When Sachin Tendulkar made a smashing return from his tennis-elbow problem against Sri Lanka, the whole nation went into a frenzy. A little more than a month into his comeback, questions are already being raised about his form, his hunger, and about whether he'll ever be as good as he once was. Admittedly, Tendulkar's run since that unbeaten 67 in the second match of that series at Mohali has been worryingly barren - 107 runs in eight innings, his worst stretch in eight consecutive completed ODI innings.
A criticism often levelled at Tendulkar is that he seldom weighs in with a substantial score when India are chasing a challenging target, and that voice would have got just a bit louder in the last month, when his six innings on the chase brought him just 103 runs. Has Tendulkar really let the team down when they have needed him to guide a run-chase? How do his numbers when batting second compare with some of the other top batsmen in the world? It's time to dig into the numbers, and allow the stats to tell the story.
In all one-dayers since 2002 (all the analysis below excludes games against Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and all other non-Test-playing nations), Tendulkar averages nearly 40 when batting second, and that figure only drops marginally when the target goes up to 240 or beyond.
In these 21 matches when the team has chased more than 240, Tendulkar has come up with some sterling performances - two of the most memorable ones were against arch-rivals Pakistan: in the 2003 World Cup at Centurion, Tendulkar blitzed 98 of the finest, in the process winning a key battle against Shoaib Akhtar; then, on the tour to Pakistan in 2004, Tendulkar kept India going virtually single-handedly when they were faced with a huge target of 330 at Rawalpindi, scoring a magnificent 141. What's probably added to the perceptions against Tendulkar is the results of the matches when Tendulkar has got starts: he has topped fifty in six of those 21 matches, and India have gone on to lose five (the only victory came in the World Cup match against Pakistan).
Admittedly, Tendulkar's average in these run-chases is less than his overall ODI average since 2002 of 45. However, if Tendulkar has fallen below his lofty standards in run-chases, then so have some of the other top-class batsmen. Brian Lara only averages 32 in run-chases over 240, Sanath Jayasuriya averages less than 30, while for Ricky Ponting, that number drops to a shocking 21.79, almost 19 points lesser than his overall ODI average during this period. In the 15 matches when Australia have chased more than 240, Ponting has two half-centuries, but in 12 other innings he has fallen for less than 20.
While Tendulkar's numbers aren't bad, there are a few top-order batsmen who have comfortably outdone him on the averages stakes in 240-plus run-chases against the top teams. His team-mate and captain, Rahul Dravid, is on top of the averages list, with a superb rate of nearly 48 runs per innings, almost four runs more than his overall average in the last four years. Jacques Kallis follows him close behind with an identical average and only a slightly lower scoring rate, but both are outdone by a batsman who deserves to spoken of in the same breath as the above three, but has seldom got the recognition he deserves.
Inzamam-ul-Haq averages nearly 47 in games in which the opposition put up 240 or more on the board, but the other aspect which is outstanding is the rate at which he has scored these runs. Both Dravid and Kallis at about 4.5 per over, which is below the asking rate in these games. Which means they've played the anchor, while the others in the team have taken the responsibility of scoring quickly - Tendulkar's strike rate, for example, is nearly 88 per 100 balls, Jayasuriya's is 93, suggesting that they've taken the onus of keeping the asking rate in check, while the others look after the aspect of keeping wickets in tact. In Inzamam's case, he takes care of both, scoring quickly and scoring lots of runs while doing so, an indication that he has been on a different plane as a one-day batsman in the last four years, a plane even Tendulkar hasn't come close to.