(Published on Sept 5, 2002)
Is Sachin Tendulkar a better batsman than Sir Donald Bradman? Probably not. Is it important? No, Tendulkar doesn’t have to play against an Australian team brandishing Bradman.
What really counts is that Tendulkar is the best batsman of his era; slightly better than Brian Lara and comfortably ahead of Steve Waugh or any other frontline batsman. The only player who currently matches Tendulkar for consistently destroying attacks is Adam Gilchrist and it’s unfair to compare him with someone who bats in the middle order and can fall back on his wicketkeeping to retain his place in the side.
Nevertheless, it’s batsmen like Tendulkar, Lara and Gilchrist who keep opposing captains awake at night -- players who can carve up attacks and do it for prolonged periods. Those players can quickly change the course of a match but unfortunately for Tendulkar and Lara, so often they still finish on the losing side because their team’s bowlers lack penetration.
There was a time after Lara scored his magnificent 277 at the SCG in 1992-93 when I felt the left-hander was marginally superior to Tendulkar.
Both were adventurous and skilful players who could carve up opposition bowlers but Lara tended to do it with a greater degree of safety. Lara didn’t hit a six in that marathon display at the SCG but nowadays he attempts to hit bowlers over the top regularly.
That, and Lara’s inability to harness his mind on a regular basis have resulted in his fall from grace but when he does fully utilise his powers of concentration, as he did against Australia in 1998-99 and Sri Lanka in 2001-02, he’s still as formidable as Tendulkar.
However, Tendulkar has handled his fame with great equanimity and on the odd occasion when his mind has wavered on the field, he’s quickly been able to re-focus with dramatic effect.
There’s no better example than his recent century at Headingley, which came at a time when people were starting to wonder whether his career had reached the summit and was on the downhill journey.
His concentration was superb at Headingley and it was an innings spiced with the right amount of determination and flair. To top it off, that innings wasn’t played in vain as India went on to win the match and square the series, which must have given the highly competitive Tendulkar great satisfaction.
The finest innings I’ve seen the little maestro play was at Chennai in 1998 when Sachin won a battle with Shane Warne, which resulted in a famous Indian victory.
This was a classic case of two champions going into battle against one another with the result of the game hinging on the outcome.
Tendulkar had prepared for this moment by practicing against former Indian leg-spinner Laxman Sivaramakrishnan bowling into specially prepared ‘rough’ in the nets. He was ready when Warne came around the wicket and dispatched the leg-spinner with ferocious power through and over the on-side.
Warne had to alter the thrust of his attack but Tendulkar had gained the upper hand. By the time Tendulkar had raced to 155 not out, the game was virtually won and all that remained was for the bowlers to complete mopping up operations.
This was a perfect example of the value of a counterattack and there is no better exponent in the modern game than the mighty Mumbai midget.
The fact that Tendulkar has handled fame so well and has maintained an attacking outlook throughout a long career is a tribute to not only his skill but also his wonderfully alert mind. He’s certainly had to cope with more than Bradman when it comes to the weight of expectation of his fans and the globalisation of the modern game.
In his career Bradman only had to acclimatise to 10 different venues (five at home and five in England) while Tendulkar has played at 49 different grounds in all 10 Test playing countries.
Ironically Tendulkar’s 100th Test is at the ground where Bradman failed to score in his final innings when needing only a boundary to average a hundred in his remarkable career.
Tendulkar’s momentous occasion will afford him the rare opportunity of a triumph over Bradman.