Saturday, March 17, 2012

In a league of one ||

Sachin Tendulkar has scored 29 more international centuries than the second-highest tally; it's a mark that is unlikely to be equalled
March 16, 2012

Finally, in his 34th innings after getting his 99th international century, Sachin Tendulkar has reached the milestone which is unlikely to ever be emulated. A century of centuries would have probably never even entered the realms of the achievable for any other cricketer, for so many things needed to fall into place for a batsman to get to that mark. For a start, it required a batsman to be highly skilled in both forms of the game, and in all sorts of conditions. Then, he needed to open the batting in ODIs, for that offers by far the best chance to notch up hundreds in that format. And, of course, it required top-class fitness levels and single-minded focus to achieve the kind of longevity required for a milestone of this nature. 

Tendulkar has ticked all those boxes, and then some, scoring runs against all oppositions, in all conditions, in both forms of the game, and over a prolonged period of time. His last two away series, in England and Australia, were terribly disappointing, but those are still little more than a blip when seen in the context of his entire career. Overall, through his 22 years of international cricket, Tendulkar has maintained amazingly high standards. As Daniel Vettori once said: "He has been in form longer than some of our guys have been alive."

What is surprising, though, is that it took Tendulkar 34 innings to move from 99 to 100 centuries, especially since he was in such scintillating form from the beginning of 2008 till the 2011 World Cup. During that period, he averaged 65.21 in Tests, 52.41 in ODIs, and had struck a mindboggling 21 hundreds in 104 innings. During this period, no other batsman had scored as many hundreds: Ricky Ponting had 11 in 147, and Jacques Kallis 13 in 113. 

Given the form Tendulkar was in at that point, the 100th century was expected to be a formality. Over the last year, it's been anything but a formality. Till this innings against Bangladesh, he'd gone 33 innings without a century, just one short of the most innings he's gone without an international hundred: in 2007, he went 34 innings without one. However, in those 34 innings in 2007, Tendulkar had averaged 47.24, with 15 fifties, including three 99s and four more scores in the 90s. In these 33 innings, though, he's averaged only 32.87, with eight fifties. 

Despite taking so long over his 100th, Tendulkar still needed only 65 innings to score his last ten hundreds, which is among his better conversion rates. The passage when he was at his most prolific was between his 31st and 40th hundreds, when he needed only 36 innings. In fact, his 14 centuries from the 27th to the 40th took a mere 50 innings, an average of 3.57 innings per hundred.

On the other hand, one of his worst periods - in terms of scoring centuries - was between 2005 and 2007, when he needed all of 130 innings to move from his 71st to his 80th international hundred. During this period, he averaged 46.46 in 34 Tests, and 42.20 in ODIs. The averages aren't poor, but what hurt his hundreds tally during this period was his conversion - he went past fifty 43 times, but only converted ten of those into centuries. The only period when his conversion was even poorer was right at the beginning of his career, when he took 132 innings to score his first ten, largely because he didn't open the batting in ODIs during much of that period. 

Tendulkar's progression to 100 hundreds
Landmark Innings Tests - 100s/ innings ODIs - 100s/ innings When
First 10 hundreds 132 7/ 45 3/ 87 November, 1994
11-20 67 3/ 23 7/ 44 December, 1996
21-30 74 6/ 24 4/ 50 April, 1998
31-40 36 3/ 13 7/ 23 February, 1999
41-50 67 5/ 20 5/ 47 November, 2000
51-60 51 5/ 24 5/ 27 April, 2002
61-70 78 4/ 32 6/ 46 March, 2004
71-80 130 6/ 56 4/ 73 January, 2008
81-90 63 6/ 31 4/ 32 January, 2010
91-100 65 6/ 43 4/ 22 March, 2012

Among the top sides, it's clear that Australia has been his favourite. A fifth of his centuries have been scored against them, at a rate of one every 6.85 innings. Some of his most memorable hundreds have come against them, be it the two in Sharjah in 1998, or the Test match centuries in Perth, Melbourne and Chennai. Australia is the only side against whom Tendulkar has scored ten or more hundreds in a single form of the game, and his ratio of innings per hundred against them is superior to that against most of the other top sides.

The other top team against which Tendulkar has been almost as successful in terms of notching up hundreds is Sri Lanka. Those are the only sides against which his ratio is less than seven innings per century.
The team that has made Tendulkar work the hardest for his hundreds is Pakistan - in 93 innings, he has only managed seven, which is his worst innings-per-hundred ratio: 13.29. A part of his problem against them has been his inability to convert half-centuries into hundreds - he has converted two out of nine 50-plus scores in Tests, and five out of 20 in ODIs. South Africa is the other team against which Tendulkar has a relatively low average - 42.46 in Tests and 35.73 in ODIs - but his conversion rate against them is excellent: seven centuries in 45 innings in Tests, and five in 58 in ODIs.

Tendulkar has not played that much against the lesser sides, but he has made those innings count, scoring 19 centuries in 77 innings against Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Kenya and Namibia - an average of one every 4.05 innings. Against Bangladesh, he has scored a century in Tests every time he has gone past 50. Before his 100th hundred, though, Tendulkar had not scored an ODI hundred against them. Among the teams he has played against, the only ones he has not scored a century against are Bermuda, Ireland, Netherlands and UAE, which means he has a century in Tests and ODIs against every Full Member.

Tendulkar's centuries v each team
Opposition Innings 100s Inng per 100 Tests - inng/100 ODIs - inng/100
Australia 137 20 6.85 67/ 11 70/ 9
Sri Lanka 116 17 6.82 36/ 9 80/ 8
South Africa 103* 12 8.58 45/ 7 57/ 5
England 84 9 9.33 47/ 7 37/ 2
New Zealand 77 9 8.56 36/ 4 41/ 5
Zimbabwe 47 8 5.88 14/ 3 33/ 5
West Indies 69 7 9.86 30/ 3 39/ 4
Pakistan 93 7 13.29 27/ 2 66/ 5
Bangladesh 20 6 3.33 9/ 5 11/ 1
Kenya 9 4 2.25 - 9/ 4
Namibia 1 1 1.00 - 1/ 1
* Includes his Twenty20 international innings in Johannesburg in December 2006

Tendulkar does not score enough hundreds in wins, goes the popular refrain. It's a claim that has been strengthened by some of his recent centuries: on the tour to South Africa in 2010-11, Tendulkar scored hundreds in two out of three Tests, but India won the game in which he didn't score one. In the World Cup that followed, India tied and lost the two matches in which he scored hundreds. And then, of course, there was the 100th hundred itself, which resulted in India's first ODI defeat against Bangladesh in five years. That means none of Tendulkar's last five international hundreds have resulted in victories.

Overall, though, 53 of his hundreds have come in wins, and 25 in defeats. Of those 25, eleven have been in Tests, but that's only reflective of the fact that in difficult conditions he has often fought a lone battle with very little support from the rest of the batsmen.

What is true, however, is that only one batsman has scored more hundreds in wins in international cricket - Ponting has 55, and sits at the top of the table. Tendulkar is next on 53 - they were level on 53 before India's tour of Australia - while the next best is Kallis on 33. Tendulkar has also scored 24 hundreds in losses, which is well ahead of Brian Lara's 17. Overall, Tendulkar's innings per hundred in wins is about half that ratio in defeats. 

Tendulkar's hundreds, and the match results
Result Innings 100s Inng per 100 Tests - inng/100 ODIs - inng/100
Won 331 53 6.25 100/ 20 230/ 33
Lost 308 25 12.32 108/ 11 200/ 14
Drawn 103 20 5.15 103/ 20 -
Tied 5 1 5.00 - 5/ 1
No result 16 1 16.00 - 16/ 1

The wait for Tendulkar's 100th century lasted more than a year and included 33 fruitless attempts, but despite that he still averages a hundred every 7.63 innings, which is the best rate among batsmen with at least 40 hundreds. Matthew Hayden is next with a rate of 8.70, while Ponting, Lara and Kallis are closely bunched together at marginally less than ten innings per century. Tendulkar, though, has maintained that rate over 22 years, and 750-plus innings. It's a mark that will almost certainly never be touched by any other international batsman.
Batsmen with 40-plus international 100s
Batsman Innings 100s Inng per 100
Sachin Tendulkar 763 100 7.63
Matthew Hayden 348 40 8.70
Ricky Ponting 657 71 9.25
Jacques Kallis 579 59 9.81
Brian Lara 521 53 9.83
Kumar Sangakkara 516 41 12.59
Rahul Dravid 605 48 12.60
Mahela Jayawardene 598 45 13.29
Sanath Jayasuriya 651 42 15.50

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