There was an old man of Bombay Who purchased a bat and a ball, Some gloves and some pads— It was one of his fads— For he never played cricket at all!
— With apologies to Alfred Ainger
When I was a young man, I was, in the Madras fashion, much given to cricket statistics— reeling them off, like mantras, to settle disputes that broke out frequently among my cricketing fraternity. Young habits die hard. The apogee of this veritable mania occurred in 1952 when I went to meet my idol, Vijay Hazare, captain of the victorious Indian cricket team which had won its first- ever rubber against the touring Englishmen led by Donald Carr. I soon rattled on and held the helpless Hazare in thrall rather like the wedding guest in Coleridge’s poem.
Our talk turned, at one point, to his first appearance at Lord’s and to his unlucky dismissal against the MCC for 94— just 6 short of what would have been a rare distinction— only C. K. in ’32 and that other Vijay (earlier in the same 1946 MCC fixture) had made a hundred in their first appearance at this Mecca of cricket. Having, as was my wont those days, got by heart newspaper reports, I proceeded to tell Hazare how he got out. Relying on my photographic memory of the Reuters’ report in The Hindu , I reeled off: "Marsham’s googly bit and bowled Hazare to the disappointment of a century- waiting crowd." To my utter dismay and chagrin, Hazare did not seem unduly impressed for the simple reason that he was sure it was the Middlesex bowler, Sims, who had got him. I, of course, held my ground. Undeterred, Hazare held his, although I’m happy to report that by the time he came to write his A Long Innings (1981), he seems to have come round to my position.
Today, nearly 50 years later, I feel thoroughly ashamed of having proved Hazare wrong. Cricket is not just a matter of statistics unlike nearly all other games, although, alas, the results of cricket— one- day games, in particular— can be decided only on such piddling considerations. Consider South Africa’s ridiculous exit from the World Cup in 1992 in Australia which Pakistan won. But cricket is not just one- day cricket, although this tends to get easily over-looked in fact- obsessed India where, increasingly it seems, Statistics is King.
Let me explain. In 1985, I found myself editing Dom Moraes’ sporadically brilliant Gavaskar biography when a Bangalore statistician that the publishers— Macmillan— had hired for the purpose threatened to take over the entire project with a weird assortment of ‘facts’ and ‘figures’. I had to use all my editorial clout to prevent him from upstaging everybody— including Gavaskar himself! So I submit for the edification of would-be biographers that our current star, Tendulkar, is not just the sum of his 21 one- day and 16 Test centuries although the press in India presents him monochromatically and dully as just that. And hence the fatuous comparisons first to Brian Lara and, latterly, in a steady ascent to the highest terrestrial point, to the great Don himself.
But, of late, Indian journalists, with global ambitions, are clearly tiring of the Bradman comparison. Abandoning cricket altogether, they have turned, strangely, to browner pastures, to hardcourt tennis, for instance: there is even a recent photograph of Tendulkar serving— albeit a fault! The current World No. 1 and two ex- champs have been hastily recruited for this media blitz, apart from the American basketball leg-end, Michael Jordan. Even poor Muhammad Ali has been dragged out of his retirement to elucidate the Sachin magic.
But such comparisons are always futile. Sachin and the Don are as different as chalk and cheese despite some of the Don’s own generous encomiums and admissions recently. Let us consider some incontrovertible facts. At the age of 25 in 1933, Bradman’s Test average was a mind- blowing 99.71 despite the intervention of Bodyline! Tendulkar’s now is a modest 54.84.
Bradman had, by then, notched up two triple centuries (missing a possible third by the proverbial whisker: he was 299 not out against South Africa at Adelaide in early ’32, when going for his 300th run he ran out the last man, Thurlow) and five double centuries; Tendulkar is yet to score a double hundred in Test cricket, let alone a triple (Lara, his only serious rival, has a world Test record triple, a steep double and a truly staggering 501 against Durham in the English County League) while clearly lesser men like Vinod Kambli (twice) and Ravi Shastri (once) have done so. Now, since double centuries are near-impossible in the one-day business (Saeed Anwar of Pakistan came closest to doing so in Chennai last year), Sachin is—despite his indubitable prowess—yet to get one.
He may do so still, who knows, but it seems more likely here than in the Test arena. With some shining exceptions, like his match-winning century against Australia at Chennai last year, Sachin is clearly more at ease in the shorter version. He is not a Hazare who can bat an eternity and some. Sachin wins day-nighters under a blaze of lights; Hazare saved Tests, under weeping skies, battling the swing of Alec Bedser at Manchester (’46) or the fiery pace of Lindwall and Miller at Brisbane the following year.
To sum up: if one-day cricket is like the stock market, soaring and plunging by the minute, then Test cricket is like the Himalayas, with their eternal snows, barely terrestrial, where Time must have a stop. But let me hasten to add that the difference between the two genres is not just a matter of hours and minutes (although, in point of fact, a Test match in Durban was abandoned as a draw on the tenth afternoon chiefly because the English team had to catch the mail steamer leaving from the Cape three days later!). The sad, if unpalatable, truth is that the difference between the two is unbridgable: it is the difference between a one-night stand and life-long matrimony! Or, to change the metaphor, it is a difference of ethos as well: Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto (one-day cricket) vs Shakespeare’s sombre Hamlet (Tests). Whereas the world has witnessed the rise and fall of international communism, it is yet to digest the lessons of Shakespeare’s imperishable masterpiece. And while all one-day contests end, like revolutions, in resounding victory or bloody defeat, some of the greatest Test matches have ended inconclusively with neither side claiming victory like that timeless Durban Test in 1939. The 1940 issue of Wisden devoted three-and- a-half pages to this marathon Test where 16 new records were set, including the most runs ever scored—1981!
It is time, then, to call a halt to trumpeting that Sachin can only be compared to Bradman (Michael Jordan, McEnroe, Sampras, Lendl, Ali et al ... the list can be extended ad infinitum. But, why stop here? Why not bring in Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan? Or, even, come to think of it, Adolf Hitler with his lightning blitzes in World War II. You can’t beat that!) in cricket and Bradman alone. Let us consider the Bradman comparison, one last time, dispassionately. Luckily, both Bradman and Sachin are batsmen and this is a big help, but even here the Don never played one-day cricket and this is a terrible nuisance. After all, Sachin has made no less than 21 one-day centuries in 200 innings and some 16 Test centuries so far and how are we to work in the Bradman comparison? Especially as Bradman’s career Test average of 99.94 is more than twice Tendulkar’s current one-day average of 42.93 and his Test average of 52.84 as well! All right, let us take just individual innings. Bradman’s 334 at Leeds in 1930 included a century before lunch and another one before tea and, at stumps on the first day, he was 309 not out! Neither in Tests nor in one-dayers has Sachin fairly carved an attack which had the likes of Larwood and Tate, arguably two of the greatest bowlers the world has ever known: both went for well over a 100 each. This daylight mayhem would suggest that Bradman treated even Test cricket with absolute impunity. In other forms of cricket, Bradman went absolutely berserk. He once made a century in 22 balls and the break-up is as follows:
1st over 6 6 4 2 4 4 6 1
2nd over 6 4 4 6 6 4 6 4
3rd over 1 6 6 1 1 4 4 6
Don Bradman, A Farewell to Cricket (1958), p.50
All right, this was a second-class fixture but what about his 369 against Tasmania in 233 minutes? Sachin literally pales in comparison. His recent 154 off 120 balls in New Zealand looks positively slow!
Granted that Sachin Tendulkar is a man in a hurry. He is said to have driven his Mercedes at 240 mph on English roads but only at a modest (by his standards, possibly) 160-190 kmph in India where the roads are little better than our cricket pitches. But, surely, this quick shift of gears only does credit to a man who has been reported to be working on his ‘cerebral software’—whatever this means—all the time! The latest journalistic effusion borrows a famous title from J.R.R. Tolkien and glosses it in a cricketing direction before going berserk with wild and far-fetched comparisons in the text.
With this, the Sachin madness may be said to have reached its reductio ad absurdem, its point of no return.
The sad truth is that Sachin is ill-served by his current chroniclers. A brother, however gifted, seems hardly the right person to tell the Sachin story and Ajit Tendulkar’s The Making of a Cricketer must surely be unprecedented in the annals of cricket history. Other aspiring Boswells have suddenly sprung up. They concentrate on Tendulkar trivia: his penchant for caviar, junk food, steak—this both disturbed and saddened me immensely— rib and sundry other non-gastronomical delights. It is an Indian story: there is no mention at all of books or of the arts or, indeed, of anything to do with the mind. Even the Hannibal Lecter-like Tyson attempted to read during his term in prison and good old Marilyn not only had a go at Dostoevsky but actually even married an egghead. But we may do well to remember that Bradman had the great Rosenwater to tell his story; Tendulkar has a motley crowd of dubious shrinks and would-be chefs to do the job. More is the pity!
To the unjaundiced eye, then, Sachin will remain a lone star, flickering intermittently in our tawdry heavens but decidedly not—to quote the late Robertson-Glasgow on the Don—"the sun itself.