Friday, February 26, 2010

Bradman and Tendulkar: Who IS better?

Nasser Hussain, the Indian born, yet fiercely English, former captain of the Poms, it seems has opened the Pandora's Box, by openly stating that he felt India's supreme batsman, Sachin Tendulkar was now the best player in the game ever, toppling the great Sir Donald Bradman.

Shelving any form of possible bias, one has to ask the question, is it even possible, in the first place, to compare two legends of the game who played more than half a century apart?
The contexts, for one, are totally beyond comparison. Bradman's era was one of the most romantic periods of the game. It was still an amateur sport (Bradman held a day job, working for a real estate agent), but a period which produced some of the most cherished names in the sport. Tendulkar's has been one of revolution, one which has seen money and technology flow into the game at a previously unimaginable rate. It has seen the growth of the One Day game into a cash cow, and it has seen the explosion of T20 opening up possibilities of making cricket a truly global game.
With such starkly contrasting backdrops, it becomes imperative, that for any analogy to take between two such exemplary figures, statistics have to be thrown out of the window. As this article progresses, it will become clear which both Tendulkar's and Bradman's figures as batsman had to be totally erased from conscience. For example, Tendulkar's feats in ODIs can find no comparison with Bradman, for the late grate one never played the sport in that format. And similarly Bradman's monstrous hundreds and rate of scoring those hundreds can find no resonance in Tendulkar's time due to the heavily slow overrates and lack of those arcane “timeless Tests.”
For this work, any facts and tools used will be as far away as possible from facts and figures, which already establish each as his times best, as it is.
Going through texts and quotes, it becomes clear quite early that the young Don was more a Virender Sehwag, than Tendulkar. Percy Fender, a former England batsman, wrote of Bradman,

“... he will always be in the category of the brilliant, if unsound, ones. Promise there is in Bradman in plenty, though watching him does not inspire one with any confidence that he desires to take the only course which will lead him to a fulfilment of that promise. He makes a mistake, then makes it again and again; he does not correct it, or look as if he were trying to do so. He seems to live for the exuberance of the moment.”

What Fender was describing was a twenty one year old Bradman, on his maiden sojourn to England. Not much is known of Bradman's early career, apart from the fact that his first Test was one to forget for Bradman. After a grand total of nineteen for the match, he was promptly dropped for the second Test of the series against England. Injury to the great Bill Ponsford, meant that Bradman made it back to the team for the third match. A half century and a century later, Bradman, now the world's youngest ever player to make a century, was here to stay.
Tendulkar's began with a bloodied nose as a sixteen year old. Scoring fifteen in the only innings he played in his first match against Pakistan at Karachi, he made a half century in the very next match.
It is clear though, thanks to R C Robertson-Glasgow's article for Wisden in the wake of Bradman's retirement, that more than just one parallel can be drawn between the Don and the Master.
Their stature in world cricket, for one, is one that can barely be overstated. Tendulkar's deity-like status in India is well chronicled, but he draws crowds in London and Sydney too. Bradman was no less similar.

“Bradman, on his visits to England, could never live the life of a private citizen. He couldn't stroll from his hotel to post a letter or buy a collar-stud. The mob wouldn't let him. There had to be a car waiting with engine running, and he would plunge into it, like a cork from a bottle. When cricket was on, Bradman had no private life. He paid for his greatness, and the payment left some mark. The informal occasion, the casual conversation, the chance and happy acquaintance, these were very rarely for him, and his life was that of something between an Emperor and an Ambassador. Yet, for all that, there remained something of that boy who, thirty years before, had knocked a ball or ball-like object about in the backyard of a small house in New South Wales. He never lost a certain primitive and elemental cheekiness, and mingled, as it were, with his exact and scientific calculations, there was the immortal impudence of the gamin.”

The words may well have been spoken of Tendulkar. From the harsh glare of the spotlight, to the youthful nature of a child, Bradman and Tendulkar, it seems, would find soul-mates in each other today.
It is not just off the field where the two giants find resonance. On it too, they have drawn similar reactions. Though described as a compulsive stroke-maker by Fender, at the time of retirement Bradman, it seems, had evolved into a run “machine.”

“About his batting there was to be no style for style's sake. If there was to be any charm, that was for the spectator to find or miss. It was not Bradman's concern. His aim was the making of runs, and he made them in staggering and ceaseless profusion. He seemed to have eliminated error, to have perfected the mechanism of stroke. Others before him had come near to doing this; but Bradman did it without abating the temperature of his attack.”

Tendulkar's batting first drew comparisons with the Don only when the great Aussie made one himself. Describing Tendulkar's, who was playing in the World Cup '96 at the time, technique as the closest he had seen to his own, Bradman effectively began the cycle that has come a full circle with Hussain's article.
Tendulkar's game has evolved tremendously over the last twenty years. At no two points in his career, has Tendulkar ever had the same batting stance or trigger movement. While he preferred to keep the bat grounded in his early years of international cricket, by the mid nineties, the bat would be held aloft, approaching the bails of the stumps, and angled towards the slip cordon. By the time the twenty first century approached, Tendulkar had straightened out the angle such that the bat now lay in line with the stumps, while still held aloft, while his trigger movement still held true to the coaching manual, bringing it down from the angle facing the slip cordon. Yet, by the mid 2000's Tendulkar had yet again altered his technique, with the trigger movement now making the bat come down in a perfectly straight line, a movement that has caught the attention of the master technician of his time, Sunil Gavaskar, who today describes Tendulkar as the most perfect batsman he has ever seen.
His batting can only be described as having a mind of it's own, changing and growing, becoming better and more enhanced, after every set back. It definitely is in credit to Tendulkar that he has managed to refresh his approach to batting constantly without ever tiring of the process.
Bradman, having played in the international arena for roughly the same duration as Tendulkar has today, one imagines would have gone through a similar transition; from maverick to marvellous, from swashbuckling to staggering, from exciting to jaw-dropping, from brilliant performer to master orchestrator.
Looking at the success the two have had, it is but assumed that each was obsessed with the art he practised. In Bradman's case, this is more sharply apparent.

“Cricket was not to be his hobby, his off-hours delight. It was to be his life and his living. A few hundreds here and there for Australia and State - what use in that? Others had done it, would do it again. He did not mean to be just one of the stars, but the sun itself. Never was such ambition achieved and sustained. Never was the limelight directed so unwaveringly on one man in one game. To set such a standard was unique. To keep it was a miracle. ”

And the sun he became. It is apparent in Robertson-Glasgow's words, that Bradman's unwavering dedication to his art, the supremely professional approach, while others of his ilk remained part-timers, played a major role in establishing Bradman so far above his peers. This dedication and professional aspect in Bradman, quite a rarity in any sport in the 1920s and '30s, is especially enlightening in the matter of the difference between Bradman and any of his peers. An amateur sport doesn't afford one many avenues for financial gain. One can only imagine the burdens Bradman and his family carried for the sake of his game. Such sacrifices require courage of the utmost calibre, and not all possess it, evident in the fact that the next best average from Bradman's time, falls well more than forty notches below the Don's ninety nine.
Tendulkar has been of a totally different world in this regard. He plays a game today that is as professional as any, a game which has made him one of the highest paid men in any profession under the sun. While it's hard to imagine him carrying too many worries regarding household economy onto the cricket pitch, the widespread specialisation of the game has also meant that the competitive nature of the game has been, in Tendulkar's time, at a level never before seen in the game. The introduction of technology into the game has added another dimension for the players to conquer, a very cerebral one, far removed from the actual match. Obviously, the fact that one player has been on the top of the pile in as fiercely competitive a field is proof of the Little Master's will to be the best. Like Bradman, Tendulkar is driven by the ambition of not just being one of the luminaries, but to be the brightest beacon of them all. His statistics, like Bradman's lie testament to the fact that Tendulkar has more or less succeeded in his endeavours, just like Bradman. The gap between him and his peers may not be as gargantuan as the one created by Bradman, but the aforementioned factors of professionalism and technology have played a huge part in keeping Tendulkar's march in check.
Time, therefore, has been both a blessing and a curse to Bradman and Tendulkar alike.
Captaincy came to both as well. Being such astute masters of their own art, there was never any reason, for selectors in either case, to suspect the transfer of genius from the batting willow, to the tacticians brains trust. Both had moments of glory, and both had their failings. While Tendulkar's is oft highlighted and scrutinised, Bradman's has escaped both, one suspects because it has escaped memory altogether.

“He made mistakes. He took only three regular bowlers on to the field for the last Test at The Oval in 1938. For him, as for Australia, the match was a disaster. Bradman, when bowling, fell and injured his leg. England scored 903 for seven wickets; Hutton 364. Both these totals are Test records. Bradman was unable to bat, and Australia lost by the record margin of an innings and 579. How different from the scene of ten years later, when Lindwall went through the England batting like a steam drill. But, all in all, Bradman was the supreme tactician.
On the personal side, his success was more doubtful. Great captaincy begins off the field. True leadership springs from affection even more than from respect. Bradman certainly earned the respect. But, by his very nature, he was bound to have admirers rather than friends. Stripped to the truth, he was a solitary man with a solitary aim.”

Tendulkar was famously stripped off his captaincy after a year in charge in '97, but not before his first two Test matches had resulted in victories, and his maiden ODI series yielded a positive result as well. His second tenure, was far less memorable. Leading a below par line-up against the reining World Champions in their own backyard, Tendulkar's side was comprehensively thrashed 3-0 in the Test series. By 2000, after another whitewash, this time, embarrassingly at home, to South Africa, Tendulkar had had enough. He gave up the captaincy, vowing never to lead his country again.
In the aftermath, it has often been stated that Tendulkar could never come to terms with the mediocrity of his side. Expecting everyone to have the same single minded focus and dedication as himself, Tendulkar is said to have lost touch with his colleagues. Parallels to Bradman's relationship with his team surface again.
Criticisms and comparisons to contemporary batsmen has always been levied on Tendulkar. But if one thinks these are a modern phenomena, it would be underestimating the ruthlessness of the pre WWII to press.

“There were critics who found surfeit in watching him. Man, by his nature, cannot bear perfection in his fellow. The very fact that something is being done which had been believed to be impossible goads and irritates. It is but a short step from annoyance to envy, and Bradman has never been free from envy's attacks. So, when, first in 1930, he reeled off the centuries, single, double and treble, there were not wanting those who compared him unfavourably with other great ones - Trumper, Ranjitsinhji, Hobbs, MacArtney. And Bradman's answer was more runs.”

As has been Tendulkar's. For the modern day marvel of Tendulkar, the media traded Trumper, Ranjitsinhji, Hobbs and MacArtney for Lara, Ponting, Kallis and Dravid. The fact that both sets of batsmen, the ones unfortunate enough to play at the same time as Bradman, and the poor souls to do so in Tendulkar's time, contains some of the finest names ever to grace the game, is further testimony to the greatness of Messrs Donald and Sachin.
While both have been nearly peerless in their own time, neither is without flaw.
Curiously enough, Bradman and Tendulkar seem to share a particular dislike for the left arm bowler.
Robertson-Glasgow also stated that his failure to pick the googly was “... reassuring to mere mortality.” The left arm spinner has also been Tendulkar's undoing on a number of occasions. The likes of Monty Panesar and Paul Harris, average bowlers by any standard, have enjoyed some outrageous success against Tendulkar, Harris dismissing Tendulkar twice in as many innings in the recently concluded Test series against South Africa.
While weakness to a certain type of bowling is one thing, the two have also been targets of unjust vilification. Bradman, it has been chronicled multiple times, was often chastised for not producing an innings of substance on “those sticky wickets”, while Tendulkar has had to bear the brunt of the masses claiming he hasn't produced enough “match winning” innings to win a game single handedly.
In Bradman and Tendulkar, not only has the cricketing fraternity blessed with two mind boggling geniuses and exemplary personalities, their countries have been gifted a hero. Bradman in the post WWI days in Australia and Tendulkar during India's path to economic growth following reform in 1990, have had an impact far deeper than numbers can measure.
On who is better, it is tough to decide. It is best to leave that to the onlooker. Every opinion is important, and the writer welcomes discussion. Yet, at the same time, it is evident, hairs are being split here. There is never going to be a clear winner. That each has caused such clamour, at opposing ends of a century, is enough to say, though, that each deserves his place at the head of the cricketing pantheon.
“A miracle has been moved from among us, Sir Donald Bradman,” by R C Robertson-Glasgow.
Sir Donald Bradman- Wikipedia


Chandu said...

Take a bow Anon/Abhay. A very finely researched, well articulated & properly presented study/comparison between the two SUNS of cricket who have shone at different times of our lives only to let us bask in their glory.

Anon Payn said...

Thanks mate! Appreciate it!