The Tendulkar trap
As India lurch from hopelessness to complete incompetence, one man sure to escape the axe, not to mention any serious scrutiny, is Sachin Tendulkar.
To Indians, the Little Master is beyond reproach. He is bigger than Bollywood and greater than Gandhi. Click on the special “Sachin Zone” on the Times of India website today, and among the usual fatuous stories arguing Tendulkar is better than Bradman, you’ll find a story about the value of the insurance policy on his house.
For all the magnifying glass scrutiny on his private life, there’s a major hole in Tendulkar’s batting record which no Indian ever seems to notice. In short, he is not a match winner. Not when playing against Australia, anyway.
Sachin Tendulkar’s batting has long been an extremely prickly thorn in our national side, but thorns don’t inflict mortal wounds. Tendulkar makes big scores against Australia, but he has never achieved the two things that really count.
Firstly, he has never engineered a Test series win on Australian soil, and now, 20 years after he first played Test cricket here, it’s safe to say he never will. And secondly, Tendulkar has never hurt Australia in a World Cup match with his own blade.
None of this is to knock Tendulkar, who statistically is at least the equal of the three great batsmen of his generation.
He’s lasted a lot longer than Brian Lara, even if he hasn’t notched a score of 300 or 400 and is not as pretty to watch as the West Indian. Mind you, that’s like saying Miranda Kerr is no Megan Gale.
He has thousands more runs on the board than South Africa’s one-man run factory Jacques Kallis, even if he averages a little less and doesn’t have Kallis’s 274 Test wickets.
And Tendulkar dwarfs Ricky Ponting, both in terms of the number of centuries he’s scored and in his consistency at the crease in his latter years.
To top all that, off, he is the only batsman ever to have made Shane Warne look like he was chucking pies instead of eating them..
Tendulkar has won countless one-on-one battles with opposition bowlers, just as he has racked up innumerable milestones. But numbers don’t make you great. Neither do psychological victories against a single member of an opposing team.
Ask any player what really matters and they’ll tell you it’s silverware, not records. That’s why Michael Clarke declared short of Bradman and Taylor and the rest of them in Sydney, in pursuit of a ruthless victory.
As the interminable countdown to Tendulkar’s 100th international century drags on, the Indian media and cricket fans have become obsessed with numbers. This is the Tendulkar trap. Perhaps the man himself has become a little jittery in the face of statistical immortality too, to the detriment of his own batting.
Well, there’s only one set of numbers anyone should be interested in, and that’s the 4-0 margin by which India lost to England last year, and by which they appear set to lose to Australia this summer.
If Tendulkar goes and scores his hundredth hundred in the Adelaide Test, you’ll hear the cheering in Mumbai from Melbourne. Australians will also applaud Tendulkar, as we have since the moment we first sighted him. (Tendulkar, by the way, was unaware such warmth existed on foreign shores when first he visited, and was much impressed by our generosity of spirit.)
Australian crowds recognise and respect genius, no matter what colour it wears. This reporter is one such admirer, and this article is not intended to denigrate the record of one of the modern greats.
But the fact remains, Australia has been the dominant team for the bulk of Sachin Tendulkar’s international career, both in 50 over and five day cricket. And although cricket is a team sport, there are clutch moments when an individual can single-handedly seize a match or a series. Against Australia, Tendulkar has not performed in these moments.
In the 2003 World Cup final, Ricky Ponting made a magnificent 140 not out. The match was Tendulkar’s to win, but he fell for four in the chase, snared by his great nemesis Glenn McGrath.
In the famous 2001 Kolkata Test, as Australia lost the unlosable match after enforcing the follow-on, it was Tendulkar’s team-mates Dravid and Laxman who did the major damage. These are just two of many examples.
Again in Perth this week, and even to an extent in Sydney and Melbourne, Tendulkar fell when the match was still in the balance. That’s understandable. The guy is human. But if the Indians are going to compare him to Bradman, well now, perhaps they’d better look at how many Tests Bradman effectively won single-handedly.
The way Tendulkar is lionised in India brings to mind the hilarious Chuck Norris jokes on the internet. When Sachin takes a shower, he doesn’t get wet, the water gets Tendulkared!
Yes, Tendulkar is brilliant. He is an admirable player and person on so many levels. But at the risk of sending the internet in India into meltdown, his failure to hit Australia where it hurts is a major blot on his career.
You’d pick Sachin Tendulkar in a all time world XI without blinking. But would you pick him to make a century to win a match against Australia with your life on the line?
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