicket in such a short time and Sachin was able to do that.”

And important because even two decades later, Indians remain as susceptible to the leather ball when hurled fast and pitched short.

We all know that Perth in those days was far from the track it is now. The pace and bounce of the pitch could lay bare the most illustrious of the batting line-ups. At this very ground, Lillee and Thommo had done in it on many occasions. Curtly Ambrose had claimed in one single spell, seven wickets Australian for one run in the Test series of 1992-93.

Thus, with cracks opening up in an already hostile pitch it was hardly surprising that Indians — already three matches down in the five Test series of the tour of 1991/92 — were reeling under pressure.

In the fifth Test match at WACA ground of Perth, Australians chose to bat and left India a total of 346 runs to live up to. By the time Sachin came in, India had lost both their openers with 69 runs on the board. After steadying the innings for some time, Manjrekar gave in to a Merv Hughes delivery. Indians were 100/3. Vengsarkar, Azharuddin, Raju, Kapil Dev and Prabhakar followed Manjrekar to the pavilion. And within a span of few overs, Indians were down to 159/8.

“There was no player (that day) who could really face the Australian attack. The ball was deviating left, right and centre from the cracks. No-one really knew how the ball would travel after pitching,” recollects Javagal Srinath, who was a part of the playing eleven. Others say that the mere view of the widening cracks killed the batsmen psychologically.

In came wicketkeeper Kiran More, recuperating from an injury and trying to regain his place in the team. More was hardly in the class of Dhoni, actually far from even Nayan Mongia.
Mike Whitney was spitting venom — he ended with 11 wickets from the match — and he along with Hughes, 

McDermott and debutant Paul Reiffel made up for a vicious company. More tells us, “One ball from Whitney pitched on leg and middle went straight to second slip.”

But the wicketkeeper had not more than a spectator’s duty to serve. The 19 year old, whom Whitney recalls as “a schoolboy wunderkid”, defied the squalor; he fended and attacked for all his teammates.

“Whitney was pushing the ball across and Sachin would lean slightly forward and would hit it back past him even before Whitney could get his right hand down,” recalls Taylor.

It was no surprise that the bad balls were punished, even the good balls found the ropes. Anything pitched up were driven off the front foot. The balls pitched around the off-stump were clinically driven off the back foot toward covers. It was not the runs that he scored, the situation and pace set this knock apart. Amidst such difficulties, runs flowed easefully at a strike-rate of 70.8. When Sachin fell as the ninth wicket, after 228 minutes of battling, Indians were placed at a face-saving total of 240.

India faltered in the second innings losing the series 4-0. But result was a formality. Too little a price paid for over two decades of Tendulkar.

Somewhere in the middle of the innings, Merv Hughes went up to his captain Alan Border and quipped, “This little prick’s going to get more runs than you, AB.” He did. We are gladly counting.

Debojit Dutta can be found doodling waywardly and pening absurdly on his blog Musings and Lyrics

Sachin's Facebook (err... Fakebook) Wall

The 99 Jinx