By Sanjay Jha
( To understand realistically , without pride or prejudice , who is the greatest cricketer of all time between Sachin Tendulkar and Don Bradman , we may have to dig deep into history. And World War II).
If he was to maintain the legendary Don Bradman’s career-closing average of 99. 94 , then by the end of the Centurion Park Test match against South Africa the great Sachin Tendulkar should have scored 28,582 Test runs. Let me repeat, 28, 582 . A rather tall task, you will concede. Even if the expected counter-argument is articulated that Bradman’s own average would have at least somewhat bottomed out in the December of his career , and is reluctantly accepted ( especially given the towering, ageing Tendulkar’s (37) extraordinary flourish in 2009-10), you can still well imagine the colossal challenge of reaching that near- insurmountable feat. In a way, that simple fact encapsulates the precipitous pits and snake-chambers we encounter when comparing Don Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar. Comparisons aren’t just odious here , they are self-destructive, suicidal.
Bradman averages an astonishing century every 2.76 innings compared to Tendulkar’s 5.75. By Bradman’s mind-boggling yardstick and hundred-hit rate by now Sachin should have scored 103 centuries ! Even remotely possible? Once again, a hard cold statistical interplay. Those who are screaming hoarse of Sachin’s ODI records are comparing apples with apricots as it is frankly totally irrelevant; our only fair barometer is the five-day Test match cricket. I am deliberately making this particular analysis a cruel steel-gray numbers game, because it is that alone which has propelled this enthusiastic discourse on who is the “ real” greatest? Such mathematical permutations usually overlooks the trauma of the Great global depression, social insecurity , rising joblessness and overall national despair that Bradman encountered. Or the billion nervous hearts that constantly prays for a miraculous turnaround from the same square shoulders , time after time after time, that Tendulkar experiences. Some things are too nebulous to be measurable.
Those who have ridiculed Bradman’s mammoth achievements as being mostly accomplished against England alone make an outrageous error which can be excused charitably as “grossly amateurish” , as it understates his wondrous achievements. England and Australia dominated cricket like perhaps Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal rule tennis today. Actually, Bradman was being repeatedly tested against his tallest peers, no namby-pamby minnows awaiting a sacrificial slaughter ! His awesome averages in the few Tests that he played against India and South Africa are testimony to what was his unexploited skills on different continents against weaker adversaries . Had he perhaps played against relatively phlegmatic teams, the record books would have been further pulverized in a bloody- red. That 72% of his runs ( 5028 ) were scored against England , then competing with Australia for world-supremacy actually is a manifestation of his impeccable mastery over difficult and determined opponents, and as it turned out to be , dangerous rivals. Enter Bodyline!
The highly explosive , controversial Bodyline series besides its planned brutality with the red cherry was a symbolic reflection of the destructive disposition of one doughty man, the impact of a solitary individual , one almost-infallible batsman on the fortune of the entire Ashes series itself, a bitter and intense rivalry across continents. Cricket has rarely witnessed such comprehensive, thorough dominance of a single player on match results like Bradman. Douglas Jardine and Harold Larwood may have led a successful body assault, but the man was to hit back later. Vivian Richards, Gary Sobers, Adam Gilchrist, Sachin, Shane Warne and Virender Sehwag are amongst those dreaded annihilators who have caused many a sleepless nights in opposition beds in similar vein. But Bradman was in a league beyond definition. Description. Debate.
Sachin Tendulkar is indisputably the world’s most outstanding batsman-cricketer of the post-war era.. Besides his unquestionable masterful brilliance and remarkable unflagging focus, his sheer physical endurance and mental strength over two decades of frenzied public and media scrutiny makes Tendulkar our rock of Gibraltar, an insuperable spirit, a deep moving inspiration to a billion hopefuls. Statistics can never appreciate some human intangibles. When Tendulkar leaves cricket, that is the day “ other sports” in India will really get a sneaking opportunity to grab those elusive eyeballs.
To understand Bradman’s greatness, however, , it is germane to compare two 5ft 7” Australians who by an uncanny coincidence suffered a similar predicament during the heydays of their career. First, Rod Laver . In 1962, Laver made his first true-blue sweep of all four Grand Slam tournaments. For the next seven years, Laver did not get an opportunity of official recognition of title ownership and his personal greatness till the tennis administrators granted the game a professional status in 1969. Seven long years indeed! Laver returned in 1969 to recapture that unique distinction of his impregnable authority on all four Grand Slams all over again in one of modern sport’s greatest unmatched accomplishments by far. Despite winning a record 16 Grand Slams Roger Federer has still to achieve a single Grand Slam , and in all probability, now may not ever be able to do so. What then could have been Laver’s total tally if all those “lost” years were counted where his overwhelming suzerainty , in fact, was strongly entrenched in the playing circuit between 1962-69 ? Of the 28 Grand Slam tournaments that he missed, he could have on a conservative estimate won 14 of them. Thus, his final tally could have been around 25 Grand Slam titles! So who is the GOAT? Federer or Laver? It’s the same principle which applies to the two great Dons of cricket as well. Let us see why.
Comparisons do make for fantastic readable copy, and has the salutary impact of forcing some unfortunately infrequent but interesting revelations. In comparing the two mighty titans, most analysts and of-course our own die-hard patriotic brigade have overlooked the crucial factor, or at best have just deliberately given it a cursory mention ; Don Bradman , like Laver , did not play his favorite international competitive sport for a staggering seven years ,and that too in the prime of his professional career . The unplanned extended break was on account of the evil global designs and insatiable military ambitions of a certain Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler. The World War II resulted in a forced hiatus that rudely interrupted what looked like a solitary man’s unstoppable triumphant conquest and cricket’s domination. . It is for you to contemplate what possibly could have been Bradman’s accumulated treasure-chest of runs if the world was not plunged in international conflict.
Like Laver, after seven years of unavoidable isolation Bradman returned at the end of World War II to lead a team called The Invincibles to a 4-0 whitewash of England in what is considered an epic team on a mission. His own brilliant performance during that period are what makes for nostalgic story-telling in the haloed corridors of the game’s history. What would have been Bradman’s untested heroics had the world been politically serene during those 2400 odd days ? We can safely conjecture that the man would have plundered abundant riches from his numerous peregrinations to different cricket grounds. I leave the numbers speculation to you.
The answer to who is the greatest between Sachin and Bradman lies in those 7 lost years. And those 28, 582 runs. After Bradman, the debate should only be about who is the second greatest. And that without an iota of doubt is the incredible Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
I rest my case.
Happy New Year!