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Sachin Tendulkar had remained an enigmatic figure throughout his career. He had scored more runs than any other batsmen in the history of the sport, and has smashed more records than many batsmen have scored runs in their career. Yet, the Little Master was compared with many batsmen of the past throughout his career. Devarchit Varma explains why Tendulkar was almost always a part of the comparisons.
When Sachin Tendulkar was dismissed for 74 in his final Test innings in Mumbai last year, the cricket fraternity was quick to draw comparisons of how he was able to score more than what some of the best batsmen in their final innings. Tendulkar had indeed garnered more than what Ricky Ponting had in his last, but still the comparisons were rife. In fact, some even quipped about Jason Gillespie scoring a double hundred in his final essay but Tendulkar did not. The social media was flooded with such instances. But these were mere jokes.
One of the aspects of Tendulkar’s career has been the comparisons. Fans have always compared the greats across eras, but during Tendulkar’s illustrious days there have seldom been cricket comparisons that had not involved the man. Let us try to find out why.
Tendulkar and Bradman (or should it be the other way round)?
Tendulkar was the only batsman who had perhaps lived up to the potential of being the ‘next Bradman’, as there have been several instances in the history; Ian Craig, Norman O’Neill and Doug Walters had all been branded as the ‘next Bradman’; the most recent occurrence, of course, has been that of the English media going gaga over Jonathan Trott, who was in splendid touch couple of seasons back. On the other hand, Tendulkar was easily accepted as the next after Don Bradman also because of the fact that the Australian legend had endorsed the Indian batting star himself.
Add to the fact that to most people Bradman was all about 99.94; few alive have seen him bat, which meant that the fans had only Wisdens and the rich literature of the sport to fall back upon. Bradman’s endorsement gave them the nearest they could go to see The Don in action. He caught their imagination like none other since Bradman.
Tendulkar and Richards
On the other hand, Tendulkar always idolised Sir Vivian Richards. The West Indian legend was one of the most destructive batsmen and Tendulkar was considered the first one since his arrival to be as aggressive and as feared as Viv.
Fans and critics alike have compared the two for a reason: though Tendulkar never had Viv’s swagger, he more than made up for it with his poise; on their days they were the most feared batsmen in the world, without anybody else bridging the pair. Those who have been fortunate to watch both have known that both were unstoppable when they were at their murderous best.
Tendulkar and Gavaskar
For ages, Indian cricket had known Sunil Gavaskar as the undisputed greatest in its history; true, Gundappa Viswanath had his own share of fans, but it was Gavaskar who was competed with the greatest in the world.
Tendulkar, of course, had grown up in an era when the country had worshipped Gavaskar. It can be argued that had there been no Gavaskar to set an example, Tendulkar may or may not have arrived. With time, however, Tendulkar became the first to challenge Gavaskar’s unanimously accepted authority in Indian cricket.
The comparison was inevitable.
Tendulkar and Lara
There have been innumerable discussions and comparisons between Tendulkar and Brian Lara. Many of their contemporaries, such as Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, found it extremely difficult to bowl to either of the batsmen. While Warne has rated Tendulkar ahead of Lara, McGrath has maintained the opposite.
What had triggered the comparison? At a time when Tendulkar was the rising star and the toast of the world of cricket, Lara announced himself to the world, first with his relatively unheralded 277, followed by his famous 375 and 501.
Suddenly Tendulkar had a rival. The invariable comparison between the mercurial and the consistent, the maverick and the studious had to happen; the argument found more ground since Tendulkar and Lara perhaps saw the ball earlier than their contemporaries (a fact later confirmed by Virender Sehwag in an interview).
The fans still argue.
Tendulkar and Inzamam
When Tendulkar had scored a century at the Western Australian Cricket Association (WACA) Ground in Perth, Merv Hughes had told Allan Border, ‘This little pr**k is going to score more runs than you, AB”.
After the triumphant 1992 World Cup in Australia had witnessed a young Inzamam-ul-Haq at his pomp, Imran Khan (never one to give up on these opportunities) was quick to say that the former was one of the best players of fast bowling. Though not as far-fetched as some other comparisons, one can safely assume that Imran’s statement had more to do with providing a morale-booster to Inzamam than anything else…
Tendulkar and Dravid (and Ponting and Kallis)
Till 2001, Tendulkar had held his position as the undisputed best in Indian cricket, but it was then that he faced the first slump of his career. His decline had coincided with the rise of Rahul Dravid, Jacques Kallis, and Ponting, which led to the obvious comparisons.
Few have achieved what the trio have in the period from 2002 to 2007. The point was, Tendulkar had a second peak in his career — something that had eluded the trinity. Suddenly, at the fag end of his career, he scaled the summit of supremacy again.
The comparisons never ceased, though.
What about the others, then?
While there have been many comparisons involving Sachin Tendulkar, one must also remember that there have not been such when talking about other cricketers of his era.
For example, few have compared Lara with Sir Garry Sobers: for whatever reason the latter was an all-rounder, and his name does not come up while discussing the greatest batsmen (it was as if Sobers had committed a crime of sorts by being a bowler). On the other hand, while Viv Richards’ career had witnessed West Indies touch unprecedented heights, it was during the Lara era when the graph took a downhill slide (for no fault of the southpaw, though).
Despite the fact that Ponting, Dravid, and Kallis have had almost identical careers, few have compared the trio (or even any of them with Lara). The general practice has almost always been to compare one of the three with Tendulkar.
Reaching the top is difficult; retaining the spot, a bit more; the most difficult ask, however, is perhaps to avoid being compared to others.
Maybe that is the hallmark of true greatness: you cannot avoid being criticised and compared. On the flip side, you get endorsed by The Boy from Bowral as well!
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