One debate which is always followed by both cricket experts and cricket lovers alike is over who is the greatest batsman in the world. The arguments are based on various factors and records, both in Test and One Day International Cricket.
The debate compares a number of figures- most runs scored, most centuries & fifties, batting under pressure, winning more matches, playing under difficult situations, pitch & bowlers – so on and so forth. The debate, however, got a new twist a little while ago, when one of the cricketing greats, Ricky Ponting said that he ranked Brian Lara aboveTendulkar as far as winning matches were concerned.
The greats like Sir Garry Sobers, Vivian Richards, Allan Border, and Jack Hobbs were always among the best batsman in their era. In modern cricket, the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Steve Waugh, Brian Lara, Saeed Anwar and Ricky pointing are the chosen few who deserve to be called among the best in the world. To many experts, Tendulkar is the best in the current era. According to one expert, Tendulkar is the pinnacle of cricket. Be it the highest run scorer, most hundreds and fifties, winning more matches for the team or any other factor. Not only does he carry his team’s main batting responsibility but also carries with great poise, the expectations of billions of his fans.
Despite the possibility of technical biases in ranking formulations, Tendulkar is the only batsman in Wisden’s All Time World’s Best Batsmen list, ranking second in both formats of the game – Test and ODI. Brian Lara doesn’t appear in the test ranking, but holds fifth position in ODIs. Even latest statistics on the comparative performance of both players indicate that Tendulkar is ahead in wining matches for his country, contrary to what was stated by Ponting. Test statistics have shown the West Indian Cricket team winning 24.42 per cent of their matches in Lara’s presence, while in presence of Tendulkar, the Indian Cricket team has won 35.35 per cent of the matches they played.
On a performance basis, Lara’s contribution to his side’s victories have been 24.50 per cent of his total Test runs (11953) while Tendulkar’s contribution of 37.01 per cent of his total career runs of 15837 has benefited India.
Fifty three out of the hundred centuries Tendulkar has scored were scored in matches that India won. Twenty of his fifty one Test centuries have helped India win – which comes to 39.01 per cent; while in Lara’s case, West Indies won only eight matches of his thirty four Test hundreds (23.52 per cent).
In a majority of calculations, Tendulkar lies ahead of Lara as far as statistics is concerned.
Brown Shelton, an economist has written a very interesting comparison between batsmen of different eras. He says that while bowling and fielding skills have improved over time, the best batting averages have proportionally declined. He clarifies that this does not imply poorer batting skills. His statistical argument actually measures batting skill in relation to bowling and fielding skills, the latter of which have improved over time.
What does the above mean especially when we sit down to compare batsmen across time ? It means that there is possibility of bias batsmen of the old era (till 1970s) are compared to modern cricketers. It also implies that comparing batsmen is problematic when done in isolation, unless and until we consider other factors like the fielding and bowling performance of the team, which is almost always beyond statistical analysis.
Clearly there is a problem comparing batsmen belonging to a different period in time and cricketing history. The class, the act, the temperament, the condition and various other configurations play an important role in deciding how a batsman will perform on a particular day.
The debate over Lara may end some day, but history and his performance has put Tendulkar in a place where he will always be compared with other cricketers. Our rational thinking and excessive statistical analysis prohibits us from enjoying the real beauty of the batsman. Fans obsessed with world cups, wins, records cannot see the pleasure that his batting brings – it is a sport – it is an art, and it should be enjoyed as that. There is little sense in comparing two greats like Tendulkar and Lara.
By: Gaurav Kumar