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April 23, 1999


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Bradman? No way!!

Arvind Lavakare

A phenomenon he certainly is, and a prodigy he may well be, but a Don Bradman he certainly is not. Why, judged by the only legitimate long-term yardstick of statistics, Sachin Tendulkar is not even up to the Sunil Gavaskar standard of India on a comparative scale.

This may well be the unkindest cut on the birthday cake of the 'Bonzer', but it could do him some good if this incision bursts the bubble of media hype and public perception of him as Indian cricket's Atlas and Aloeidae, Otus all rolled into one.

Before moving to the Gavaskar gate and the Bradman barometer, let's take a quick look at two of Tendulkar's contemporaries - Brian Lara and Gary Kirsten. Before the recent seven-match series against Australia, Lara's average for one-day internationals was 44.85 as against Tendulkar's 42.40, which was also lower than the 42.86 of South Africa's Kirsten.

Take the feeling whipped up by our MTV generation media - and gulped by the cola-addicted public - that Tendulkar is India's one-man team. Fie on such a thoughtless opinion. A Jadeja-led India beating full-strength England twice and an Akram-armoured Pakistan once in the recent Sharjah tournament are not the only occasions that our national team has triumphed despite insignificant contribution from Tendulkar in one day internationals.

Sachin Tendulkar In the World Cup of 1996, India scored 247 runs and beat Zimbabwe by 40 runs at Kanpur on March 6; Tendulkar's input in those 247 was 3. Three days later, India beat Pakistan by 39 runs in that famous battle at Bangalore; Tendulkar's contribution was 31 to the team's total of 287. On November 24 that year, India scored 236 to beat New Zealand by 5 wickets; Tendulkar scored 7.

There are also instances where Tendulkar's contribution did not come when needed. For example, the Independence Cup of 1997. On May 21 that year, India fell short by 35 runs chasing Pakistan's huge score of 327, Tendulkar scored 4 in India's total of 292. Again, chasing Sri Lanka's score of 302 in the one-dayer on August 17, 1997 at the Premadasa Stadium, India lost by 2 runs; Azharuddin and Jadeja scored centures but Tendulkar could notch just 27.

Sachin Tendulkar It is true that in the season of 1997-98, especially against Australia, Tendulkar played some spectacular knocks of triumph. But all of them together pale against Vinoo Mankad's heroic and herculean effort for three days, two hours and twenty minutes at a stretch in that Lord's Test of June 1952. Rushed from the amateur quality of Lancashire League cricket to the Mecca of the great game, Mankad scored 72 in India's 1st innings, bowled 73 overs (24 maidens) while taking 5 wickets in England's total of 537 and, still inexhaustible, opened his team's innings yet again to hit 184 - the highest Test innings by an Indian till then; not quite finished, he bowled 24 overs (12 maidens) to make England crawl towards the 79 required for victory.

All in all, notwithstanding the euphoria he undoubtedly stirs up now and then, Tendulkar's one-day showing has not been earth-shakingly different even from that of Saeed Anwar (average 41.11 currently) and Mark Waugh (average 40.67 before the recent seven-match series against West Indies), leave alone being inferior to that of Lara and Kirsten.

Now here's the mother of comparative statistics. When Gavaskar retired after Pakistan's tour of India in 1986-87, he had played 102 one day international innings for an average of 35.41. After playing that identical number of one day innings on November 25, 1995, Tendulkar's average had stood lower at 34.71. One up then for the original Little Master for whom that brand of cricket was alien when it came. In Tests, Tendulkar's performance today stands at 105 innings aggregating 5177 runs (19 centuries) for an average of 54.49. Gavaskar's scoreboard after an equal number of 105 Test innings on December 16, 1979 showed an aggregate of 5516 runs (22 centuries) for an average of 56.28. Two up, then, for Gavaskar with Tendulkar having to play 109 more Test innings now onwards to catch up with Gavaskar's final tally of 10,122 runs with an average of 51.12.

In 'Indian Cricket 1997' (published in December 1998 by 'The Hindu' group), Dilip Vengsarkar made it game, set and match for Gavaskar. According to the special portrait written in that annual publication by Raju Bharatan, Vengsarkar, the second highest run-getter for India in Test cricket (6,868), considers Sunil Gavaskar as the best Indian batsman of all time. Bharatan, the veteran cricket scribe, doesn't draw out Vengsarkar on the reasons behind his above opinion, but an indicator is in Vengsarkar's quote: 'Staying power - that was the essential difference between Gavaskar and me.'

Gavaskar certainly had more 'staying power' than what Tendulkar has exhibited till now i.e. till the end of the last three-nation series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Tendulkar's duration at the crease has exceeded 400 minutes only twice: 414 minutes for his highest score of 179 versus West Indies at Nagpur in December 1994, and 462 minutes while score 177 versus England at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, in 1996. In contrast, Gavaskar's test career included nine innings that lasted longer than Tendulkar's longest. Five of those nine extended between 506 minutes and 593 minutes; one innings, in which he got his and an Indian's highest Test knock of 236 (not out) versus West Indies (at Chennai in 1983-84) lasted 644 minutes while his longest haul at the crease in Test cricket was of 708 minutes in which he got 172 versus England at Bangalore in the 1981-82 season. In the same number of Tests (68) as played by Tendulkar till now, Gavaskar had recorded three double centuries as against none by Tendulkar (and he made one more before retirement). In fact, Tendulkar is not yet among the 11 Indians who have scored a double hundred in Test cricket; accordingly, none of the 170-odd double centuries and 15 triple centuries registered in Test history so far bears Tendulkar's name. Why, our birthday boy of today has but one double century in his up to date career of 217 first-class innings.

Even without these statistics, those who have seen Gavaskar play over the years can swear an affidavit about his extraordinary cool and patience. But staying power and statistics cannot by themselves be the ultimate yardstick for measuring greatness. At least it was not enough for assessing that genius, that greatest of greats, name of Donald Bradman who, in 1948 in England, ended his Test career of 80 innings with the Ripleyian average of 99.94.

Don Bradman Several of Bradman's tall scores were made in a remarkably short time. His double century in the Test at Leeds in 1930 was made in 214 minutes - the fastest recorded double in Test history. That same season in England, he scored another double century (at Lord's) in 234 minutes. Four years later, in the Test at The Oval, Bradman got a double in 242 balls. The record for the most number of runs in a Test day is also held by him: 309. And not many know that his long-held record of 452 runs in a single first class innings (subsequently broken) was scored in 415 minutes.

Not surprisingly, the MTV generation of today has doubts about the Don. One bright young cricket correspondent said the other day that he had seen old film clips showing Bradman having several fielders close by while he flayed the bowlers around merrily. Not acceptable, this belief, when it is remembered that Harold Larwood, among the greatest fast bowlers of all times, returned the economy rate of 2.40 runs off 834 overs on his Australia tour of 1928-29 and had 2.41 runs taken per over from his 866 overs bowled four years later in that same country.

Considering that an over in Australia those times comprised 8 balls (not 6 as after the Bradman era), that Larwood economy rate in today's terms works out to 1.80 runs in 1928-29 and 1.81 four years later. Compare that economy rate in the Bradman age of 'unscientific field placing' with the one of 2.78 Test runs per six-ball over (including no-balls) attained by the current world record holder Kapil Dev bowling in his career that spanned the technology period of modern cricket.

Remember, moreover, that Bradman played without arm guards, chest pads and helmets on uncovered pitches. Yes, he was hemmed in by seven to eight close in fielders, but that was during the bodyline series of 1932-'33 in Australia when England threw in four fast bowlers - Larwood, Voce, G. O Allen and Bill Bowes - to attack him on the leg side with balls rising head high and a packed leg side cordon of fieldsmen. In the eight Test innings which Bradman played in that lethal series, Bradman's scores were 0, 103 not out, 8, 66, 76, 24, 48 and 71 - for an average of 56.57 ie. 2.08 runs more than what Tendulkar has today playing with full armour on covered and generally slow pitches.

There is at least one definite record of deep field placements and generally defensive tactics being employed to keep Bradman quiet at the crease. That was in the 2nd innings of the Adelaide Test of the 1936-37 series against Gubby Allen's England. The Don then scored 212 in 437 minutes to vindicate his expressed belief that 'I reckon a good player can score fifty an hour by twos and threes if the field is scattered.'

Significantly - and Tendulkar may like to note - Bradman's knock of 452 not out, made when he was a little over 21 years old, did not include a single sixer. Even more significant, Bradman's 334 versus England at Leeds in 1930 (when he was just about 22 years old) did not included even one sixer; instead, it was made up of 46 fours, six threes, 26 twos and 80 singles. Clearly, Bradman did not believe so much in staying power as in destructive power that ground the fielding side to dust without taking the aerial route.

What contributes to Bradman's 'greatest of all times' status was his uncanny ability to get a big knock when his team most needed it from him. As that doyen of cricket writers, Neville Cardus, put it, 'He would face a heavy responsibility as though it had presented itself merely to be set aside. Thus, at Leeds in 1934, Bill Bowes had run amok at the first day's end and dismissed Brown, Woodful and Oldfield for 39 after England had collapsed on an easy wicket. That night, Cardus saw Bradman in his hotel; he withdrew from a dinner engagement and went to bed early with the explanation, "Thanks, but I must make 200 tomorrow, at least." He got 304.

Again, at Trent Bridge in 1938, he was not out on the morning of the last day with Australia facing more than the possibility of defeat. The pitch was dusty too. Before going to the ground, Cardus saw Bradman in the hotel writing a letter to his wife in Adelaide. The gist of his message to her was, 'A pretty gruelling day's work is before us, but I'm going to see it through, and I don't think we'll lose.' That day he scored 144 and was not out after what Cardus called 'five or six hours of martyrdom.'

That unique trait of coming good when it mattered most (along with his mind-boggling Test average, of course) is what gives Bradman the tag of 'the greatest among the greats.'

Sunil Gavaskar Gavaskar had that rare kind of intensity when it came to saving India from many a predicament. And Tendulkar too has, in recent months, exhibited that electrifying intensity in one day matches. But with regard to Tests he has been found wanting. His utterly impetuous, irresponsible shot in the last Test at Chennai against Pakistan is too fresh to be forgiven. In the Bridgetown test in April 1997, he scored 4 when Indiia needed just 130 runs for victory. And in October last year at Harare, he let the team down again when he scored 7 and the team lost by 61 runs while going for the modest target of 235 runs in over a day and a half against the lowly Zimbabwe bowling.

And so, between staying power, Strike-rate power and statistical power, take your pick between Bradman, Gavaskar and Tendulkar. My own choice is... will power.

Meanwhile, here's hoping that all these four traits are packaged by the gods of cricket as a birthday present to Tendulkar as he leaves for the seventh World Cup.

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Arvind Lavakare

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