Kapil Dev raised a sensitive issue when he questioned Sachin Tendulkar's match-winning ability after India sneaked a draw in the rain-affected Lord's Test earlier this week. Tendulkar's class and sheer talent have never been in doubt, but increasingly queries are being raised over his ability to turn it on when the team needs him most. Tendulkar's failure in the second innings at Lord's was yet another instance of a low score from him in the fourth innings of a Test, and it has invariably led to more questions and debates.
At the very outset, the point needs to be made that performance in the fourth innings isn't the only measure of a batsman's ability under pressure. (Steve Waugh, for instance, averages a paltry 25.54 in the fourth innings, but there aren't too many who question his ability to be up for a fight.) The first innings of a Test comes with pressures of its own, and is often a critical one: the pitch and the bowlers are fresh, and frequently a strong batting display there sets the tone for the rest of the match. Tendulkar averages 72.49 in the first innings, which is ample proof that he passes that test; when it comes to batting at the end to save or win the match, though, his success-rate is significantly lower.
Tendulkar has so far batted in the last innings of Tests 40 times, yielding a total of 976 runs. (His overall tally of 10,975 runs means he has scored 9999 runs in the first three innings.) In those 40 innings, only four times has he made it past 50, with the last of those instances being more than five years ago, when he made 86 against West Indies at Kingston. His fourth-innings average of 33.65 compares poorly with the top names in the list below.
The table also shows another great batsman of this era in poor light - Brian Lara is the leading run-scorer in the fourth innings, but his average is only marginally better than Tendulkar's. Some of the others, though, have fared much better: Ricky Ponting averages nearly 60, and along with Sunil Gavaskar is the only batsman to have four hundreds batting in the fourth innings.
Gavaskar's average in the fourth innings is immense, but how many of those runs were scored in games which were petering out into draws or had small run-chases? The table below excludes such instances so that the numbers take into account only those Tests in which India had to battle to save or win the match. As the average of 56.60 shows, Gavaskar's stats hardly change when they are placed under the microscope in this manner.
The table below amply demonstrates that Gavaskar had little trouble in summoning his best in the last innings of a match. His unbeaten 117 at Bridgetown helped India bat 103 overs to save the game, the 102 at Port-of-Spain was instrumental in achieving a famous win, and his 221 at The Oval in 1979 is still ranked among the finest innings played at the ground. He finished in style too - his final Test innings, at Bangalore, was one of immense skill in extremely difficult conditions.
Tendulkar's numbers pale in comparison. Discounting the soft runs - two examples are unbeaten knocks of 44 and 32 when India were chasing small targets at home - Tendulkar's average drops even further, to just 26.85.
The start of the list is similar for both players - Gavaskar's unbeaten 117 is matched by Tendulkar's 119 not out as a precocious 17-year-old at Old Trafford in 1990. Since then, though, it has been largely a string of disappointments for Tendulkar, with several single-digit scores - in fact, of the 27 scores listed below, there are 13 of ten or less, and five more below 20. His 136 against Pakistan at Chennai in 1999 was an epic, despite the fact that India lost, but since then the cupboard's been almost entirely bare, with just two half-centuries.
The other aspect which stands out is when you compare Gavaskar's India and Tendulkar's India with regard to the number of overs batted in the fourth innings. With Gavaskar around, India consistently batted more than 100 overs - there are six such instances, with four of them exceeding the 130-over mark. During Tendulkar's time, though, the team has tumbled to some embarrassing collapses, ten times being bowled out in less than 60 overs, including four instances when they couldn't even last 40.
In many ways, then, Tendulkar's struggle in the fourth innings is reflective of the manner in which the entire team has floundered when batting to save or win a Test.