What is Sachin Tendulkar’s true greatness?

Author : Virendra

Sachin Tendulkar retired after 24 years in the game

The conclusion of the two-match Test series between India and the West Indies brought the curtains down on one of the most illustrious careers in modern cricket. As India wrapped up proceedings at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai, inflicting a second successive innings defeat on the visiting West Indian side and winning the series 2-0, Indian batting great Sachin Tendulkar bid goodbye to the game that has been an integral part of his life for over 24 years.

He is called ‘God’ by a lot of his fervent supporters, other tags being thrust upon him being ‘Master Blaster’, ‘Maestro’ and ‘Greatest of All Time (GOAT)’. It is no doubt a very emotional moment for millions of fans of Tendulkar, as they watched him walk off the ground yesterday with tears trickling down his cheeks, in realization of the finality of the moment.

Tendulkar is an Indian hero, there’s no two ways about it; however, the aura created around him, that of a ‘God’, perhaps in large part can be attributed to the time that he started playing from – a time when the Indian team was not a major force in the game and a time when Tendulkar’s batting brilliance shone through like the sun’s rays through a dense, dark accumulation of overbearing rain clouds.

The records accumulated by the great man put him on top in most of the charts, right from the number of centuries, matches played, aggregate runs et al, marking him out as one of the best players of his time and of the sport overall. But is there a tendency to anoint this ‘God’ status on him a little too hastily? Are the records the only thing we should celebrate Tendulkar for?

In the context of a team game, how do Sachin Tendulkar’s records fit in? Does the longevity of Tendulkar’s career, he played with three generations of cricketers, not de facto push up his volumes? Are overall stats aggregates not a rather crude way of measuring greatness? What about players such as Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, who probably had as much of an impact in games for India, if not more, though not necessarily weighing in the same sort of numbers in volume?

Or for that matter Indian greats from the pre-Tendulkar era, where the team did enjoy its fair share of highs epitomized through a World Cup triumph, successful ODI tournaments in Australia that saw them emerge winners, and two Test series’ in England and Australia, the former which was won and the latter which was drawn.

A recent article by Impact Index, a Mumbai based firm run by cricket enthusiasts JaideepVarma, RS Prakash and SohamSarkhel, documents a few points that attempt to cast an objective eye on the cricketer that was Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar to try and separate mountains of monumental achievements from holy pilgrimages undertaken upon not the strongest of foundations.
Has the romantic gaze accompanying the love for Sachin Tendulkar made us gloss over his shortcomings, and for that matter, his true greatness?

Borrowing the arguments and the verifiable facts put forward by Impact Index, here is an attempt to granularly dissect perhaps some of the most impressive set of overall stats ever assembled. And in the end, leave the field open to you to make up your own mind on where that leaves us all.

1) “Longevity defines Tendulkar more than anything else”

This has to be one of Tendulkar’s biggest achievements and something for which he does not get a lot of credit. 24 years in international cricket, in which barring perhaps the last three, he was regularly contributing to the team’s cause.

Sachin Tendulkar of India celebrates hitting 119 runs not out during the Second Test match against England played at Old Trafford, in Manchester, England

As mentioned earlier, he has played with three different generations which is quite a remarkable feat. Sport and cricket has become so much more physically demanding in modern times and Tendulkar has managed to keep pace with it. While he kept himself in the best of shape, his talent saw to his on-field fortunes.

Two other individuals, who have achieved something similar, of having played with multiple generations, would be Ryan Giggs in football and Roger Federer in tennis. It was no surprise then that the Swiss player was part of the fraternity that tweeted in on the occasion of Tendulkar’s retirement, knowing full well the levels of fitness and hunger that are necessary to endure such a long run.

What a remarkable career @sachin_rt. Wish you the very best moving forward #ThankYouSachin

— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) November 15, 2013


2) “Tendulkar is not the highest impact Indian batsman in any of the 3 formats, but he is the most complete”

Rahul Dravid impacted more Test matches for India than Tendulkar

Impact Index reveals that in Tests it is Rahul Dravid, ViratKohli in ODIs and Suresh Raina in T20s who are the premier performers for India in the respective formats, taking into account the number of series-defining performances by a player.

Discounting the T20s, it is the Test and ODI arena that spark the most interest. While Tendulkar is the top run getter in Tests having amassed 15,921 runs, there is the overlying feeling that Dravid’s 13,288 defined more series’, and it came in 43 innings fewer.

In ODI’s, ViratKohli’s record so far is quite staggering and it is no surprise that he ranks ahead in this index. But, his 119 games pales in comparison to Tendulkar’s 463. So, the question is if Kohli can keep up this sort of form right through the later stages of his career. Still, if there was one Indian batsman you would bet on eclipsing Tendulkar’s feats in ODIs, it would have to be Kohli for now.

However, that being said, the index also reveals that Tendulkar has the second highest impact in both Tests and ODIs behind Dravid and Kohli respectively, and for the Mumbai Indians T20 franchise, was the most consistent batsman over five seasons, 5th most consistent batsman overall and had the 8th highest impact in the IPL.

This goes to show his versatility and an innate knack that he displayed through his career of adapting to challenges. No other batsman, Impact Index reveals, has had such a high impact in all three formats of the game.

3) “Tendulkar had two great phases in his career”

These two phases according to the index are the periods between 1996-2000 and 2008-2011.

His impact in these eight years as compared to the rest of his career was 72% more in Tests and 35% more in ODIs. He was the highest impact Indian batsman in both Tests and ODIs during this period.

In that first period towards the turn of the millennium, only Michael Bevan and Aravinda De Silva had higher impacts in ODIs and five of his nine total series/tournament-defining ODI performances came during this time.

Tendulkar from the series Down Under

And it’s about right, because even now, if one thinks back to some of Tendulkar’s most memorable innings, ‘Desert Storm’ in Sharjah, the ’96 and ’99 World Cup and the series’ against Australia both at home and abroad between 1996 and 2000 ring loud.

The second phase between 2008-2011 is even more remarkable, as at the age of almost 35, he experienced something of a second wind and had a remarkable free-scoring run, especially in Tests, as the index says he had four of his six series-defining performances in the longer format in this period.

The Tests on tours to Australia and South Africa register prominently here, while his performance in the series’ Down Under and the 2011 World Cup stand tall in ODIs. The 2008-2011 is the most high-impact period of his career.

4) “Tendulkar has a mediocre Series-Defining record in Tests”

Mohammad Azharuddin, Dravid and Laxman are all better big match/series players than Tendulkarin Tests. The index says that the series-defining record does not necessarily take Test wins into consideration.

Even the most die-hard of Tendulkar fans would grudgingly have to agree that Dravid and Laxman, in the 2000s, delivered performances that impacted India’s fortunes in a Test series, more number of times than Tendulkar.

Amongst his peers, he ranks fourth behind Dravid, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Kumara Sangakkara in terms of number of series-defining performances in Tests, but the career impact of his series-defining performances is reduced due to the sheer weight of matches he’s played.

The most startling stat in this department from Impact Index is where they state:

“Even more curiously, 4 of his 6 SDs in Tests came as a support act – when someone either took the lead or scored more than him (Leeds 2002, Chennai 2008, Colombo 2010 and Mohali 2010). Tendulkar was a consistent and significant support act for most of his career in matches that really mattered to his team from a series-defining angle (except for the 2008-2011 phase mentioned above). But he was not the leading man and no, it was not because of the bowlers. In most of the iconic Test series wins/draws for Indian cricket in the last 15 years – Australia 2001, England 2002, Australia 2003/4, Pakistan 2004, West Indies 2006, England 2007, Tendulkar played an effective support role with the bat while other batsmen took the lead.”

Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar during a partnership

At Leeds 2002, Dravid’s 148 set the tone for India, and he shared a 150-run partnership with Tendulkar for the third wicket. It’s a little harsh to say that Dravid took the lead here, because he did come one position ahead of Tendulkar. And Tendulkar did go on to have two crucial partnerships, one with Dravid and the other with Ganguly who also cracked a century.

A similar thread prevails in Chennai 2008, where chasing 387 for victory, Tendulkar made an unbeaten 103 to take the team home, after a solid start provided by VirenderSehwag and GautamGambhir, especially Sehwag whose superb strike rate made it possible for India to go for the win.

Tendulkar had the highest score (203) in the series in Sri Lanka in 2010, but it was Sehwag who dictated the outcome with his superb batting and was rightly named the Man of the Series.
And in Mohali, Tendulkar’s 98 was a crucial innings in the scheme of things and though Laxman brought it home with the number 11 in a nail-biter, Tendulkar’s innings helped India attain the first innings lead. He also hit a wonderful 203 in the next Test in Bangalore.

5) “Tendulkar was not good under the weight of expectation”

The index states that the batting maestro faltered under the weight of expectation pointing to his failures in the knockout stages of World Cups where his performances dipped in comparison to earlier phases.

In the 2011 World Cup after two centuries in the group stages, he went cheaply in the final, made a scratchy half-century in the semis against Pakistan which featured no less than four let-offs and in the quarters against Australia, had a half-century.

He has two brilliant finals performances against the Aussies though, which is covered by the article adding that both came in his two prosperous phases. This included the ‘Desert Storm’ innings in Sharjah and the tri-series final in Sydney and Brisbane in 2008.

The other major dig the article takes is at his skills at finishing a game, under pressure.

“Tendulkar is also the only one of the “great” modern-day batsman in the world who has as many cases of not finishing a job once set as he does – the most famous examples being 136 vs Pakistan (Chennai, 1999) in Tests and 175 vs Australia (Hyderabad, 2009) in ODIs.”

The innings against Bangladesh where he compromised the team’s progression with an eye on the landmark is one of those moments that comes to mind.

It can be said that while Tendulkar proved to be the engine for many of his teams’ successes early in a tournament, he has perhaps not contributed so tellingly at the latter stages.

6)” Tendulkar was a technically perfect batsman with no palpable weaknesses”

“He scored against all opponents, in all conditions. He is the highest impact Indian batsman in South Africa – arguably the toughest country for Test batsmen and one of the highest impact batsmen against Australia – who, for a good part of his career, had the best bowling line-up in the world. “

Sachin Tendulkar of India looks on with a bust of Sir Donald Bradman before his last match at the SCG before the One Day International match between Australia and India at Sydney Cricket Ground on February 26, 2012 in Sydney, Australia

There isn’t much to debate here really as it is somewhat of a universal acknowledgement. Other Indian and international batsmen with slightly inferior techniques and poise may have overshadowed him in the impact rankings, but Tendulkar’s completeness is the stuff of legend.

7) “Tendulkar batted in the most productive positions in cricket history. “

A very interesting fact and a very brusquely true one at that; Tendulkar has batted at no.4 in Tests and no.2 in ODIs for most of his career.

The openers and the no.3 batsman see off the new ball in Tests, while in ODIs the field is up and the powerplays are in effect for the openers to take advantage of. Especially in ODIs, the openers have the best chance of racking up the highest scores.

The article goes on to state that he was quite obstinate about both positions for most of his career, a fact not entirely irrefutable.

“In the context of Tests, it is curious that he volunteered to open only once in his career despite perhaps being the most equipped of all batsmen of his generation to do so.

Meanwhile, a plethora of hapless top/middle-order batsmen had their careers jeopardised by being forced to open including Yuvraj, Dravid, Sehwag and even Laxman (India was lucky that Sehwag made such a great fist of it). “

So while Tendulkar had a fabulous record in the positions that he played at, especially in Tests, the contribution of the trio that came before him, cannot be undermined.

8) “Tendulkar is the poorest Indian captain in 30 years”

Just as a few glowing ones, this downside, also does not need stats to support the argument. Impact Index shows that Tendulkar’s record as captain is amongst the worst out of all those who captained India in the last 30 years.

He won 4, lost 9 and drew 12 in Tests andandin ODIs won 23 and lost 43. It brings him the lowest captaincy impact amongst all those captained India in the last 30 years (part-timers excluded). And in the IPL and the CLT20, the Mumbai Indians performed best when Tendulkar was not the captain.

This can again be linked to his inability to cope with certain high-pressure situations.

9) “Tendulkar put himself ahead of his team whenever the two interests clashed.”

The final argument from Impact Index’s article, and perhaps the most controversial, is the debate on whether Sachin Tendulkar played for personal milestones or for the team.

The article goes on to say that “during the course of establishing some personal statistical landmark, the team’s interests were compromised by Tendulkar, sometimes flagrantly so” on many occasions.

Tendulkar celebrates a century

Examples of this cited are the Sydney Test in 2004 where he took his time to overhaul Dravid’s then highest score for an Indian overseas of 233, saying that the extra time taken cost India a crucial match and historic series win.

They also say that Dravid’s declaration in the next Test at Multan with Tendulkar on 194 was in fact borne out of frustration at Tendulkar not responding to repeated reminders to speed up.

The Sydney Test in 2008 is also cited for his reported attempt to stay not out as he chose to give the number 11 the strike after just the first or second ball. At that stage, India were 38 ahead and Tendulkar already had 145.

It happened with Gambhir in 2012 against England, but the Delhi batsman was publicly slated by skipper MS Dhoni for doing just that. Oddly enough, Gambhir hasn’t played a single series since. Tendulkar though has not been tackled in such a manner by any Indian captain.

And there is the hundredth hundred against Bangladesh, which cannot be any way disputed, as it definitely did slow down the pace of an Indian innings that was in overdrive until then.

Verdict

The article quoted above had some eyebrow-raising arguments on the career of Sachin Tendulkar. Some of them were obvious, some others not so much, while a few were quite hard-hitting.

All said and done, readers can come to their own conclusions on Tendulkar, his records and his peers.

And in the end, what is Sachin Tendulkar’s true greatness, one that perhaps isn’t the most apparent?

The answer might startle you.

What do you make of it all? Leave your comments below.

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