A criticism that is sometimes levelled at talented cricketers is that their numbers didn't do justice to their ability. That certainly can't be said for Sachin Tendulkar, who has achieved truly staggering stats over a glittering career that is 20 years old and still going strong. That he was a precocious talent was known even before he played his first international game; even so, not many could have imagined that he would score more than 30,000 international runs and would be closing in on 100 international hundreds by 2010.
Perhaps the most impressive of several praiseworthy features about his career has been his sheer consistency. Since 1990, Tendulkar has played more than three Tests in a year 19 times, and in 17 of those years his annual average has been more than 40, and 12 times over 55. Of the 36 series of three or more Tests that he has played in, 20 times his average has exceeded 50, and only six times has it dropped below 30.
The first three years of Tendulkar's career weren't all that productive, but he'd already played enough innings to make the cricket world sit up and taken notice: his first Test century, an unbeaten 119 against England, saved India from defeat, while his 114 in Perth had all the experts gushing over his sheer class. During those early years his problem was a lack of consistency - his highest score in five innings immediately after his first Test hundred was 21.
Soon, however, that problem was conquered, and the result was stunning: he averaged almost 60 from 1993 to 1996, and more than 63 in the six years after that. The form dipped for a while as various injuries hampered him, but since 2007 Tendulkar has been outstanding once again, with 12 centuries in his last 32 Tests.
During that six-year period from January 1997 to December 2002, Tendulkar was unquestionably the best batsman in the world, handling pace in Australia and South Africa as effectively as he did spin in Sri Lanka. And then, of course, there was the epic 136 against Pakistan in Chennai which, unfortunately for him, wasn't enough to take India to victory against Pakistan.
In only 59 Tests he managed 21 centuries - an average of one every 2.81 matches. His average during this phase was well ahead of the second-placed Andy Flower, who led a string of batsmen who averaged in the md-50s.
Unfortunately for Tendulkar, his best period coincided with one where India had a poor bowling attack, especially overseas, and a batting line-up that tended to crumble quite often on tours. In 69 Tests between the beginning of 1993 and the end of 2001, India won 23, but only three of those came abroad. During this period, Tendulkar contributed almost 20% of all runs scored off the bat by India, and more than 21% when they played in Australia, South Africa, England, New Zealand or the West Indies. From 2002 onwards, there were many more batsmen contributing - Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag and VVS Laxman weighed in consistently both home and away, which significantly reduced the dependence on Tendulkar: he has contributed only 14.30% of the team runs since 2002. With the bowling attack getting stronger as well, Tendulkar has been a part of 15 away Test wins during this period, and 32 wins in all in these eight-and-a-half years.
A standout feature of Tendulkar's career has been his tendency to save his best for the greatest team of his generation. Few batsmen have consistently got the better of Australia over the last two decades, but Tendulkar is clearly one of them. His two stunning hundreds on his first tour to Australia announced him as a special talent, while his Boxing Day century in 1999 showed the gulf between him and the rest of the Indian batsmen. Later in his career some of the others - Laxman and Sehwag, especially - also showed their liking for the Australian attack, but Tendulkar is the one player who has sustained his performances against Australia for 20 years.
Tendulkar's Test average in Australia is marginally higher than his average against them at home, while six of his ten hundreds against them have come in Australia.
Out of the 271 innings he has played in Tests, 220 have been at the No. 4 slot, where he has amassed more than 11,000 runs at an average exceeding 57. With a cut-off of 2500 runs at that position, only five batsmen have a higher average. And 41 of his 47 hundreds have been scored at this slot, with four coming at No. 5 and two at No. 6.
One of the criticisms levelled against Tendulkar has been his relative lack of runs in second innings: he averages only 42.76 in all second innings, and 36.72 in the fourth innings. However, that also means he has been exceptional in the first innings, thus setting up games for India. He averages 62.88 in all first innings for the team, and 71.72 in the first innings of a match. His overall first-innings average is among the highest: among the batsmen with 4000 such runs, only six have a higher average.
The ODI master
Tendulkar has set some pretty awesome records in Tests, but some of his ODI stats are arguably more staggering. His career aggregate is currently more than 4000 ahead of his nearest competitor, and it'll certainly go up even further by the time he retires. As an opener, he has scored almost 15,000 runs at an average touching 49, which is the highest for openers who've scored at least 2500.
Like in Tests, Tendulkar has also raised his game against the Australians in one-day internationals, scoring more than 3000 runs against them - the only one to do so - at an average of more than 46.
Tendulkar has already stated that he will play the 2011 World Cup, and if his past record at the tournament is anything to go by, opposition bowlers will have plenty to worry about. He has already played five World Cups so far, averaging almost 58 in 36 matches. With the format guaranteeing each team at least six matches, Tendulkar has an excellent chance to become the first batsman to score 2000 World Cup runs.
And here's further proof of Tendulkar's ability to rise to the big occasion: he averages more than 55 in tournament finals, with six hundreds in 39 games. There was a period, between 1999 and 2004, when his big-match form deserted him, but he hit back strongly in the CB Series finals against Australia in 2008, scoring an unbeaten 117 and 91, and he followed that with 138 in the final of the Compaq Cup in Colombo last year.
Some of the important records that stand in Tendulkar's name:
Most runs scored by a batsman at No. 4; more than 3500 runs ahead of the second-placed Lara.
Most runs put together by a non-opening partnership (5747, with Rahul Dravid).
Two Tests short of equalling the record for most Tests by a player (Steve Waugh's 168).
Only batsman to score a double-hundred in this format.
Most Man-of-the-Match awards.
Two matches short of equalling Sanath Jayasuriya's record for most matches.