Considering he’s been the highest profile player for pretty much the whole time we’ve been following cricket, we’ve missed an awful lot of Sachin Tendulkar’s career.
We went to the match in which he scored his first Test century, but we didn’t see him bat. Then, for a long time afterwards, his innings were broadcast elsewhere and we’d only check in with him once every few years when there was a World Cup or India toured England. Each time this happened, we’d wonder how the hell he managed to average over 50 – not because we didn’t think he was good, but because back then that sort of average meant something.
In more recent years, we’ve seen more of him, but that isn’t to say we’ve always watched closely. Sachin Tendulkar is so massive, such a fixture in cricket, that it never felt vital to watch any particular innings. There would always be another.
He’s never been one for the Brian Lara innings anyway. Not for him extraordinary peaks and troughs. For a man who’s hit more boundaries than anyone, his career is actually defined by accumulation. He’s had dryish spells, certainly, but he’s been playing international cricket for 25 years – that’ll happen. In general, he’s picked up a mid-sized hundred every few innings, regardless of age, opposition or location.
We’ve written before about how Tendulkar’s career is just too much to take in and evaluate. This is the true mark of his genius; that we can have missed the vast majority of his 780 international innings and still be overwhelmed by the information. You can’t boil it all down to a jus and taste it. It is something which can only possibly be consumed over many sittings.
Summing him up
Some career obituaries you read will point to something in particular as summing him up – a particular shot or a particular innings. No. That is entirely missing the point. The point is the sheer breadth of what he’s achieved.
Hardly anyone has been Test standard at 16. Hardly anyone has been Test standard at 40. Tendulkar has been both and more. Between those two already freakish extremes, lies the most freakish achievement of all. He’s excelled at all forms of batting near-constantly against a backdrop of insane expectation.
There are almost infinite scenarios in cricket. Different goals, different formats, different pitches, different bowlers, different fields, different circumstances. You can always find something that needs ticking off, but by any rational measure, Tendulkar has done the job.
This was why we once said that he has been better than Bradman. It was mischievous because we didn’t really mean it as a comparison. It’s just that there’s a temptation to flatter players from the past when imagining what they did or what they would have done had they been around today, whereas Sachin Tendulkar can’t really benefit from this. He’s a known quantity. In 25 years and three formats, he’s come up against a wider variety of challenges than anyone. Mostly, he’s done okay.44 Appeals
Odd that it should be Simon Jones who’s last man standing from that 2005 Ashes-winning bowling attack. Ashley Giles retired so long ago we wrote about it on a different web domain, Matthew Hoggard retired last month and while we saw Andrew Flintoff in Didsbury yesterday looking fitter than he ever did as a cricketer, he called it a day back in 2010.
The 2005 Ashes
Let’s hang everything off that, because that’s what these five players will always be associated with. However, if that series was the focal point, you can best appreciate Harmison’s significance by looking at the build-up – and when we talk about the build-up, we don’t just mean the one-dayers; we mean the years of England improvement leading up to that series.
Harmison made his Test debut against India in 2002. In that match the new ball was taken by Matthew Hoggard and Dominic Cork. These were top bowlers, but they were definitely fast-medium. This was always the way with England. Darren Gough could top 90mph, but it required back-breaking effort and the ball still passed the batsman at a fairly predictable height. Harmison, however, was legitimately terrifying.
His appeal is that simple. Scary England fast bowlers are few and far between. That infamous delivery to second slip means nothing to us, because the letdowns are entirely outweighed by the fact that Harmison could take 7-12 in the Windies. If a bowler can do that, he can do anything and that idea in itself is enough to sustain a cricket fan when times are tough. It keeps you watching and hoping when you’d otherwise have given up on a match.
That last section was entitled ‘the 2005 Ashes’
Yeah, we know. Sometimes it takes a while to get where you’re going. Be patient.
Harmison was at the absolute centre of that 2005 Ashes win. Statistically, that makes no sense because he only took 17 wickets at 32, but cricket is about more than what happens right in front of your eyes on a given day.
More than any other series, that Ashes was defined by the crowd and the crowd’s impact on the players. The people in the stands didn’t know what was going to happen; they only knew what had happened. Steve Harmison was the man who gave them most hope and their hope is what fuelled all of the England players.
If you don’t believe us or your memory’s failing you, look no further than this match from June 2005. This was England’s first one-day international against Australia that summer; against an Australia team which had brushed them aside with consummate ease for as long as anyone cared to remember to be precise. And what did Harmison do?
In his first spell, he dismissed Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn and Matthew Hayden – the first three all in the same over – to reduce Australia to 63-4. He then returned to clean bowl Mike Hussey by way of an encore.
Then there was the Lord’s Test. England bowled and Harmison took five wickets in the first innings, but of far more significance was the hope imbued in a nation by his first spell. Justin Langer was hit on the arm and Hayden took one on the badge of his helmet before Ponting literally shed blood. That mattered. That really, really mattered.
Speaking of blood
Steve Harmison is a man of contrasts who the media never really got to grips with. They said he hated touring and emphasised how much he loved football, giving the impression that he was a reluctant cricketer whose heart wasn’t in it. But yet this is a man who has played on for Durham until he was omitted from the team.
One-time Durham team-mate, Shivnarine Chanderpaul actually uses Harmison as the example when he talks about commitment.
“You see young guys these days get a little hit or a niggle and they stay off the field. I’ve seen Steve Harmison bowling for Durham and then have his socks full of blood when he took them off. I’ve seen him play with a broken hand to win us the Championship.”
But at the same time, this was a man who a bowling coach once said was ‘scared’ while playing for England. It just goes to show that courage and self-doubt are not mutually exclusive.
We sometimes wonder whether Harmison’s lack of confidence stemmed from how he was selected in the first place. Duncan Fletcher was looking for height and pace and Harmison had those qualities. He may have felt like he took a shortcut into the Test team and hadn’t earned his place through hard work. Perhaps he still felt like flavour of the month even after a couple of hundred Test wickets.
Flavour of the month? It was a pretty damn good flavour. He deserves these upcoming clean sock years.5 Appeals
Have you ever been at a funeral where they’ve skipped through the first 80 years of the person’s life before really dwelling on recent history? Half a century of adult life is summed up by counting progeny and then all the eulogy goes on about is how you liked a pint of mild and a game of dominoes.
People can struggle to think of a person in terms of anything other than what happened most recently. Perhaps that’s the way people are conditioned to think about life – like it’s one long progression. From this point of view, you’ve really cracked it near the end. Everything’s fallen into place.
Just to confirm, Matthew Hoggard’s not dead
We get a slight sense of this when reading about Matthew Hoggard now that he’s announced that he will retire at the end of the season. Sporting life moves on frighteningly quickly and even those of us for whom he was such a vital figure may struggle to muster fitting emotions. It’s not like he’s dead. It’s not like he’s even retired yet. He’s still there at Leicestershire, a sort of wishy-washy copy of an outstanding opening bowler with whom we are very familiar; a dilute methadone for an addiction we no longer have.
But this is to miss the point. Sport is primarily about the present with the future a secondary concern, but it’s also worth looking back on the past from time to time to keep yourself honest when you look at what’s happening now.
We are absolutely not going to use the word ‘yeoman’
Even though we just did and even though the word will provide the framework for what we’re about to say.
The perception of Matthew Hoggard was always of a toiler; the kind of cricketer who made the most of his talent (like that’s a crime, rather than part of the job). This always grated with us, even if Hoggard himself tended to play up to it, saying he just whanged the ball down.
That kind of assessment devalues not just Hoggard, but the complexities of cricket itself. He may have bowled about 10mph slower than Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison, but he took more Test wickets at a lower average and with a better strike rate. In fact, in the very earliest days of our cricket writing, we did a short piece about how he was actually a strike bowler.
How did Matthew Hoggard take his wickets?
It wasn’t just by whanging it. It was by whanging it in an obscenely skilful manner. As a conventional English swing bowler, he was a kind of proto-Anderson, but he also developed cutters and reverse swing so that he could take wickets basically anywhere. 6-57 in Nagpur, 7-63 in Christchurch and 7-61 in Johannesburg.
We also wonder whether his achievements have been partly devalued by the fact that he played his cricket in an era when terrible flat pitches were infuriatingly common. His average was forever being compared to those of the previous generation, but now we’ve all kind of come to terms with the fact that a bowling average of around 30 is actually pretty handy (even considering that pitch quality has since improved a bit).
So is that how he should be remembered?
As a hugely skilful bowler who was a vital component in the best England side seen in decades? Yeah, partly, but you need to tack onto that the fact that he had a great attitude.
An example is his batting, which was really bloody ordinary even at the point at which he retired from Test cricket. However, it took extraordinary effort for him to improve it to ‘really bloody ordinary’ and it takes a special kind of character to put in the hours with such minimal obvious reward.
Vindication came with a jarringly dreamy cover drive as England stuttered towards a win in the 2005 Trent Bridge Test. That moment summed him up for us. Without knowing the background, it was just a tail-ender hitting a four. But if you’d followed his career and the painfully slow development of his batting, you’d see it as the low key culmination of something special.14 Appeals
What happens to Mike Hussey’s nickname now? Can you call someone Mr Cricket if their job is to inspect construction projects to confirm they comply with building regulations? We’re assuming that’s the kind of thing Mike Hussey will do after retiring – something dull that will allow him to be irritatingly officious.
He’s been a surprisingly good international cricketer though – he’ll always have that. People don’t generally remark on Hussey’s record that much because there’s always been a feeling that he was going to have a brief, statistically freakish Test career after only being capped at the age of 30. However, he’s actually hung about to the point where he’s played 78 Tests (it’ll be 79 if he doesn’t contract pleurisy or something before the New Year Test).
To put his career in perspective, only eight Englishmen have ever scored more than his 19 Test hundreds and he’s managed to average over 50 in a side that has frequently been utterly toss. He should probably get extra points for that. Unlike some of his predecessors, he’s actually had to do some bloody work rather than just mincing his way towards declarations.
Hussey also carved himself a highly unlikely short format career as a ‘finisher’. It’s quite a CV. Hopefully that will count for something when he’s job hunting next month. Bet he’s picked out his interview tie already.12 Appeals
Take a look at this face. Tell us you don’t instantly hate that face. You could pretty accurately track the progress of Ricky Ponting’s career by our opinion of his face at various points in time.
It started badly. He made his first Test hundred in his first Ashes innings after Australia had been 50-4, so basically there was a strong desire for smug smile removal from the outset. However, it wasn’t until around 2005 or 2006 that we wanted to plant our fist in his face with the most force.
Was the 2005 Ashes the turning point?
We can’t quite work it out. He’d hit six hundreds in 18 innings in 2003, en route to a higher plane of obnoxiousness and he arrived in England in 2005 with us feeling much the same about him. Looking back, we’re aware that the more Ponting’s Australia lost, the more we warmed to him, but we’re not entirely convinced this phenomenon was really all that noticeable following this series.
Maybe the first intimations of likeable qualities had been identified, but it can’t have meant much as it was only a year later that England were mullered in Australia. This was also when Ponting’s batting average reached its peak of 59.99 after scoring 142 in that bloody Adelaide Test.
Ricky Ponting’s batting average
Let’s try and forget just how fantastically irritating Ricky Ponting could be for a minute and instead consider that average. He retires with an average of 52.21, which is amazing, but leaves him immediately behind Mohammad Yousuf and with a fair few others above him. Had he retired in 2006, he would have been fifth. Crucially, he would also have played 53 Tests more than the most capped player above him.
That speaks of astonishingly prolonged consistency. That Adelaide hundred was his seventh of 2006 in eight Tests up until that point. Make no mistake, Ricky Ponting is a driven and extremely talented man.
Then he went downhill a bit. Like many great batsmen, he probably had more confidence in himself than was actually warranted. That protective delusion is what gets them through the tough times, but it’s also what can keep them hanging around, oblivious to the fact that everyone’s enthusiastically clouding the vicinity with liberal quantities of Febreze.
This is when he won us over a bit though. He was a captain and a player who’d never really encountered tough times before, cricket-wise, and it was admirable to see that he wasn’t a shirker.
His limitations as a captain were being exposed and his batting was deteriorating, but in a way this highlighted other qualities. The man is resilient and he feels a sense of duty. He’s also fairly plain-speaking and honest and he loves cricket.
So, it turns out Ricky Ponting isn’t a complete tool. It’s just that he managed to keep this fact concealed from us for the first 14 years of his career.
Some more stuff about Ricky Ponting
Here are some links that we can’t be bothered working into the main text. Don’t feel you have to read them, but they might be welcome if you’re avoiding doing work.
- Something about him whinging at umpires
- Something about his stint as captain
- More about why we admire his batting
Andrew Strauss retires from cricket. If Nasser Hussain was ‘do as I say’ and Michael Vaughan was ‘relax and play how you want’ then Strauss was ‘for Christ’s sake, don’t do anything silly’.
He was a bit establishment for our tastes and his interviews were even more bland and predictable than his on-field decisions, but people involved with the England team rate him highly and they know him better than we do. There’s also the simple fact that England won a great many matches under his captaincy and that is, after all, the entire point.
The Ashes victory in Australia was clearly the high point, but he also ensured England were all but unbeatable at home during his tenure. That changed this summer and this is significant. It’s hard to avoid the sense that everything’s kind of falling to pieces at the minute. Many have pointed out that few captains leave on a high, but there have been smoother handovers. Cook finds himself with a great deal of work to do.
In many ways this is a further test of Strauss’s captaincy. The on-field stuff’s finished, but the long-term planning for which he is so well-regarded will continue to come under scrutiny. The succession-planning has already given England their next captain, so that bit’s better than usual. However, set against that is the fact that the team are losing and have lost a major player because they couldn’t find a way of getting on with him.
This isn’t to nitpick. It’s just to point out that long-term planning isn’t a matter of aiming for an Ashes series and clapping yourself on the back if you win it. If you’re an England captain, it also involves ensuring the house isn’t a complete shit-tip for the next tenant.
We’re disappointed at the nature of his exit, because the drama and goodwill that ensues masks failings and means he doesn’t have to answer for the side’s deterioration over the last year. However, overall, we are very happy with Andrew Strauss’s performance as England captain. We’ll give him a B+44 Appeals
Test bowling average v England: 40.61 – what’s not to like?
Yes, it’s one of those weird statistics, but Brett Lee actually wasn’t all that destructive in the Ashes. There was theatre and tension every time he came onto bowl, but all that happened was that the batsman thought: “Ooh, something’s happening here. Better sharpen up.” Maybe the adrenaline helped them cope.
Because there was adrenaline for all of us. That was Brett Lee’s main attribute: he was undeniably a fast bowler. He was skilful, yes, but pace was his defining quality. Not the half-arsed, fly-by-night, four-over pace of a Shaun Tait, either. This wasn’t gym muscles pace. It was sustained pace borne of athleticism and that weird mentality found in only true fast bowlers.
Fast bowling isn’t just about speed. It’s about scaring people. It’s about looking like you’re genuinely trying to hurt them and sometimes succeeding. It’s also about sacrificing your own body to achieve that aim. Fast bowlers have a primal blood lust that monopolises their minds and all other thoughts and considerations cease to exist when they run in to bowl.
Fast bowling is amazing. Simply handing the ball to someone like Brett Lee in the middle of a sleepy afternoon session is enough for people to put the newspaper down and start watching. Fast bowlers bring corners and U-turns to predictable narrative, so you HAVE to pay attention.
If you can be a fast bowler, provide all of that and yet not actually do all that much to help Australia win the Ashes, you are absolute gold.14 Appeals
When someone retires, people are generally supposed to focus on that person’s attributes and this has been particularly true for Mark Boucher after his career was ended by a horrendous incident where a bail cut his eyeball. However, here at King Cricket we don’t have all that much lyrical waxation for Mark.
It’s not that we don’t like him or don’t rate him, because we do. It’s just that from our perspective his career has been characterised by low-key solidity and visible effort. We found him worthy and committed, but not especially eye-catching at any one moment.
We remember him best for the lesson he taught us about English wicketkeepers. His first tour to England was in 1998 and his wicketkeeping was bloody awful. It occurred to us afterwards that if he’d had to play half his matches in England, he’d have been dropped very early on in his career. This is a man who ended up with 999 international dismissals, so maybe we judge English wicketkeepers too harshly in what are trying conditions.
As a batsman, he was reasonable, but with the priceless quality of always appearing to be doing his absolute best. Having people like that in the opposition gives a match integrity and status. That is vital for spectators, so thanks for that Mark, and we do hope you recover okay.19 Appeals
We long ago had our say about whether Mark Ramprakash could have been an England great if he’d been treated differently. Our stance is: ‘Well maybe, but that don’t change owt’.
Today, for once, we’d like to focus on what he DID achieve, because that was pretty extraordinary. Scoring 2,000 runs in a season again and again and hitting a hundred first-class hundreds. Batsmen like that don’t come around too often. Mark Ramprakash should be lauded without reservation.
Competing in a different event
If you look upon county cricket as being something separate, rather than being a step below Test cricket, then Ramprakash is all but peerless. We’re aware that view doesn’t entirely stack up, but at the same time, there are plenty of Test greats who couldn’t achieve what he did.
There’s a big difference between hitting an immaculate cover drive and compiling a century and there’s a similar gap in achievement between hitting 30 first-class hundreds and 114. The latter takes astonishing durability, endurance and relentlessness – not to mention a certain level of outright superiority for an extended span of time.
Mark Ramprakash hit two Test hundreds, but that was kind of a bonus. Hats off to one of county cricket’s greatest batsmen.13 Appeals
Looking through the archives, we’ve written surprisingly little about Rahul Dravid. Many of his best innings predate the site and also – partly as a result of that – we’ve always just assumed that everyone knew how good he was.
They call him The Wall. It’s meant as a compliment, but it misses the point. Walls do a job, but they’re unremarkable and limited. You can paint them and dress them in wallpaper, but they basically do just one thing. If Rahul Dravid was just a guy in a helmet playing immaculate forward defensives, he would never have hit 13,000 Test runs and 10,000 one-day international runs.
Dravid provided one of our formative cricket-watching experiences, if there is such a thing. It was a 1999 World Cup match against Sri Lanka when he and Sourav Ganguly shared a ludicrous partnership that took India from 6-1 to 324-2. Dravid was run out at that point and Ganguly then started hitting sixes to reduce Dravid’s 145 to ‘support act’ status. That was so often the case. Best bridesmaid ever.
Dravid could do things that no-one else could do. When it comes to batting averages, not every innings is equal. The last year or so of his Test career shows this as well as anything. There was a hundred in tough batting conditions in the Windies and then three in England against some very, very good bowling. He got his fair share of double hundreds, but his Test average of 52.31 was built on innings where the value was greater than the numbers might make you think.
At Nottingham, some of his singles required more skill and timing than 99 per cent of the boundaries that we see and with the going tougher than old biltong, they were arguably worth more too. It was batting for cricket connoisseurs: skill, experience, dexterity and intelligence changing people’s perception of what was possible in that situation.
His 146 not out at The Oval – carrying his bat as a stand-in opener – was almost as impressive in its own way. Faced with an England first innings score of 591-6, Dravid’s fellow Indian batsmen were showing all the resilience of a spaghetti portcullis. That can be infectious, but Dravid not only refused to get out, he showed younger team mates precisely how much better a batsman could be.
Just a Test cricketer?
There’s a case for saying that Rahul Dravid has as much batting experience as any player in history. There are batsmen who’ve played more Tests, but his career has also coincided with the era of the one-day international and the rise of Twenty20 (in which he has held his own).
It’s hard to imagine there’s a situation in cricket that he hasn’t faced. 120 to win, three wickets in hand, cloudy conditions, fifth day pitch, left-arm quick round the wicket? Yep, been there. 15-overs to go, run-rate eight-an-over, flat pitch, 40 degrees, finger-spinner, field spread? Yep, been there too. Been everywhere. Seen everything. Know what to do.
Maybe this is why it’s time to go. It’s great for fans to have a barometer of class; a tool which allows them to gauge how well everyone else is batting; but what does Rahul Dravid get out of playing on? We reckon he could bounce back from a poor tour of Australia, but why bother? He’s 40 soon and there’s virtually nothing left for him to see or do as a cricketer.
He’s smart as hell and speaks better and more thoughtfully than most people on earth – maybe he can set the standard in some other way. We’ll still miss him though.20 Appeals