January 29, 2012

Who's the pick of the modern greats?

Ponting, Tendulkar or Lara - who among these modern batsmen was the most dominant?

Ricky Ponting's remarkable resurgence in the last few months, culminating in a fighting double-century at the Adelaide Oval has caused discussion to veer away from his impending retirement to his likely legacy in the game.

There's no argument that Ponting deserves to be mentioned with Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara as one of the three most dominant batsmen of the era. But who is the best of that trio of superb strokemakers?

Tendulkar gains a lot of support because he's idolised in a country of more than a billion people, he was compared to Sir Donald Bradman by the man himself, and is on the verge of scoring a hundred international centuries, a remarkable feat of skill and longevity.

Ponting gains votes for his versatility as a batsman and his determination to battle hard in adversity. He has always looked to dominate opposition attacks but he also played one of the best-ever innings to save a Test match, at Old Trafford in 2005. Ponting hasn't shied away from a tough challenge and this has never been more evident than in his recent battle with age. Ponting may trail Tendulkar in discussions on the aesthetics of batting but he bows to no one in the matter of perseverance.

Meanwhile, in a classic case of out of sight out of mind, the now retired Lara hardly ever enters the conversation these days. To exclude him from the discussion is a mistake. He's the current world record holder for most runs in an innings - having regained the title - and next to Bradman, he's the scorer of the most "big" centuries in Test cricket. He has the only score of 400 in Test cricket, a triple-century to go with it, and another seven double-centuries. That's a remarkable feat of hefty scoring, especially when you consider that neither Tendulkar nor Ponting has a triple-century to his name.

This probably highlights an area where Lara is superior to the other two - his knowledge of how to amass big scores. Lara had an innate knowledge of which bowlers to target in order to score quickly and which ones were the most likely to endanger his existence. Consequently, he'd score quickly in spurts and steadily at other times. Fully capitalising on this knowledge he was able to achieve huge scores. Because he didn't put his wicket at risk by trying to score at a rapid rate when the best bowlers were fresh, he was able to maintain a fast run rate by feasting at the most opportune times.

This method also allowed him to maintain a similar run rate from the beginning to the end of his career, which not even Bradman was able to achieve. That is why Lara was able to perform the most remarkable feat of all - reclaiming the world record for the highest score in Test cricket ten years after originally setting the mark.

While the world has watched and waited anxiously for Tendulkar's 100th international century, Ponting has quietly beavered away in the background, restoring his reputation with persistent practice and hard-earned runs in the middle. The fact that those runs were increasingly more convincing in Adelaide and he was able to push on to score a double-century has turned the conversation from "When will he retire?" to "How long will he play on?"

There's no doubt Ponting has resurrected his career and provided himself with an opportunity to add to his glittering record. He'll never reach the statistical peak of Tendulkar, but while the Little Master continues to stumble with the defining century in sight, often because of a mental aberration, Ponting impresses with the strength of his mind.

Nevertheless, if you told me I could pick just one of that trio I'd take Lara. I loved the way he played spin bowling and I admired his determination to always do it "my way".

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on February 1, 2012, 23:27 GMT

    lara and sachin are only great batsmen but ponting is more ...... he took more responsibility for his country........ he scored more runs as a captain .......than any other captain .....

  • Dummy4 on February 1, 2012, 22:52 GMT

    @pietrojackson ....Bradman found the similarity between him and Tendulkar while the latter was going strong against Mcdermott and co at Perth in 1992.I doubt that you missed Tendulkar's batting on the tours of '93,'96,'02,'07,else you would not have called him an accumulater.People are drawing conclusions about his batting when he is on the verge of retirement,ridiculous! To all iconoclasts here....Lara himself said that Tendulkar was better than him, but then whom am I talking to here? Crazy bunch of people, they will regret later what a phenomenon Sachin Tendulkar was!!

  • Peter on February 1, 2012, 17:43 GMT

    As a Brit I have no national prejudice in this debate and I would give my vote to Lara with Ponting #2 and Tendulkar #3. Lara was a sublime batsman who spent a chunk of his career captaining and shoring up a losing side and yet was still glorious to watch while executing many wonderful innings with his team under the cosh. WI wickets were in decline over much of his pomp and the inter-Island squabbles, extreme political bickering and admin mess did little to help his cause. Tendulkar had little in the way of captaincy pressure, is idolized to the extreme in India and so suffered few of the pressures that Lara was subject to. Personally I would drop whatever i was doing to make time to watch Lara and Ponting at the crease. Tendulkar [and Kallis] to me is an accumulator - and i think that was what Bradman was referring to in terms of similarity with himself. Not the hallmark of a great batsman - unless you average in the 90's.

  • Abdul on February 1, 2012, 12:47 GMT

    Where are Kallis and Dravid????

  • Dummy4 on February 1, 2012, 12:26 GMT

    Lara faced Ambrose and Walsh on several occasions playing for Trinidad & Tobago in the regional competition and had to break the regional record for runs scored in a season on 2 occasions before he eventually selected to play for the West Indies. End of story!!!

  • Krishna on February 1, 2012, 11:46 GMT

    Lara is easily the best. I would say Ponting is number 2 and Sachin is number 3. Both Lara and Ponting have always had the ability to change the complexion of the game with their individual brilliance. They largely contributed to the team's success most of the time. Tendulkar is probably second to Lara in aesthetics. But in terms of sheer determination and temperament both Lara and Ponting are superior. Tendulkar is weak in mind. His temperament is suspect. He can boast of good technique and look aesthetically pleasing. Lara scored well, scored big and made a difference. Also Lara knew WHEN TO RETIRE. No matter who says what, LARA is the GOD among batsmen.

  • Dummy4 on February 1, 2012, 11:46 GMT

    LARA is the Best Test Batsmen in the World

  • Abhi on February 1, 2012, 10:08 GMT

    How can Ponting be included in same league as Tendulkar and Lara. Playing excellent cricket for 7-8 years against only fast bowling is not the criteria. He never faced Mcgrath, Warne, Gillespie at test level. Even Miller (Blue haired offspinner) would have troubled him given his record against spin. The comparison is only between Lara and Sachin. Being an Indian and a Mumbaikar I am biased towards Tendulkar. But there are reasons for that too. Lara was good at amassing huge innings. It was like a dam being broken. The 'water' just didnt stop. But by that logic Murali would be better than Warne. Also Lara never played Ambrose, Walsh, Patterson etc. Lara had an amazing backlift and his pull was second to none but they pale in comparison to Sachin's back foot cover/straight drive. Another special shot is charging down the pitch to a fast bowler and hitting sorry caressing the ball through covers for four (along the ground).

  • Roger on February 1, 2012, 8:32 GMT

    Mr. Chappel...Lara is better than Sachin for you..but for me Sachin is better than our Bradman..

  • Satyajit on February 1, 2012, 8:10 GMT

    Ian is entitled to have his opinion, everybody is. However, this article sounded more like propping up Lara and Ponting and enlisting Tendulkar's frailties :-) I don't doubt the class of Lara, but one big mistake many people do is to equate big innings with geatness. In that case all three Sehwag(having two triples), Gayle and Clarke are greater Test batsmen than Ponting and Sachin. That would be ridiculous to conclude! Also, Sangakkara(seven doubles) must be a much greater batsman that Kallis (just one double), which is again wrong. Fact is that even after not getting those huge (not necessarily winning) scores Sachin is still ahead of Lara in avg which means he is more consistent, also he has most number of 150 plus scores. In my pecking order of test batting since 90s, Sachin & Lara would be in same bracket (I would put Sachin just ahead of Lara in that group). Next bracket of batsmen would be led by Ponting along with Dravid, Kallis and Sangakkara.

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