Fazeer Mohammed
Writer and broadcaster in Port-of-Spain
Trinidad & Tobago Express

Stats go, memories stay

Any appreciation of sporting greatness goes way beyond bland statistics

Fazeer Mohammed

October 20, 2008

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Who's the better batsman? Sachin Tendulkar or Brian Lara © AFP
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Chill out, Laramaniacs.

Even before Sachin Tendulkar eclipsed their hero's record for the most runs in a Test career on Friday, fans of Brian Lara had been rallying to the cause of the former West Indian batting champion and local living legend. In paying long and lofty tribute to the Lara's felicitous style, while at the same time analysing in the most minute detail some of his finest innings compiled in heroic circumstances against world-class bowling attacks, there lay beneath an unspoken insecurity which implied that Lara's greatness is based primarily on statistical superiority.

So the loyal subjects of the Prince are now hammering home the point that their man remains at the summit for innings records in Tests (400 not out against England in 2004) and first-class matches (501 not out for Warwickshire against Durham in 1994). In contrast, Tendulkar's supreme performance, numerically, in both Tests and first-class matches is a mere unbeaten 248 against the minnows of Bangladesh.

As the debate rages on in rumshops and restaurants, Tendulkar's better average (currently 54.22 against Lara's 52.88) and superior tally of Test hundreds (39 to 34) is countered by him needing 15 innings more to reach 11,953 career Test runs, which was the standard left by Lara when he played what would prove to be his final Test innings, against Pakistan in Karachi almost two years ago.

But really, all of this to-ing and fro-ing is so very unnecessary, as any appreciation of sporting greatness goes way beyond bland statistics. There are the intangibles of style and flair, along with considerations of context as it relates to the quality of the opposition and the strength or weakness of the player's own team. Indeed, you can analyse a particular issue as much as you want and provide as much statistical data in support of your case, that information is unlikely to shake someone adhering religiously to the view that so-and-so was the greatest of all time "and it ain't have nutten dat you could say to change dat, you hear?"

In the same way that Tendulkar is larger than life, especially to a cricket-mad nation of over one billion people, Lara remains a global cricket icon 18 months after he last played for West Indies because of the delight he brought to fans and foes alike by the quality of his batsmanship over a protracted period.

Protagonists on both sides can argue with equal vigour and justification why their man is the better of the two, simply because it is a subject that is open to so much high-sounding interpretation that boils down to nothing more than guesswork. Would Lara have fared better or worse in a stronger batting line-up? Would Tendulkar have scaled greater heights or struggled under the pressure of being in a side that did not include the likes of Sehwag, Ganguly, Dravid and Laxman?

Anyone caught up in such an argument knows that it can go on and on and on, with the final result usually being inconclusive. So it has been and so it always will be, at least as long as Test cricket continues to be the ultimate standard by which the quality of a player is measured. Just to emphasise the futility (not that they will ever cease) of such debates based on a mixture of statistics and intangibles, why not throw in the names of two Australians - Don Bradman and Ricky Ponting - in the pot?

 
 
There are the intangibles of style and flair, along with considerations of context as it relates to the quality of the opposition and the strength or weakness of the player's own team
 

Bradman's Test average of 99.94 from 80 innings (95.14 in first-class cricket) will never be approached by anyone playing the game for any length of time at the highest level, although his tally of 6,996 runs has been surpassed many times over given the ever-increasing quantity of Test cricket since he was dismissed for a duck in his last innings 60 years ago. Ponting, whom Aussies increasingly refer to as their best batsman since Bradman, has a Test average of 57.88 - more than both Tendulkar and Lara - and, still shy of his 34th birthday and with a tally of 10,246 runs from 203 innings, including 36 hundreds, is expected to surge past whatever final standard Tendulkar establishes, barring injury, loss of form, loss of desire or some other unforeseen event.

And to further complicate the issue, what about someone like George Headley, who carried the West Indies batting on his shoulders in those fledgling days of Test cricket before World War II, when he averaged 66.72 in 19 Tests (he played three more matches well past his prime after the War, adding just another 55 runs to his tally) against England and Australia, compiling ten hundreds? What would he have accomplished were it not for the global conflict that brought a halt to Tests just after his 30th birthday?

We just have to admit that we all have our favourites, whether that favouritism is based on nationality, ethnicity, style, statistics or a combination of these and other factors. So instead of getting all defensive and feeling somehow that Lara's greatness is now threatened, just as Tendulkar's pre-eminence may appear to be challenged when his records eventually fall, isn't it enough to rejoice in the memory of the unfurling of one of those majestic cover drives, in the same way that Tendulkar's disciples get misty-eyed at the recollection of their hero at his most dominant?

No statistical changing of the guard can ever take that away.

Fazeer Mohammed is a writer and broadcaster in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad

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Fazeer Mohammed Fazeer Mohammed's claim to cricketing fame is that he once played in the same 2nd XI at the Queen's Park Cricket Club in Trinidad with Brian Lara. It was only a brief association, as one was on the way up and the other refusing to come to terms with the depressing reality that his limited ability would take him no further in the game. It certainly has been for the good of the game that Lara never allowed such severely critical assessments to stunt his development. In allowing his fellow countryman to blaze a trail on the field, Mohammed has opted to follow West Indies cricket from the media centre since 1988 as a journalist, and since 1992 as a radio commentator.

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