Continuing to miss Sachin Tendulkar

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Sachin Tendulkar playing cricket

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.

Sachin Tendulkar scoring a very small proportion of the runs he made

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.


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  1. In terms of late career rocks for Australia we had Alan Border then Steve Waugh. I’ll pull together the figures in the next few days but in my opinion like Ponting (insert obligatory “even though they a legends of the game”) Tendulkar stayed a season or two long.
    As my own shitty club career reaches the end of it’s shelf life I’ve been thinking about this, can a bad couple of seasons when you should go but just hang on for grim death diminish your otherwise sterling career?

    1. The oft-cited defence in recent days has been what the younger batsmen might have learned from his being in the same team as them during that time. Impossible to quantify, but it is worth a mention. Coaching isn’t quite the same thing.

  2. I think the numerous articles that site a memory of a shot sort of do Sachin a disservice. Think of Ponting, you think of the pull shot. Think of Lara, you think of the outrageous backlift and a smash through the offside. But for me, there is nothing like that for Tendulkar. He simply played every shot better than I could ever imagine playing it. I’d rather watch Lara, but its that which makes Tendulkar better than the rest (of people I have actually seen anyway).

    On that note, I have seen 4 days of test cricket (live) involving Tendulkar over 3 series. In 3 of those, England have batted all day. In the other, I spent most of the day watching Ganguly get a load after Tendulkar was out for sod all in the morning. Never mind.

    1. I do believe his straight drive resulted in involuntary ejaculations by men (and sometimes women) in commentary boxes throughout his career.

  3. I saw him once. England were batting at the oval so didn’t see him bat.

    Did see him bowl though and he got KP out.

  4. In my search for understanding and stats, I was attracted to the following stats page on cricket archive:

    What it tells us is that Sachin scored multiple hundreds and multiple fifties against absolutely everyone…

    …except Bangladesh…

    …against whom he didn’t even once score an unconverted fifty. Mind you, he did score five hundreds against them, only played them in seven matches and averaged over 130. Still, no fifties.

    So, in summary, “mostly Sachin Tendulkar has done OK, except in the matter of scoring fifties against Bangladesh. The evidence suggests that he was utterly useless at doing that.”

    1. This also strengthens my feeling that India missed a trick by inviting the Windies, who didn’t seem to show any great interest in being there, rather than Bangladesh.

      Sachin clearly still had a point to prove re the Banglas and getting that fifty. And it’s one of cricket’s greatest unfairnesses that Bangladesh have never been invited for a Test tour of India. They would have been well up for it, which improves the cricketing spectacle.

      I figure a part of the Board’s calculus was “how to maximise the probability of a Sachin century, while retaining sufficient Brand Value of opponent to not demean any century so scored”. The Windies brought some rather legacy reputation, and a couple of players good enough to secure historic name-recognition (handily in the batting department, but not so threatening with the ball). But they’re a team for whom Test cricket looks on the way out, and I fear one day cricket statistics will get little stars by them in the manner of (*excluding Tests against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh) but with a more Caribbean flavour.

      Bangladesh are a team on the up, have had some good results lately, and within a few decades their fever for the sport and sheer population will let them bed in as cricketing superpowers. In time, people will forget exactly when it was that they made the transition from hopeless to pretty good – similarly, plenty of English players have Test statistics flattered from playing the early South African teams, that we rarely bother mentally discounting. If Sachin had had the chance to terminate unfinished business with that farewell half-century against Bangladesh, maybe in 20 years time kids would look at the record books and say WOW, SACHIN WAS SO GOOD THAT HE EVEN STRUCK A FARWELL HALF-CENTURY AGAINST THE BANGLADESH TIGERS, OH HOW I WISH TO EMULATE SUCH FEATS.

  5. His career wasn’t always defined by accumulation. For the first 8 or 9 years of his career, he was very explosive; perhaps not as consistent as he became later but definitely the most aggressive batsman around. He used to get a some gentle stick for it, too – for “having two shots to every ball and then getting out playing the third.”

    1. We weren’t describing his batting when we used the word ‘accumulation’. Every innings was different and he certainly was far more aggressive in approach in his youth, but take a step back and there was a steady accumulation of hundreds.

      Steady hundred-scoring does not imply steady batting – that’s what we were driving at.

  6. With Rohan here, he got 52 of his hundreds in 1996-2002, when he was well nigh unstoppable. Solid piece though 🙂 as an aside, he has more ODI five-fors than Warne, Imran, Steyn, Holding, Botham, and Marshall (courtesy Zaltzman) Greatest ODI batsman ever? Only Viv has a claim. But what a player. India weeps today.

    1. See above – we weren’t referring to his batting – but reading it back, that isn’t at all clear. Bad writing on our part. Sorry.

      It was a reference to the ‘peaks and troughs’ of Lara’s career. Lara hit higher highs, but he also had spells of poor form. Part of Sachin’s genius is that all things considered he was pretty much always cranking out hundreds. Yes, it’s possible to point to leaner spells, but Jesus, there were bound to be dryish patches. The point is they were astonishingly rare and generally not all that dry.

      He maintained uncommonly high standards even at his worst during a freakishly long career. This is probably what we’re trying to highlight.

  7. of course, bowing out against a feebly-undercooked west indies side that didn’t really want to be there was entirely appropriate, right?

    if the BCCI were hoping to give him the best possible chance of going out with a ton… it still didn’t work. maybe they should have invited bangladesh instead..?

    @ ameya – why is india weeping? wouldn’t it be more fitting to celebrate him?

  8. Of course we are celebrating him, check out the pictures, like really. But we lost a hero today, and they are in short supply. It would be very difficult to put into words what Sachin meant to a billion people for over 2 decades. He inspired a generation into becoming world beaters. Ask any of the Indian diaspora doing great work and earning big money abroad, what he means to them, and you’d get a big grin followed by a lengthy elaboration of what I just said. In India, his deeds transcend cricket and seem to reflect, even harbinger, the rise of India. India weeps because we know it was something special, and we’d never see anything like it again, not in the foreseeable future anyway.

  9. I saw him bat live on only one day, but it was the entire day, when he accumulated a shed load of runs with VVS at the SCG against a top-rate bowling lineup featuring Brett Lee and, err, Brad Williams and Nathan Bracken. From memory, he was in a bit of a rut so decided to not play half of his shots. Needless to say, I am not as big a Sachin fan as some, possibly also affected by the fact that I got the worst sunburn in my entire life.

    1. Nathan Bracken was a pretty good bowler, mate. I wish I was there at the SCG that day.

  10. Now that the hype and craziness surrounding his retirement is over, Ive got to say Ill really miss watching Sachin bat.

    He always turnied it into a battle with the bowler and the opposition captain, using minor adjustments in stance, shots employed, level of aggression and more to “win”. Brilliantly cerebral stuff, and of course the batting genius to pull it off.

    Essentially, a testament to the art of batting and how it is possible to deal with almost any situation using a conventional batting technique. I hope he is remembered more for this than just being India’s cultural icon.

    1. For sure history will remember him first and foremost as a great cricketer.

      The history of your fascinating and fast-changing country will continue to move on apace, Uday, with Sachin’s iconic part on the recent era rapidly becoming a paragraph, sentence and ultimately footnote in the history.

      Whereas in cricket history, I suspect that there will be very few who will replicate or exceed Sachin’s achievements. The game has changed such that it is nigh-on impossible to imagine a young genius of a player today being able to keep going in the whirly-burly of modern cricket for 24 years.

      Nearly 16,000 test runs, over 18,000 ODI runs, 100 international hundreds…those are almost as unlikely to be repeated as the Bradman 99.94 batting average.

    2. ……till Deep Cower has a son, who shall be experimented upon and genetically engineered to break all batting records. He shall be taught the proper batting stance before he learns how to walk. He shall be denied food, and as he wails in misery, the proper cover-driving technique would be whispered in his ears. He shall grow up into a fine, well-oiled machine to make bowlers tremble. Much like that Russian fellow in Rocky.

  11. I saw him bat in the nets once, from about 15-20 meters away. On the tour to NZ about 10 years ago, they had a warm-up game against an invitation XI at Lincoln University. There were a couple of security people around, but basically no-one other than the players and a few other students to get in the way.

    I ditched lectures and sat on a wall for an hour while he dispatched the local club bowlers without ever looking like he was even aware they were bowling at him. Then it started raining.

    I gave on on lectures for the rest of the day & went to the pub, cause it felt like the right thing to do.

    1. We’ll gloss over the fact that that probably also happened on days when you hadn’t seen Sachin Tendulkar batting. A good story always deserves a happy ending.

  12. We define ‘good’ as ‘made the difference between winning and losing in test matches over and over again’. In that context, Tendulkar simply wasn’t that good a player.

    He piled up runs primarily for himself, not for his country. His teammates, far from being inspired by him, hid behind him. If his name hadn’t been Tendulkar, he would have been dropped years ago.

    Give us Graham Gooch, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Graham Thorpe, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Daniel Vettori, David Boon or countless others, any day, before Tendulkar. He wouldn’t make it into our all-time world 4th XI.

    1. People say this kind of thing a lot, but it’s not so cut and dried.

      He scored almost 6,000 runs at an average of 61.93 in Indian Test victories, making 20 hundreds in the process. Another 20 hundreds came in draws (although how many of those gained India a draw and how many were scored in matches which would have been drawn anyway is a pertinent point).

      In one-dayers, it’s clearer cut. 33 of his 49 hundreds came in Indian victories and being as he tended to open, you can argue he won a great many of those games for his team.

    2. Well-statted, KC! (see what I did there?)

      Jeffy — you are clearly parroting “popular” opinion that’s clearly wrong. I used to think that way too, but if you look closely, Sachin is perhaps one of the biggest match-winners around.

    3. KC and DC

      Thanks for taking the trouble to reply, appreciated. I sympathise with your comments.

      I offered no evidence for my original point of view, because it is simply ill-informed prejudice built on watching cricket on the telly and occasionally at the ground for the whole 24 years he played tests. I missed loads of games, especially more recently when the number of tests exploded. It is true I have heard others say the same point, and I have heard it refuted in similar terms to KC.

      I don’t think the point is possible (or at least easy) to prove or falsify. Lots of these games were in India, obviously, where runs are worth less than they are in other parts of the world. He may have piled up runs in games India were going to win anyway, like Ian Bell did with his 180 odd last summer. I couldn’t say as it is just a feeling.

      He may have done almost anything in one day cricket, I wouldn’t know or care. Those matches are forgotten a day or two after they are played. A year later no one can even remember who was playing who.

      Mention the names of some of the players in my original comment and I think ‘matchwinner’. I don’t think that for Tendulkar.


    4. It’s not Tendulkar’s fault that the rest of the team was crap for years.

      WI only won 32 of Lara’s 131 Tests and he doesn’t get the same criticism.
      (oddly, Lara averaged 71 in matches WI drew and ‘only’ 61 in matches WI won).

      That said, I thought ODIs didn’t matter, KC?

    5. That list of players does have a gritty, second innings, up-against-it quality to it, but you also want players to set matches up for you in the first place, which is maybe more Tendulkar’s niche.

  13. Sorry, that should have been Joe Root, obviously. I won’t say anything more or I will subtract even more credibility from myself

  14. People make the same point about Lara but I’m not sure it was justified. E.g. his performance in the 1999 series against Australia was absolutely phenomenal. He piled up runs unnecessarily as well at other times, to be fair.

  15. Jeffy — no run is unnecessary unless you’re absolutely certain the game is heading to a draw. Tendulkar did not start as a ‘pile-upper’ – he started out as an audacious batsman playing his shots and getting out. He had to transition to someone who needed to score heavily because there was absolutely no one else who would do it. Consider for a moment that there were times Manoj Prabhakar opened the batting for India. Such was the state of affairs. Around the time Azharuddin started fading, the onus was on Sachin to score big.

    Though I am not going to look up the stats, I will strongly dispute your statement that Boon, Thorpe, Vettori, and Gooch were better match winners than Tendulkar. Or even Shiv for that matter, mainly because WI never win. If Sachin doesn’t make it into your World XI, you must have insanely high standards.

    1. Tendulkar wouldn’t be in my World XI because he isn’t my kind of player. I’d fill mine with people like Jimmy Cook and Wayne Larkins. I don’t mind if others have Tendulkar in theirs.

      Unnecessary runs – I see your point (sort of). Are Chris Lewis and Graeme Hick in your World XI?

      I think it is a personal thing. I admire the kind of players (Gooch, Boon) who you would want to bat for your life.

      Tendulkar has always struck me as a one-man cult, very much in keeping with how Indian fans want their cricketers. For his fans, Tendulkar succeeding was an end in itself, separate from how India did. I don’t like this.

      Regarding who were the best matchwinners, you can’t prove or falsify this sort of thing with stats and it is a waste of time trying.

  16. David Boon? Graham Gooch? Seriously? Is facial hair an important selection criteria for you?

    I’m not sure I’d have Tendulkar in an all-time XI either, but then I’m hopelessly biased towards dead English players that were retired long before I was born. If Cardus didn’t rate ’em, I don’t rate ’em.

  17. Unquestionably Tendulkar is in my “players I have seen” – i.e. players in the last 40 years – XI.

    I find “all time XIs” hard to judge as I really cannot compare Hobbs, Grace, Bradman, Trumper, Sutcliffe, Hutton, the 3 Ws, etc. with modern players. It then just becomes stats and a heck of a lot of supposition.

    Who was greater: Tendulkar or Gavaskar – now there’s a discussion question.

    1. I’d actually completely forgotten Rohan Gavaskar existed. It’s as if a flesh-and-blood human being had been completely wiped off the face of the earth, or at least my recollection thereof.

      In his magnificently underperforming ODI career for India he averaged 18.87 and took one wicket at 74. By this measure he even fails the Stuart Matsikenyeri Comparison Test (22.05 and 48.62 respectively).

    2. I knew I’d posed an excellent discussion question.

      Just see the quality of debate.

      Exclusively, here on King Cricket.

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