Sachin Tendulkar or Brian Lara? Who is greatest of the two modern maestros

Some say Sachin Tendulkar (left) was more solid in comparison to Brian Lara (right) who was more prone to slip on the outpouring of his own prodigious talent. Tendulkar would seldom give his wicket away once set, bar the few moments of extraordinary inclination to hit three boundaries in the same over – and had absolutely no decipherable weakness in his game. Lara, on the other hand, was perhaps a greater genius and proportionally more flawed © Getty Images

Brian Lara has been inducted to the International Cricket Council (ICC) Hall of Fame. Arunabha Sengupta takes this opportunity to contrast the career of the great left-hander with the other supreme batsman of his times, Sachin Tendulkar.

 

“Never compare genius,” voiced the doyen of cricket writers, Neville Cardus.

 

There is a lot of merit in the statement, whatever be the motivation. Comparison is for the standard, the mundane – for whom the attributes are well known and magnitudes can be placed against each other, the same yardstick may be wielded to measure and analyse the various facets.

 

However, by definition, genius transcends the normal. The virtuoso, touched by inspiration, creates an altogether new dimension hitherto unknown to lesser mortals. And for each such master there is a plinth of perfection on which gilt-edged facets of distinct individualism are laid out in blinding patterns. The structure unique to each artist at this elevated level.

 

When Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar emerged on the scene, the world witnessed two such supremely-talented batsmen, who brought unknown uniqueness into the game.

 

To a short ball outside the off-stump, Tendulkar would unleash a rasping square cut, which would land in front of point and then the exquisite timing would carry it close to the ropes before it bounced again and crashed into the fence. To a short ball on the stumps, Brian Lara would jump up, two feet leaving the ground, the bat would come down and the pull would be essayed with a vertical bat.

 

Seldom had the art of batsmanship seen anything like this. Could one compare a Lara pull with its Tendulkar counterpart, or a Tendulkar cut with Lara’s strokes through point? Each was in a sphere of its own – existing alone in the rarefied heights of absolute brilliance.

 

When Shane Warne bowled, Tendulkar jumped out and mistimed as he hit through against the spin over mid-on. An ecstatic Warne looked back only to see the catch being bravely attempted by a spectator in the second tier.

 

When Glenn McGrath bowled, Lara’s blade flashed to drive between cover and mid-off, and at the last split second found the ball a tad too short. Even as McGrath leapt in anticipation, Lara’s wrists rolled the checked stroke, and what should have travelled as a regulation catch to cover, landed a few feet in front of the batsman as if smothered with a dead bat.

 

Even the mistakes often turned out like the handiwork of the divine. They could not be measured, only rejoiced in. And there was plenty to drive the lovers of the game to delirious throws of ecstasy.

 

While Tendulkar was characterised by almost meditative stillness as he faced the ball, Lara resembled a coiled spring that was suddenly released into action. Tendulkar drove into the ‘V’ off the front foot and through the covers off his back, leaving fielders mesmerised and audience open mouthed. Lara cut off the back foot both in front and behind square with such felicity that the spray of talent almost soaked onlookers. Tendulkar went down the wicket to Warne, Lara did the same to Muttiah Muralitharan – both with devastating effect.

 

We could have basked in the light that shone while they were at the wicket – and both stayed there for long, long whiles many a times and oft.

 

However, as they were cutting furrows across unknown horizons, they roamed the fields along with normal men in whites and colours. They put on their magic shows within the contests that were fought out, won or lost. Largely on their shoulders rode the fortunes of their nation.

 

Hence, comparison of their craftsmanship – the realm of the exalted – may be a fascinating example of fools rushing in where angels fear to tread; but how their wizardry reflected on the scoreboard is a question that entices us to scan and scrutinise.

 

After all, two giants of such stature strolling across the pitches together in time and space cannot avoid being compared and contrasted.

 

Who was greater of the two masters?

 

Verdicts differ, with people and time.

 

Some say Tendulkar was more solid and Lara more prone to slip on the outpouring of his own prodigious talent. Tendulkar would seldom give his wicket away once set, bar the few moments of extraordinary inclination to hit three boundaries in the same over – and had absolutely no decipherable weakness in his game. Lara on the other hand was perhaps a greater genius and proportionally more flawed.

 

Lara raised his right leg while essaying his pulls, often hitting them in the air. And while being one of the most breath-taking players of the square cut, who also loved the cover drive, Lara’s propensity to play the on drive past midwicket to a straight full length delivery often landed him in trouble. While Tendulkar swept spinners off their feet, employing both the traditional and the paddle versions, Lara was more direct in approach, dancing down, perhaps looking at the kneeling cross batted effort with a scornful eye as the stroke of a doubtful mind.

 

Tendulkar changed with time and age, adapting his game from destroyer to accumulator, while Lara preferred to play the same way at 37 as when he was 23. Perhaps that is why Tendulkar got more hundreds and continued to score runs in the evening of his career and Lara had to move away beyond cricketing action.

 

However, there are others who point out Lara’s superior knack of playing the huge innings, his ability to single out bowlers to capitalise on, gift of maintaining a brisk rate of scoring throughout. Tendulkar in his later years was more prone to go into a shell, a malaise that never affected Lara. He dominated bowlers till his last day at the wicket, seldom going on his back-foot.  And finally there is Lara’s colossal feat of reclaiming his world record of highest score in Test cricket, 10 years after setting it.

 

Opinions vary with experts and their experiences. Warne considers Tendulkar the greatest cricketer of the era, daylight second and Lara coming third. Muralitharan, who has suffered more from the Caribbean blade, rules in favour of Lara. Curiously, both batting legends performed better against balls that turned away from them.

 

Peter Roebuck felt that Lara could perhaps bat as well as Tendulkar and even better, but only in inspired spells – on rarer occasions than Tendulkar who was an epitome of sustained brilliance.

 

Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath, Steve Waugh, Andy Flower and others put Tendulkar ahead – while Rohan Kanhai and Ian Chappell speak for Lara.

 

Figuring out the answer

 

Cardus also famously called the scoreboard an ‘ass’ as far indicating cricketing greatness is concerned.  Well, when accounting for the likes of Lara and Tendulkar, the scoreboard does resemble a beast of burden straining under the weight of the huge pile of runs.

 

However, Cardus self-confessedly was never very keen on arithmetic. The figures, when dissected with analytical eyes, are like footprints left along the career paths – which may not be eloquent about the grace and fluency of the strides, but do provide excellent record of the courses charted.

 

It is Roebuck whose astute analysis seems to echo across the hallways of the numerical super-structures.

 

If we look at the two careers with care, we can see the genius of Lara taking off in a fascinating flight, while Tendulkar was more cautious off the mark. After their debuts in successive years, in the first half-decade, Lara scorched the grounds and lit imaginations across the cricket world with 277 at Sydney followed by 375 at Kensington Oval. Tendulkar did score consistently and often majestically, but did not quite reach those heights of monstrous run making. Till the summer of 1995, Lara had amassed 3,048 runs in 31 Tests at 60.96, while Tendulkar stood at a more modest 2,425 at 52.71 from 35.

 

It was in the next six years that Lara turned his temperamental side to public view, and in contrast, Tendulkar’s continuous and consistent excellence burrowed a large gap between the two. After the above period, till 2000-01, Tendulkar scored 4,295 runs in 47 Tests at  59.65, while Lara plummeted to a trough of mediocrity by comparison with 3485 in 49 Tests at 40.06.

 

From then to the end of his career, Lara returned to a run scoring spree again for the next 50 Tests, ending up with another 5420 runs at 60.89. During that period, Tendulkar was battling his injury problems, and managed 3749 in 51 Tests at 52.80.  But, the gap of the previous phase could not be closed. Due to the weakness of West Indian batting, Lara got more innings to bat and made more runs, but Tendulkar remained some distance ahead in terms of average.

 

Three phases

 

Sachin Tendulkar

 

Brian Lara

 

Tests

 

Runs

 

Average

 

Tests

 

Runs

 

Average

 

1989-1995 35 2425 52.71 31 3048 60.96
1995-96-2000-01 47 4295 59.65 49 3485 40.06
2001-2006 50 3749 52.80 51 5420 60.89
Lara’s retirement 132 10469 55.39 131 11953 52.88
2006-2012 58 5064 54.45 Post Lara period
At present 190 15533 55.08

 

So, indeed, Lara seemed to rise into inspired phases and sink to doldrums, whereas Tendulkar’s brilliance was sustained and even when not, he managed to score consistently at the highest level.

 

 

There are some other statistics which show very little difference between the two.

 

Tendulkar is ahead in won matches, while Lara is, as expected, an extraordinary batsman in lost games. Both have one solitary memorable hundred apiece in win clinching fourth innings efforts.

 

In Tests

 

Tendulkar

 

Lara

 

Runs

 

 Ave

 

Runs

 

Ave

 

Won Matches 5657   65.02 2929 61.02
Lost Matches 3991   37.85 5316 42.19
1st Team Innings 10960   61.57 8249 63.94
2nd Team Innings 4573   43.97 3704 38.18
4th match innings 1590   37.85 1440 35.12

 

However, there are a couple of areas where Tendulkar outshines Lara – where he scores above most of his peers. It is the Indian’s amazingly consistent run making across the world. He is, by induction, distinctly ahead in terms of making runs away from home.

 

In

different

countries

 

Tendulkar

 

Lara

 

Runs

 

Ave

 

Runs

 

Ave

 

Austrlia 1809 53.20 1469 41.97
England 1575 54.30 1268 48.76
India 6828 55.51 198 33.00
New Zealand 842 49.52 406 36.90
Pakistan 483 40.25 626 48.15
South Africa 1161 46.44 841 46.72
Sri Lanka 1155 67.94 706 100.85
West Indies 620 47.69 6217 58.65
Home 6828 55.51 6217 58.65
Away 8705 54.74 5736 47.80

 

Against Australia, the best team of the generation, Tendulkar remains ahead, scoring at 57.30 compared to Lara’s 51, while there is a more substantial gap between the two when playing in the tough conditions down under.

 

And finally, if one considers both forms of cricket, there is hardly anyone who can hold candle to the lustre of the Mumbai maestro.

 

  Tests

 

Runs

 

Ave

 

100s

 

ODI

 

Runs

 

Ave

 

Str Rate

 

100s

 

Tendulkar 190 15533 55.08 51 463 18426 44.83 86.23 49
Lara 131 11953 52.88 35 299 10405 40.48 79.51 19

 

(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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