Twenty-four years ago, Sachin Tendulkar made his Test debut. Joe Root was born two years later, and if he matches Tendulkar’s longevity then he will still be playing in 2036. So let me start this article off then by stating that that is some career, and he will automatically be amongst the greatest accumulators of records ever; in fact even if cricket lasts another 200 years I cannot see anyone matching that.
At his best he had no weakness; he cannot be called a home track bully as his record away from home is higher than at home (with significant thanks to Sri Lanka and Bangladesh), and he played some truly great knocks across the globe, against all comers. 11 centuries against Australia – 6 in Australia – during the Golden Generation of McGrath, Warne, Gillespie and Lee speaks for itself.
Of course, the past two years have felt slightly embarrassing to probably not just himself but by extension perhaps to all of cricket – it is never nice to see a great champion struggling against foes who might have been carted 5 years previous.
As the former great wrestles with a dwindling reaction time and a sloppiness when set (his 50 to 100 conversion rate is 8:1 compared to his mindboggling pre-2011 total of 59:50), it became a valid question as to whether the BCCI might one day be forced to push before he walks. Thankfully that little saga has now been put to bed with the news that Sachin will be allowed to notch up his 200th and final cap against the West Indies, a piece of scheduling which conveniently avoids the world’s strongest pace bowling attack.
However there is the feeling that in allowing Sachin to reach a milestone at the expense of a relationship with CSA not to mention the Indian team – surely any other batsman would have been dropped after this current run of form – has devalued his career somehow. So I thought I’d have a look at his ‘year to year’ results to see quite how forgiving the Indian board of selectors have really been.
First of all the juicy bit: the last two years. Across 13 matches and 22 innings, Tendulkar averaged 23.80 in 2012 and 32.11 so far in 2013, giving a combined average of 26.14 in this period.
Now if I quickly create a hypothetical XI of Gambhir, Compton, Hughes, Cowan, Bairstow, M.Hafeez, Haddin, R.Ashwin, Sammy, Starc and Pattinson, they would be a terrible Test cricket side – yet they have all averaged higher than Tendulkar in this period. Of this mystical XI, all but Sammy and Ashwin have been dropped in this timeframe – and they are among the token bowlers I added for hypothetical balance purposes (as you do). Which is why Tendulkar has been mentioned as being seemingly undroppable to the BCCI.
Why has he attained this status? Well, probably because over the previous 20 or so years, he was insanely good. INSANELY GOOD. The caveat being 1995, 2003 and 2006 when he had average years, however across a quarter century period any sportsman will have those little runs where things don’t fall into place and those years are the exceptions which prove the rule: in (deep breath) 1993, 1994, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2010 (breath out) he averaged over 50 in Tests during that calendar year.
The run between 1997 and 2002 (averaging 62.50, 80.87, 68.00, 63.88, 62.58 and 55.68 respectively) was scary and unparalleled. In 1993 and in 2004 he even averaged over 90. In 2010 he hit 7 Test centuries – and if this isn’t a record then it should be. Tendulkar’s numbers have been something from another time, another sport, or another planet. No wonder Indians love him.
What also surprised me is that it took Tendulkar 3 or 4 years to really get going in the Test arena. While I vaguely remember the hype over this 16 year old wunderkind turning out for India, I don’t really remember the initial struggles. He just suddenly appeared to me in the mid 1990s as some form of short, podgy, curly-topped Indian God: flash yet not flashy, and utterly imperious. Yet after three years and thirteen Tests he merely had a solitary century to his name – using my favourite “Welcome to Test cricket” yardstick, Ravi Bopara has played the same amount of Tests and has three to his name.
As Joe Root and Ian Bell will know for England, certain players get given more grace time than others as their faces seem to fit; Tendulkar’s podgy little chops have fit perfectly for India – and they were more than rewarded for their initial perseverance.