As Sachin Tendulkar moves away from the scene of One-Day Internationals, he leaves in his wake mountains of runs and centuries that will perhaps never be scaled again. However, there are many who keep their eyes stubbornly shut to statistics and repeat the nonsensical urban legend – ‘he was not a match winner.’ Arunabha Sengupta looks at numbers to conclude that actually there has seldom been a greater match-winning batsman than the little champion.
The defiance against the scorching pace of Allan Donald in Kolkata, 1991; the Auckland blitz in 1992 … the saga of centuries as he switched to opening the innings; the sixes over the sightscreen off Michael Kasprowicz and Shane Warne resulting in the great ‘Desert Storm’ of 1998; the magnificent 186 not out back home; that pulverising pull off Andy Caddick; vanquishing Shoaib Akhtar at Centurion; the perfect straight drive off Brett Lee in the CB Series final; the epochal 200 at Gwalior. All these came in winning efforts. And then there were many more.
There were 33 hundreds and 59 fifties – if we just consider victories. Listing all of them would require a dedicated booklet by itself. We have forgotten more match-winning innings scripted by Sachin Tendulkar than lesser batsmen have managed to play in their entire careers.
Yet, the most curiously mindless urban legend refuses to die – some baiters still find illusory warmth in the fickle flame of ignorance, as they keep mouthing “Sachin Tendulkar was not a match-winner.”
Last year, after a couple of centuries in the World Cup resulted in a tie and a loss due to some poor bowling at the death by the Indian bowlers, another moronic myth had been generated – a Tendulkar hundred results in defeats for India. In these pages, we had carried a scientific rebuttal of that fictitious claim.
Now, as the legend bids adieu to one-day cricket, let us take a look at the other inane proclamations and how the numbers left in the wake of a colossal career bury them without a trace.
The way urban legends are created
It was the summer of 2002. Former Pakistan captain Imran Khan sat surrounded by many enthusiasts including a small group of journalists.
In another part of the globe, at The Oval, Sachin Tendulkar had just played his 100th Test match. The conversation naturally veered in the direction of yet another milestone reached in a fascinating journey. From one corner of the room, someone aired the manufactured statistic that of the 100 Tests the master had played in, only three had been won by India. The correct figure was 28, but when has a small manipulation of facts – in this case grotesque mutilation – stood in the way of juicy stories and reactions? The great Pakistani all-rounder was surprised. He did not have access to the exact figure, but he said that he thought it ought to be more.
That was enough for most of the news agencies to weave into a statement, filling the gaps with necessary fabrication. The next day’s papers bore huge headlines– “Sachin Tendulkar not a match winner: Imran Khan.”
An upset Imran clarified his statement the next day, saying he had never claimed anything of the sort. Some of the more respectable papers did carry his explanation, telling the world how the words had been tweaked, stretched, twisted and invented. Yet, the machinery of snowballing rumour was set in motion. Thousands with scant regard for actual facts, flamboyant disregard for statistics and unused to true sporting greats, accepted the false reports as gospel.
And this is just one of the many cosmetic ways that the apocryphal Achilles heel was grafted into the resume of the master.
Till now the urban legend runs its indefatigable and illogical course. Sachin Tendulkar, according to many, is a man who scored loads of runs and centuries but failed to deliver when the situation was tough, the team needed him to score or the stakes were high.
Let us see how these allegations map against the actual tales told by impartial data.
Sachin Tendulkar in victories
Sachin Tendulkar ended up 4700 runs and 17 centuries ahead of his nearest rival in ODIs. He conjured up incredible feats with his willow, but he was not really trained in black magic. It would have taken some spectacular hocus-pocus to score all those runs and hundreds only in those specific time packets when India did not need them.
Most successful batsmen in wins
|SR Tendulkar (India)||234||11157||56.63||90.31||33||59|
|RT Ponting (Aus/ICC)||262||10726||49.20||82.45||25||69|
|ST Jayasuriya (Asia/SL)||233||8873||41.26||96.58||24||43|
|JH Kallis (Afr/SA)||206||8012||52.36||75.71||13||58|
|AC Gilchrist (Aus/ICC)||202||7657||41.16||99.33||16||43|
It turns out that Sachin Tendulkar scored more runs in victories than anyone else. Of all the cricketers who have played ODIs, only Ricky Ponting appeared in more victories for Australia, but he still ends up in the second place with a batting average and strike rate quite some distance below Tendulkar’s.
To put things in perspective, Tendulkar scored more runs in victories than all but five batsmen did in their entire ODI careers. He ended up with more hundreds in victories than any batsman has yet managed in his career. Says volumes for a non-match winner whose hundreds supposedly resulted in losses.
Adam Gilchrist and Sanath Jayasuriya managed higher strike-rates, but the average column will tell us that they were nowhere near as consistent as the Indian maestro.
Only Viv Richards had a comparable average and strike rate combination, with 5129 runs in 132 wins at 56.98 and a strike rate of 93.01. However, his career graph went downhill towards his later years, and one wonders whether he could have maintained the same brilliance over another 100 wins.
Tendulkar’s feats in victories seem a tad difficult to have been accumulated without at least some match-winning innings – in fact, a great many of them.
Tendulkar in victorious chases
The second claim is that Tendulkar often succumbed to pressure.
Assuming that batting second in One-Day Internationals constitute greater pressure situations than setting a target, let us see how he fared in chases that ended in victories.
Most prolific batsmen in successful chases
|SR Tendulkar (India)||127||5490||55.45||90.08||14||31|
|RT Ponting (Aus)||111||4186||57.34||78.21||8||29|
|JH Kallis (SA)||110||3950||56.42||71.79||3||34|
|AC Gilchrist (Aus)||95||3750||46.87||102.76||8||25|
|ST Jayasuriya (SL)||107||3633||39.92||97.00||9||18|
We find yet again that Tendulkar has the highest collection of runs and centuries in victorious chases, with a splendid average-strike rate combination. Ponting and Kallis manage better averages, but their strike rates are distinctly inferior. Gilchrist and Jayasuriya once again end up with better-strike rates but compromise on consistency.
Tendulkar in finals
A stigma long attached to Tendulkar is that he has not fired in finals. The two World Cup finals are cited often enough. This is a classic case of small sample based perception – the “law of small numbers” as psychologists refer to this bias.
When we delve beyond perceptions and look at the numbers, the picture comes out as drastically different. It turns out Tendulkar does not have a rival for consistency in the tournament finals.
Best batsmen in tournament finals
|SR Tendulkar (India)||40||1851||54.44||87.68||6||10|
|ST Jayasuriya (SL)||39||1613||42.44||98.35||2||13|
|RT Ponting (Aus)||41||1345||38.42||82.21||2||7|
|AC Gilchrist (Aus)||33||1163||37.51||102.64||3||6|
|DM Jones (Aus)||30||1064||48.36||73.12||1||8|
Gary Kirsten does have a better average, but he played only half as many matches and was slower by 13 runs for 100 balls.
It is when we look at victorious finals, we discover the mind-boggling dependence of India on Tendulkar’s genius. Playing for India, he did not end up on the winning side in as many finals as Ponting or Gilchrist. Yet, he has more runs and hundreds than anyone else. And the average and strike rate will reduce even the most vocal of his baiters into embarrassed silence.
Top batsmen in victorious finals
|SR Tendulkar (India)||17||1255||96.53||98.04||6||5|
|ST Jayasuriya (SL)||21||1160||58.00||99.48||2||10|
|RT Ponting (Aus)||29||1111||46.29||84.67||2||6|
|AC Gilchrist (Aus)||23||990||47.14||106.33||3||6|
|G Kirsten (SA)||13||831||92.33||77.08||3||6|
And finally let us see how he fared when the situations sent the stakes and pressure beeping beyond warning levels. How did he fare in finals while chasing down totals? Most cricket followers will agree that runs made in these situations are the most valuable, achieved in a cauldron of bubbling tension, expectation and excitement.
Top batsmen in chases in victorious finals
|SR Tendulkar (India)||11||737||92.12||105.89||4||2|
|AC Gilchrist (Aus)||9||471||67.28||115.15||2||3|
|SC Ganguly (India)||6||374||74.80||84.04||1||3|
|M Azharuddin (India)||11||328||54.66||90.10||0||3|
|RT Ponting (Aus)||11||321||45.85||84.25||0||2|
Yet again Tendulkar emerges on the top. The figures validate the role he has played in scripting the ODI success of India and overhauling the landscape of One-Day cricket around the world. His strike-rate is beyond 100, average over 90.
As an aside, at the cost of becoming repetitive, let me add that no one has nearly as many runs and hundreds in victorious chases in finals than Tendulkar.
All this from a man who was not a match-winner, who buckled under pressure and whose centuries meant India would end up losing.
As long as cricket is a game enjoyed by millions, urban legends will do their rounds. Large populations do play a vital role in making perceptions flourish and take on the illusory form of truth. The urban legends will do their rounds, tongues of the ignorant will wag.
However, it might be worthwhile to pause and take a look at the figures that have captured his glorious footprints in the cricketing world – if only out of respect for the 23 years of service he has performed for the nation.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)