Sachin Tendulkar (right) has been compared to Sir Donald Bradman on many an occasion © Getty Images
Sachin Tendulkar (left) has been compared to Sir Donald Bradman on many an occasion © Getty Images

By Akshobh Giridharadas

A surge of emotions hit the privileged cusp generation of the 1990s and the 2000s on the morning of December 23, 2012. Falling in between a fictitious Armageddon & Christmas, the cricketing fraternity, in particular the Indian subcontinent & its diasporas were engulfed in a whirlwind of emotions.

An unusual sense of consternation coupled with moroseness and nostalgia was followed by a sigh of relief for a rare breed of cricket connoisseurs that day.

December 23, 2012 may not have significance in any theological context, but it did shake the very foundations of the subcontinent’s universal religion of ‘cricket’ as its ‘God’, Sachin Tendulkar bid au revoir to a format of the game, that had immortalised him.

His place in the pantheon of cricketing gods, perhaps even at the summit, had been erected long over a decade before his retirement. Since that fateful day, eulogies and testimonies in the form of articles, YouTube highlights, documentaries, and interviews from current and former teammates have inundated us via social network and media.

Among the several sobriquets and titles bestowed on the Little Master (this being one of them), a particular comparison with the Sir Donald George Bradman is one that I personally find egregious to say the least.

Well, the elementary flaw lies in the comparison itself; you can’t compare two stalwarts of the games who played in two very different eras (four decades since Bradman’s retirement & Tendulkar’s debut). It’s a travesty to an analysis, a poor litmus test, a flawed thesis and worse of all it dilutes the batting prowess and contributions to their respective countries and to the sport itself.

Perhaps arguments like these have to be prefaced with “neither is better than the other” for the myopic few who have often displayed a lack of cricketing perspicacity before brazenly making such comparisons between the two little masters.

It’s perhaps maybe an ephemeral thing of joy for the ardent Sachin aficionados but it’s a cardinal sin to dilute Bradman’s status with such an aberration, merely because such a comparison can’t be made.

Beyond the ‘average’ argument, numbers do not tell the whole story, but they do tell very important aspects of the story; particularly the ‘Bradman story’.

For at 5’7” this diminutive stalwart stood head and shoulders above the rest.

It is not just the fact he played on uncovered wickets sans modern protective gear or the fact that he was deprived of playing in his prime years, as the word was engulfed in strife during Second World War.

But yet an astounding mathematical feat of a batting average of 99.94 in 52 Tests with 29 hundreds is what he contributed to the sport. And one laments when such a figure doesn’t resonate strongly enough with plenty of fans today.

In Christianity, January 6 is the day of the ‘epiphany’, but one does not need an epiphany to make sense of this number 99.94.

Marginally short of a 100, a centum if you will, or cent percent it epitomises perfection, absolute perfection.

Comparison of ‘Sir Don’ with any individual is not only facile and puerile but reflects a modicum understanding of the sport & embarrassingly even poorer understanding of numbers.

Very few individuals have stood so far ahead of the pack in their distinct field, that the concept of distant second is quite literally a distant second.  Another such individual was Bradman’s compatriot Walter Lindrum, a billiards professional.  So remarkable was Lindrum, that the rules of billiards had to be modified so that he would not so effortlessly dominate; it is no surprise that other players often refused to play against him.

To put Lindrum’s brilliance into context would be the fact that Sir Don was often hailed as The Lindrum of Cricket.

Even when ‘the gentlemen’s game’ was still played with the spirit of bonhomie by men with avuncular mannerisms in the 1930s, did English captain Douglas Jardine bring the game into disrepute with the sport’s first major controversy by implementing Bodyline by virtue of being intimidated by Bradman’s batting prowess. Even then he averaged 56 in the series (the modern day average that most batsmen yearn for).

Irony would have it that The Don, who was never dismissed in the 1990s, would be forever stuck with an average in the 90s. Needing only four to reach the promised land of an average of 100 in his final innings, cruel irony would rear its ugly head once again. There was not a sublime batting display from his willow but instead a duck on the second ball to a right arm googly from Eric Hollies.

It’s strange that even after more than six decades after Hollies’ googly; Bradman’s contribution with the willow has been unparalleled. As time passes and things gradually decay, Bradman’s heroics have ensured that this was, by no means, an ephemeral thing of joy.

Especially in an era of batsman tailored wickets, bowling machines to abet them, an increased amount of coaching excellence where an average of 60 seems an unlikely feat and yet the hallmark of batting legend, Bradman’s average is an indication how far ahead of the pack he stands.

In fact Bradman himself once elaborated: “No such comparison is possible in cricket. Averages can be a guide… but are not conclusive because pitches and conditions have changed.”

And true enough the evolution of the sport has seen an ‘Obamaesque’ change.

Be it the ball, the bats, protective gear, controversial laws, increasing demands of the game, multiple formats, the phenomenal pace at which the game is played , increased scrutiny, money, live telecasts, size of venues, quality of oppositions and last but not least, media conundrum, Tendulkar was a product of this generation of cricketers. Batting aside, one of his sterling qualities will be how grounded he epitomised humility and remained grounded and whilenever being so close to being attached with the ‘prima donna’ tag.

Today, where, technology’s progress surpasses the growth of hair follicles, the sport has benefitted with lot of video analysis. While Tendulkar’s “desert storm” innings or his double ton in coloured clothes can be savoured on the World Wide Web at the click of a button, Bradman’s contribution to the sport can only be read off and heard in anecdotes; barring the occasional snippet of archival footage.

No wonder Gideon Haigh feared that a day would come where the last person to have seen Sir Donald Bradman bat in a Test match will pass away and we would not even know it happened.

Lest we forget — Sir Donald George Bradman!

(Akshobh Giridharadas is a 26-year old sports journalist currently plying his trade at Channel NewsAsia Singapore, and has previously worked at ESPN Star, Singapore. Akshobh’s journey with sports journalism started after having inadvertently stumbled into the auditions of Dream Job, season 2 – ESPN STAR Sports hunt for the next Harsha Bhogle. Akshobh has a masters degree in journalism and has covered the Indian Cricket League & the Indian Premier League as a sports correspondent)