*This one’s quite a long edition. Bear with me here*

Who’d have thought that a 200* in an ODI for the first time would trigger more debate (sarcasm intended)!
A lovely little discussion is going on at my good friend, Stani Army’s website, with some very interesting and informative viewpoints. On the face of it comes this article, which goes to state that Tendulkar is possibly over-rated , with Test match performances being the barometer.To add fuel to the raging fire, Anup gives some extremely good points as to why Tendulkar pales in comparison to the great Viv Richards in ODIs too.

On both counts, there are some damming statistics, views, counter-views and nuggets of information that support the arguments.  With the media and blogosphere coming to a near brink of cyber-war, MTJAG decided that it was time to step in and douse/add kerosene to  the fire.

I’m neither the authority, nor a big fan of picking the G.O.A.T. I don’t think it can be or should be done.  Comparing across  eras would often lead to undermining the achievements of 1 and over-rating the other’s. The state of the game is different across eras.

Having said this,  I’ve decided to play the devil’s advocate and take the counter opinion against both the arguments. Partly because I’ve got time in my hands and I love Sachin, and more importantly because I believe that statistics and “cold hard facts” can be derived, summarized and interpreted in numerous ways.

First, let’s consider the Sachin’s Over-rated in Tests Argument:

I’ve already provided my viewpoints on Sachin Vs Ponting in ODIs here.

Now, a quick look some of the points made in the article.

1. Averages

Sangakarra, Kallis and Ponting all have better averages

Ponting’s average vs Sachin’s average as it stands now:
55.68 vs 55.57
0.1 runs difference. I’ll leave it to you to decide its significance. I believe the article was written in 2009, in the eve of Ponting’s tremendous run. Sachin started yet another 1 in the late stages of 2009 and has carried on to 2010.
Learning: Let the race get over before you announce the winner.

2. Number of times Respective teams has Won the test and Ponting/Tendulkar did not have to come out to BAT in the 2nd innings:
9 vs 5!
Learning: Openers finish the job more often than not during victories for Australia than even the openers AND the 1 down batsman for India! Now 9 and 5 are just small numbers you say. How can they be used to compare anything! Well if MoMs (16 and 13 for Ponting and Tendulkar respectively) can be used, why can’t this stat be used?

3.

Kallis and Ponting both have more man of the match awards then Tendulkar. Kallis, Ponting, Lara, Hayden and Sangakarra all receive man of the match awards at a greater strike rate than Tendulkar.

Ah, logic, me likey!  Throw in different names at convenient times.  For the sake of argument, let’s continue with Ponting vs Tendulkar . Why not segment the victories to suit one’s points? Not sure what I’m getting at? Well, here’s an example:
Number of times Sachin’s won a MoM award at Australia : 3
Number of times Ponting has won a MoM award at India : 0

Does Sachin perform better against the best team in the world in their own backyard than Ponting did against the one of the top contenders in theirs?   See how easy it is to look at stats the way one wants to?

4.  Draws:

1. DRAWS:

Tendulkar has played an incredible 66 draws! That is almost 41% of the matches he has played have ended in a draw. Remove those matches from his average calculations and his average drops a massive 5 runs to less than 50. That is around a 10% boost from those draws. His average in drawn matches is 65. Interestingly, an analysis of Dravid produces a similar conclusion.

Now, this one’s a tad silly.  Match conditions and victories are often dependent on the the whole TEAM and not the players! Hell, it depends more on the bowlers than 1 batsmen!   Is the writer faulting Sachin for not winning the  game?  Pretty insane!  So let’s look at 1 more stat while we’re at it then bud!
Average in a Lost or Drawn Match:
Ponting: 45 , Tendulkar: 50
So how should this be interpreted?  Ponting performs worse during his team’s defeats than Tendulkar does? Thus, I can summarize that even in draws and defeats, Tendulkar still plays his part better than Ponting does!!

Or should we realize that victories and defeats in test matches (especially) are a function of the team’s (and especially) bowler’s performances?

5.

Note that Ponting and Sangakarra also play in the slightly less protected batting position of number 3.

This one’s a gem. Batting at No.3 is less protected. Seriously?  Again, this can be twisted to suit individual tastes. I can say that for a team like India in the late 80s and most of the 90s , a team which STRUGGLED to put a respectable opening  pair ,  batting at No.4 or No.3 made no difference. Had Tendulkar batted at No. 3 and Ponting at No. 4 , the writer could have then said that by batting at No.3 , a higher position, Tendulkar had more chances to accumulate runs!! Hey, anything rolls , right? 🙂

Conclusions:
1.I think the interpretations, just like data and statistics , can be cherry-picked and  skewed in any form we’d like. Let the careers complete and look at the whole body of work before calling someone over or under-rated.
2. PS: I do believe that there are many other players under-rated.
3. Let’s not forget that 10 other players, particularly the bowlers , contribute greatly to the team’s victory.
4. Sehwag eats boogies for dinner.

Part 2 : Viv Vs Sachin

Onto the 2nd part: comparing greats of different eras.

Anup, I definitely like the exchanges between you and cricfiles man. It has been quite eye-opening.  Just to add my Rs 0.02 here , it’s a little tough to compare greats of 2 different eras.  While on the surface of it all, we can quite comfortably say that Bradman was the greatest, Viv was the best, Sachin is a legend ,it’s tough to predict how they would have fared in the other era, and while it may look convenient, it may not be apt to extrapolate their performances about.

While I respect and agree with many of your points about the quality of bowlers from yesteryear, allow me to highlight some of this generation’s challenges:

1. Advent of technology – 2-fold
a. I think we’d agree that with new technology, extreme close-up and slow-mo cameras, statisticians, tacticians and hell even wannabe armchair cricket-analysts like me, the scrutiny on batsmen and bowlers are a LOT more.  In my opinion, this favors the bowlers a little more than you’d think.  A batsman has 1 delivery to get it all wrong and the innings is over, whereas a bowler can recover and get back, and “set-up” a batsman. Techniques, bat-lifts, tendencies can be scrutinized like never before, and the challenge is on the player to rise above all this and continue performing at a high level.
The bowler discipline is a lot more now than before.
Just to throw in a quick tit-bit here, Viv’s record against all teams were great, except 1. He averaged 30.something against Pakistan (nope no Thompson, Lillee and the likes).  Hell, they must have been doing something right eh?  With the technology available today, it could have been analysed to greater degrees and perhaps , just perhaps, there could have been something the great one might have had a weakness against that others could have exploited? I’m just saying…

b. With such extensive media coverage, there’s a lot more mental pressure on players today to perform than players of the past. For every failure, there are 3 guys breathing down your neck. I know it’s a little different for icons like Richards and Sachin. But I think you’d agree that the weight of expectations that Sachin has is much more than what Viv and the players of his era had to carry.

2. Fielding: The fielding standards have gone up quite a few notches for every generation, and with SA and Australia leading the race in the 90s to now,  I think every team has drastically improved in the fielding department.  Non-existent chances then are half chances now, half-chances then are dollies and sitters now.   Sprinting and diving is the norm now, as opposed to  strolling around the boundaries. A team often strategizes to stifle and suffocate the batsmen to go for the big shots.  So much so that even Munaf Patel would look like Jonty Rhodes if placed in the previous era. Ok that wasn’t serious.

3. Amount of cricket: Quite simply put, a lot more cricket is being played now than ever before. How much more you’d ask?
I checked Sachin vs Viv for over their careers, and Sachin seems to have played an average of 1.5 tests and 10 ODIs MORE than Viv ANNUALLY. Now that is a lot more. Remember there’s travel, camps etc involved (this does not include the T20 tournaments etc)

4. Speed Thrills but Kills?
I’d have loved to see Lillee, Thompson and rest of the speed merchants bowl in full swing in this era. But I guess it’s just not possible. But what is it that makes us think that extreme pace in hostile bowling conditions is the all-consuming factor in every argument?  How are we so damn sure that Viv would have not just survived , but flourished against the bamboozling spin of Shane, the repetitive pin-point precision of Mcgrath, and the never-say-die spirit of Kumble, and the genius of Murali?

a. In the list of leading wicket-takers in ODI, I had to go down to Number 19 to find a great from that era- it was Kapil Dev. Lillee was at the very end of a pretty long list, and Thompson did not figure in.
Fine , they play many many more ODIs now.
b. Murali sits alone at the top, with Vaas, Kumble, and Pollock in the top 10. Pace isn’t everything.
c. Lillee took a wicket every 34.2 deliveries. Now that’s good , right? Sure is. But wait, the medium pacer from Australia affectionately mentioned by Anup  equals Lillee (actually betters him by 0.2, but let’s not nit-pick). Saqlain Mustaq, Ntini, Donald,Akhtar, Mills, Bracken, a few more,   and -gasp- AGARKAR(!!!!) had better strike rates!  Now are we over-rating Lillee a bit? Nah, can’t be. He’s a speed demon. The opposition must suck these days , correct?

5. Opposition : I quickly derived the statistics for all major teams (Aus, WI, Eng, Pak, SL, SA, India, NZ) for 2 periods – 1975 to 1991 , and 1989 to 2010. Interestingly, except WI and Eng, ALL teams have improved on their winning % !!! WI, during Viv’s active time period, played only 2 teams with Winning records! Meanwhile, Sachin’s India has played 4 teams with winning records (Pak, SA, SL, Aus).  What have we learned?

a. The playing field has evened out a bit more as time went by
b. Rise of SA and SL as competitive nations with different conditions, bowlers etc. This one’s big ,BIG.

The general attitude towards cricket back then vs now. A 250 + score was considered extremely dangerous. This would even hold true in the 60 over variety!  The batsmen’s approach towards ODIs was vastly different than it is now. A handful of them (viv being right on top) would treat the bowlers with disdain. In the 90s, almost every team had 2-3 batsmen who’d approach the game with that intensive aggression. Tendulkar started it for India.  Now, with Sehwag, Gambhir, Yuvraj etc providing that sort of balance, Sachin’s role is different. He has adapted. WI was a team of superstars. Hell, their team looked like an All World XI.

Conclusion:

1. I am not for a second doubting that Viv was one of the greatest. With the kind of information you backed your arguments with, I’m even forced to think that he could be the perfect ODI batsmen.

2.But to do so by belittling Sachin’s achievements is a tad unfair, don’t you think? Different players, different teams, different opposition, different quality, and hence a different era.

3.I personally think that 15 to 20 years down the line, when the game evolves further, we would still be arguing over this without a common agreement.

4. Opinions are like Assholes. Everyone has one, and most stink 🙂

5. Agarkar can vapourize you.

Thanks for reading that.  I’m ready for the eggs and tomatoes. Throw them gently. Please.

Advertisements