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Sachin Tendulkar’s 23 years in Tests is an epic feat in international sports history – not merely in the annals of cricket

Tendulkar

1989 to 2012: It has been a truly incredible script by Sachin Tendulkar one of the giants in the history of sports © Getty Images

Sachin Tendulkar will be completing 23 years in international cricket on November 15. It’s an astonishing milestone given the incredible amount of workload he has undertaken, year after year, in different parts of the globe. Arunabha Sengupta produces some incredible numbers to underline the master’s epic feat.

The road from Karachi, 1989, to Ahmedabad, 2012, has witnessed more Tests, more One-Day Internationals, more runs, more centuries and more fifties in each format, and numerous other records that were not even conceptualised when he started as a 16-year-old. All these have been achieved with incredible consistency, like unfailing clockwork.

So regular have been the prodigious deeds of valour that a good proportion of his countrymen have increasingly started to take his phenomenal performances for granted. Be that as it may, the fact remains that a cricketer like Sachin Tendulkar graces our lives once in an aeon — and we have been blessed to witness the genius unfold in front of our eyes.

Incredible longevity

This latest achievement is also perhaps one of his greatest. Playing for 23 years is probably even more miraculous than 33,000 runs in international cricket or a hundred centuries and 161 half centuries — especially in this day and age, where the demands of the cricketing calendar taxes the mortal body to the limits.

A look at the numbers that follow will throw light on how his feat measures up in relation to other long timers in the cricket world.

Wilfred Rhodes leads the list with 31 years. A slow left-arm bowler who graduated into a batsman good enough to open the innings for England, he did go through an enforced break during the First World War and played only intermittently through the 1920s. He appeared in just 58 of the 120 matches England played during his playing days.

Similarly, Brian Close stuck around for 27 years for his 22 Tests.

Frank Woolley played more in his 25 years, but even his career was interrupted by the First World War and his name made the final eleven in just 64 of the 110 played by England during the period.

The other person in front of Tendulkar on the list is George Headley with 24 years against his name, but that has more to do with an ill-advised return to the arena for one solitary Test in 1954, six years after his retirement, when he was pushing 45.

Tendulkar, with his longevity, has managed to eclipse even celebrated long-timers like Jack Hobbs and Bobby Simpson.

It is indeed significant that, apart from Tendulkar, all the players in the 20-year-plus club are from the old days when cricket was leisurely and international showdowns limited. This makes it incredible that the master has appeared in a whopping 91.79% of the 207 Tests played during his career, while at the same time turning out in a tottering 463 ODIs.

20-year club

No.

Name

Start

End

Yrs

M

Matches played by team in the period

% matches played by player

ODI
1 W Rhodes (Eng)

1899

1930

31

58

120

48.33%

-

2 DB Close (Eng)

1949

1976

27

22

244

9.02%

3

3 FE Woolley (Eng)

1909

1934

25

64

110

58.18%

-

4 GA Headley (WI)

1930

1954

24

22

45

48.89%

-

5 SR Tendulkar (India)

1989

2012

23

190

207

91.79%

463

6 JB Hobbs (Eng)

1908

1930

22

61

91

67.03%

-

7 SE Gregory (Aus)

1890

1912

22

58

75

77.33%

-

8 AW Nourse (SA)

1902

1924

22

45

45

100.00%

-

9 FR Brown (Eng)

1931

1953

22

22

112

19.64%

-

10 MC Cowdrey (Eng)

1954

1975

21

114

200

57.00%

1

11 Imran Khan (Pak)

1971

1992

21

88

138

63.77%

175

12 RB Simpson (Aus)

1957

1978

21

62

148

41.89%

2

13 GA Gooch (Eng)

1975

1995

20

118

202

58.42%

125

14 GS Sobers (WI)

1954

1974

20

93

100

93.00%

1

15 WR Hammond (Eng)

1927

1947

20

85

99

85.86%

-

16 DCS Compton (Eng)

1937

1957

20

78

106

73.58%

-

17 Mushtaq Mohammad (Pak)

1959

1979

20

57

76

75.00%

10

18 FJ Titmus (Eng)

1955

1975

20

53

185

28.65%

2

19 DG Bradman (Aus)

1928

1948

20

52

60

86.67%

-

20 B Mitchell (SA)

1929

1949

20

42

42

100.00%

-

21 HW Taylor (SA)

1912

1932

20

42

45

93.33

Even when compared to the ancient eras when the game was played less frequently, Tendulkar’s rate of missing matches is amazingly low. Only the great Garry Sobers, and a handful of South African cricketers whose careers had been interrupted by World Wars, have a better ratio of turning out for the country.

Among those who make the list, only Imran Khan and Graham Gooch played the other format of international cricket regularly during their playing days, although far fewer than Tendulkar. Taking this into account, the sheer amount of international cricket continuously played by the master batsman is simply mind-boggling.

Tendulkar’s numbers are even more remarkable when measured against modern players.

Steve Waugh appears at No 22 in the all-time list with his 19-year service to Australian cricket. The currently active players lag far behind: Shivnarine Chanderpaul is at No 32 with 18 years, Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis further down with 17 years each.

Even among them, Tendulkar’s figures stand out as the most prolific — missing the minimum number of Test matches and appearing in more than a hundred additional ODIs than anyone else, while missing a fewer proportion of Test matches for his country.

Modern generation cricketers with long careers

No Name M Start End Yrs Matches played
by team
in the period
% matches
played by player
ODI
1 SR Tendulkar (India) 190 1989 2012 23 207 91.79% 463
2 SR Waugh (Aus) 168 1985 2004 19 189 88.89% 325
3 S Chanderpaul (WI) 144 1994 2012 18 185 77.84% 268
4 M Muralitharan (SL) 133 1992 2010 18 155 85.81% 350
5 A Kumble (India) 132 1990 2008 18 159 83.02% 271
6 RT Ponting (Aus) 165 1995 2012 17 190 86.84% 375
7 JH Kallis (SA) 155 1995 2012 17 172 90.12% 321

With 23 years behind him, Tendulkar surely joins the likes of Arnold Palmer (golf), Nolan Ryan (baseball), Stanley Matthews (soccer), Robert Parrish (basketball), Martina Navratilova (tennis), Merlene Ottey (athletics) and Jackie Rea (snooker) as one of the longest serving sportspersons in history.

(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)

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