Cricket fans and critics seem to be constantly involved in making comparisons between players and teams of the past and present.
One does accept that in order for one to gauge the performances of the greats, scorecards are the only thing to fall back on. This, at times, can be very misleading.
An exercise was undertaken at Wisden in India a decade ago, to establish the top hundred Test and ODI batting, bowling and team performances. One was surprised that none of Sachin Tendulkar’s knocks, at the time, featured in the list! Whether statistics give us a true frame of reference is difficult to establish. To me, every decade is different. Comparison, therefore, is futile.
This brings one to the retirement of two of the greatest cricketers of the modern era -- Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis. The latter is naturally compared to the magnificent, stylish Garry Sobers as an all-rounder. The West Indian was a class act — he could have played as a batsman, fast bowler or as a spinner. He also captained his region and, at most times during his captaincy, sacrificed his batting position for the benefit of the team. He would have had a far better average if his primary objective was to play for numbers.
It would have been interesting if both Sobers and Kallis had played in the same era.
In batting, the dominant Don Bradman is incomparable. His phenomenal batting average makes him almost superhuman.
Tendulkar, therefore, gets compared to others, who were more ‘human’ in terms of their exploits.
Batting, to me, is not about the quantity of runs, but the quality. One has to consider the runs scored in a winning cause or for saving a match or taking into play the condition of the wicket and atmosphere as well as the quality of bowling.
This results in plenty of variables to truly justify a final outcome. The present players do have the advantage of playing more matches against top bowlers before facing them in a Test match. They also have the use of modern technology to assist them.
Added to this is the improvement in their equipment and protective gear.
In the old days, the opener’s task was very important as he was the first guy who could understand the skills, pace and action of each bowler. Word of mouth was the only way to communicate and therefore the performances of Len Hutton, Vijay Merchant and Sunil Gavaskar can never be compared with the openers of the modern era.
(The writer is a former Test cricketer)