The Sachin Tendulkar factor: Difference brought about by the master

India has won 78 Tests since Sachin Tendulkar started to turn out for the country, 72 of them with the master in the team © Getty Images

As the master established himself in the Indian team and grew in stature, the opposition grew to know and dread the Tendulkar factor. Arunabha Sengupta looks at the difference he made to the team down the years, and how the fortunes of Indian cricket swung with his willow.

When Sachin Tendulkar made his way into the national consciousness the nation itself was different, as was the world. Multiplexes and cell-phones were yet to appear. The Berlin Wall still stood, Soviet Union was undivided and satellite television had not yet made its way into the country.

He walked in as a 16-year-old, a couple of seasons after an event many envisaged as the end of the glory days of Indian cricket — the retirement of Sunil Gavaskar.

Since then, the world has been transformed to unrecognisable levels. And so has the game.

In 1989, India was a relatively minor power in world cricket. The team had enjoyed a fantastic run in the middle of the decade, but most of it had been within the domain of limited overs within the duration of one day and.

The Prudential Cup had been won, followed by the Benson and Hedges Trophy in Australia. There had been usual voices steeped in the immediate, who had argued about India being one of the best in the world. However, the team continued to be thrashed resoundingly by superior powers — West Indies and Pakistan in both forms of the game, and Australia in One Day Internationals.

In Test cricket, apart from a Dilip Vengsarkar-powered spate of four victories in quick succession against England and Sri Lanka in 1986, the decade had been a saga of disappointment with wins being very, very rare. India had spent years trying to bowl good teams out twice in a match. The ’80s had seen just 11 wins and 21 defeats in 81 Tests. From 1981 to 1984, the team had spent a record 31 Tests without a win.

There had been some minor improvement since the day CK Nayudu’s men walked out for the first time at Lord’s, but the net result was not too different. India had won 43 and lost 89 of the Tests till then. The win loss ratio stood at a pitiable 0.48

Now, as Tendulkar leaves the scene, the equation stands at 0.81 with 121 wins and 149 losses.

India has won 78 Tests since Sachin Tendulkar started to turn out for the country, 72 of them with the master in the team.

How much change did he bring about personally?

Of course cricket is a team game and even the most supreme of batsmen cannot carry the team to victory by the force of his willow alone. Brian Lara is a defining example, having won 32 and lost 63 matches during his career.

Cricket, unless made to order for celluloid productions, has no place for wins earned by single handed batting heroics. Even Don Bradman had to depend on Clarrie Grimmett and Bill O’Reilly, and later Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller, to bowl out the opposition. Besides, Stan McCabe, Bill Ponsford, Lindsay Hassett and later Arthur Morris and Neil Harvey were quite useful batsmen, greats in their own right.

Sachin Tendulkar needed Anil Kumble to fire batsmen out, the formidable middle order maestros and Virender Sehwag to bat alongside him. However, what Tendulkar did provide was the differentiator. And the section that follows shows how much of a differentiator he was.

It was Tendulkar’s mastery which propelled India from a side happy with a rare victory, honourable draws, revelling in going down in a blaze of glory, into a unit for which wins were very much within the realms of ordinary rather than forays into rarely achieved dreams. Once Tendulkar settled in to the side, India started on a winning spree from 1992-93 the like of which had never been seen before.

With Tendulkar in the team, runs could be put on the board surely and quickly, pressure could be built on the opposition. As long as he was there at the wicket there was hope for India and foreboding for foes, no matter how desperate the situation. He could turn games on the head and often did.

Through the ’90s, the Tendulkar factor was a known term, something to dread and deliberate about for the opponents. By the early 2000s, others had started to pitch in as well, and India transformed into a force to be reckoned with. By the second half of the first decade of this century, the team went on to become one of the best sides of the world.

It can be argued that Tendulkar showed a generation of Indian batsmen that victory could indeed be a way of life.

Let us look at this difference Tendulkar brought to the Indian team across different phases of his career.

To do this, we have broken up his career into seven phases.

The initial days when he was establishing himself in the side, the years when he was the one man demolition force without much support in the batting, the period when he started being assisted by the middle order but still had to play the role of the one man army as others found their feet, the phase when he was the accumulator aided by a gamut of talent around him starting to fire, the period hampered by his tennis elbow, his second coming of sustained brilliance and finally the last phase of struggle.

For each of the periods, we have computed the average of the top order with and without Tendulkar, to arrive at the difference that his sheer presence and weight of runs brought to the team. A look at the table will reveal the enormous effect the master had over the years and how the Indian team played around his august presence.

Tendulkar’s contribution across phases of career in Tests

Period A: Ave of top order (minus   Tendulkar) Ave of Tendulkar B: Ave of top order (with Tendulkar) Difference Made (Tendulkar factor B-A) Win-Loss
89-90 to 91-92 Initial phase 34.9 41.57 35.78 0.88 1:06
92-93 to 96 Dominance – single handed 38.61 65.16 42.31 3.7 10:03
96-97 to 00-01 Dominance – with new talent in middle 36.84 58.6 39.97 3.13 11:15
01 to 04-05 Accumulator 40.36 57.86 42.54 2.18 17:14
05-06 to 06-07 Tennis elbow 38.92 29.67 39.9 -0.98 7:04
07 to 10-11 Second coming 45.35 63.87 47.72 2.37 20:08
11 to 12-13 Last struggle 38.37 32.34 37.57 -0.8 12:10
           Overall 41.68 53.78 39.88 1.8 78:60

The above table is extremely revealing. It sketches the way the fortunes of India has ebbed and flowed with Tendulkar’s wide willow.

Not only does it show the way the master carried the team on his shoulders right through the nineties, it tells us how the Indian side evolved down the years that the great man batted for the country.

We can see how he singlehandedly fought battles in the 92-96 phase. India won a lot during that phase, coasting on his brilliance and the method of spinning tracks.

It tells us he still battled alone most often even the middle order was bolstered, and how in spite of the infusion of talented batsmen India continued to have the worse of the exchanges.

It shows how the entire batting scene underwent a change in the 2001-05 phase and how he continued to make a difference in a changed role with the other major batsmen firing together. However, the win-loss ratio shows that the 2001-2005 period was not exactly the golden age of Indian cricket. It came later.

It talks about the painful struggle due to the tennis elbow.

And finally the story of the magnificent high as he discovered his second wind, during the phase when the master came back, having changed his game to counter the multiple injuries. This was an amazing second coming during the 2007-11 period — perhaps the high point of Tendulkar’s career culminating in the number one ranking for the Test side. The rest of the batting averaged a high 45.35 during this period. This further goes to show that unlike many of the half-baked analysis popping up everywhere, cricket is a team game and everyone has to perform for victories.

We can see that he was even more brilliant in the period 1992-93 to 2001, but unlike the 2007-11 period, the rest of the top order averaged in their mid to late thirties. From 2007, when the rest of the batsmen started scoring at world class levels, the victories became a lot more frequent.

So, personal monuments get translated to landmarks for the country if and only if the rest of the team fire. A lesson for some cricket chroniclers to remember when writing about the Men in White.

The above provides a quick view of the immensity of Tendulkar’s contribution, the way he carried the team, turned Indian cricket around and changed the face of the game in the country.

(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)