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After tackling Andrew Flintoff I've decided to go for a less emotional subject this time around: Sachin Tendulkar. Some of you may not know who he is but imagine the lovechild of Gandhi and Mother Teresa, then multiply by 100, double it, and you still wouldn't get halfway to the adoration meted out to this greatest of all cricketing names.
Tendulkar's twilight years have clearly not progressed as they should. Like an old bear trapped in a maze the Little Master has stumbled into a labyrinth of his own mind, scratching for an exit as he advances into old age. The signs haven't been good. No match-winning knocks or battling rearguards to grace that good name.
And so the media lets loose an orgasmic wave of schadenfreude, waiting for his final bow. Out come the familiar catcalls: Sachin is not a match-winner; he fails under pressure; he plays for himself.
The criticisms got to me too and I started to think. And the more I started to think, the more I found an unsettling feeling creeping into the back of my mind. Blood has been shed for less but I will say that Sachin is not a match-winner. In fact I will say his decline as a match-winner had begun as long as ten years ago (perhaps longer, but l leave that analysis for another time).
So has Tendulkar really been killing time for half his career? In a period when India soared up to the top of the Test rankings and he himself had his best scoring year, this seems ludicrous.
Now, as I am sure I am already raising wrath by flirting with this opinion, I believe, like Mr Gradgrind, the only way to progress is through analysis of hard fact. So I have been looking through the ESPNcricinfo database and, like a bumbling detective in the mould of Inspector Clouseau, offer my fact-based critique.
In undertaking my examination, I came across a prime defence of Tendulkar by one Arunabha Sengupta which provides excellent analysis of the cognitive fallacies that lead us to criticise him.
The author says: "Look at the records and find out which other Indian has played a pivotal role in 61 victories. He has 5431 runs in 61 won Test-matches with 20 hundreds. He scores a hundred in every third won Test match - a rate bettered by only Bradman, Inzamam, Hammond and Sobers in the history of the game."
It is an honest enough statistic, but one which doesn't tell the whole truth. Let's examine then: the game is afoot.
Tendulkar the match-winner
Fast forward two years from when the piece was written--a fallow time for the great fellow-- and the total has changed to 20 hundreds in 68 wins. In other words that is a century every 3.5 won matches.
But I think this statistic needs further filtering because - in my perhaps unfair opinion - the total includes six centuries made against the Zimbabwe-Bangladesh pairing, against whom even a one-legged batsman, with a dose of the trots, in the roughest trot of his career whether he is named Trott or not, really must score runs.
Hence if we exclude Bangladesh and Zimbabwe the total comes to 14 centuries in 58 matches. In short that's a century every 4.1 games.
So how do these stats compare with other great players? I first took Rahul Dravid. Dravid scored 15 centuries in 56 wins. Take away Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, that's 11 out of 44, or one in every four wins. The two records are extremely comparable, and both seem to fire when in a winning team, but Tendulkar's longevity gives him the edge.
Let's take a non-Indian top player then. Jacques Kallis has hit 21 centuries in 80 Test wins, or 18 in 69 if you don't include 'Zimbladesh'. That's an average of one every 3.83 innings. Not the most startling difference I'll admit but still proof seems to be emerging in my favour. Kallis has also played in more wins, therefore has longevity on his side. On the other hand, Kallis has played in a more consistent Test team. His ability to score was no doubt helped by a formidable bowling attack which would have set him up to hit big against wilting opposition.
Let's look at another measure: the win ratio. Kallis scored 40 centuries in total (ex -Zim-Bang), therefore has scored 45% of his centuries in a winning cause. Tendulkar's record is 32%.
The influence of the rest of the team can be clearly seen in the case of Brian Lara. Surely Lara, the great single-handed warrior, would have a vast number of centuries in winning causes? In reality Lara scored six tons in 30 wins, in other words one every five (ex-Zimbladesh). The poor West Indian team he played for won rarely during his tenure, despite his heroics.
Lastly, perhaps a better comparison - Kumar Sangakkara. His stats come to 13 tons in 30 won matches. Remove Zimbabwe and Bangladesh and he has a win ratio of 50%. The stats suggest that as a match-winner Tendukar is below Kallis and Sangakkara and just equal to Dravid but better than Lara. So my thesis gathers momentum. But onwards.
Tendulkar's averages and career split:
Going back to the drawing board. The perception I have of Tendulkar is of a swashbuckling youth batting with a runny nose and no concerns, becoming a staid Test senior, wearing an iron mail jacket to take the weight of a billion expectant people on his shoulders. His shots became technical, riskless, orthodox - from nerveless to verveless. It is this move to orthodoxy which has also eliminated his powers to win matches. So they say.
Let us look at the statistics again:
Tendulkar's career batting average in India Test wins is 56.9, higher than his overall average. His average in winning matches during the first ten years of his career was 59.2, hitting four hundreds in 17 matches, or a hundred every 4.2 matches. In the last 10 years his average is 54.06 with seven hundreds in 33 wins or a hundred every 4.7 matches. Compare this with a current young star like Alastair Cook. Both began in average teams which got better and both were early record setters. Cook has hit 10 centuries in 33 won Tests an average of 60.22. That's one in 3.3 games.
While his batting may not have the charisma of a young Tendulkar he still wins matches for England. Many of them.
Tendulkar the top-scorer:
Hundreds don't always give the full perspective. Examining Indian matches where Tendulkar was the top-scorer in either innings over the last ten years, the results are: India won 9, lost 11 and drawn 6.
So when Tendulkar top-scores India lose more times than they win.
Moreover, despite the huge number of matches he has played Tendulkar remains outside the top five cricketers in terms of Test Man of the Match awards--behind Kallis, Muralitharan, Akram, Warne and Ponting.
Tendulkar: first v second innings:
How about match-winning, final-innings knocks? Ten of Tendulkar's top scores in the last ten years came in the second innings. In those scores India won three matches, lost six and drew once.
Tendulkar the individual performer
Now for the crunch: an examination of individual performances. Arguably, most of Tendulkar's best performances happened in the 1990s - the 136 against Pakistan in 1999; his first century - the 119 against England at Old Trafford; and, as a 18-year-old, hitting 114 against Australia at the WACA.
But his career-best year was 2010. This was a stellar time for Tendulkar, and for India too with six wins (eight including Bangladesh), three losses and three draws, to confirm the country's status as the No.1 Test side in the world. Tendulkar himself scored 1562 runs - his best ever - seven hundreds and five fifties with an average of 78.10, his third-highest yearly average when he has played six or more Tests. Only two of the hundreds in 2010 were against Bangladesh. So what happened?
In his first hundred (ex-Bangladesh) against South Africa in Nagpur he scored 100 in the second-innings total of 319. It was in a lost cause - India went down by an innings and six runs.
His second hundred came in the return match against South Africa at Eden Gardens which India won by an innings and 57 runs. He struck 106 in the first innings total of 643. But this was one of seven hundreds in the match and bettered by Sehwag's 165, Dhoni's 132 and Laxman's 143.
Against Sri Lanka in July, away, he top scored with 84 in the second innings in a game. India lost by 10 wickets.
His second biggest score that year came in the following match against Sri Lanka - 203 out of a total of 707 in reply to Sri Lanka's 642 in which Sangakkara top scored with 219. Match drawn.
Then came the Australia series - Tendulkar's favourite opponents. His highest score of 2010 was in the second match in Bangalore where he got a sparkling 214 in a total of 495 in a match which India duly won. He was undoubtedly the game's main protagonist. Tendulkar's final century of that year came against South Africa in December, a second innings top score of 111 not out. India lost.
Take 2010 as whole, in fact, and it can be said that only one of Tendulkar's main scores - the double-century against Australia in Bangalore - won the match.
Of course one year does not a career make.
What about the other years? In terms of wins, India's next best year of the last ten was 2008 with six wins, four losses and five draws. Tendulkar averaged 48.3 that year (one big-winning innings against England where he scored 103 in the second innings). In 2005, another successful year when India won five lost only one and drew two, Tendulkar averaged 44.4. Both are well below his win average and his career average.
In 2004 he averaged 91.5, though did this in just three centuries, two doubles and a 194, all not outs. India drew one and won two of these matches though one win was against Bangladesh (his top career score).
Tendulkar: the statistical conclusion
So where does this leave us? What one looks for in the truly great is a hunger for winning. The ability to pull out matches from the depths of despair. To win things single-handedly (Maradona, literally).
I for one don't want to highlight God's flaws and ignore the greatness. Because he has those transcendent moments of glory--many, many of them-- which soar over the mortal cricketing world and are stellar beyond mere facts. But, for me at least, the last ten years have eroded the legend of the young God Tendulkar's greatness.
Like a wise tortoise he seems to have hunkered down and accumulated his runs quietly, humbly, without fuss. He doesn't destroy attacks like the lion of old.
The question is what now? Will he explode like a firework and leave us with a majestic 155 or even a tortuous 76 to win the match and retire gracefully? Or will he melt away like a withered candle? It's an elementary question.
A quite passionate follower of cricket and writer of articles, Safi Thind is one of the authors of the cricketerdiaries blog
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Safi Thind yearned to play cricket for his country. Unfortunately he had a dual nationality, which made that impossible. After studying in England he lived in France but came back to write on cricket, wine and some other things. He writes the cricketerdiaries blog