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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gavaskar and Tendulkar: True sons of toil

Legends don't have to do much to attract controversy or unwarranted attention. The greater their achievements, the more the scrutiny, gossip and speculation are generated. The price of being a celebrity comes with life-time tax of criticism.

There have been legendary stories about some of the Indian batsmen moving towards the square-leg umpires to avoid quick bouncers. Some true and some exaggerated like the one about Sachin Tendulkar's inability to handle quick bowling.

What is baffling is that many in the country have begun to question Tendulkar's percentage of match-winning centuries. The argument in itself may be valid because the history of Indian cricket is full of cricketing stalwarts with personal milestones that have barely impacted the outcome of matches and series.


But what is hard to digest is that Tendulkar should be subjected to the criticism about facing fast bowling and the number of match winning centuries.


However, the statistics, if analysed scrupulously, provides a picture which will stump those who feel the percentage of his match-winning centuries is negligible.


Tendulkar has been ruthless against the quickies, a trait that Bradman identified with. Bradman's "I see myself in him" is a good enough comment, but how devastating Tendulkar has been can be gauged from the statistics.


Sample this: out of 51 Test centuries, 20 have won matches for the country, a percentage of 39.21. His percentage in ODIs soars to 68.75 with 33 match-winning centuries out of 48. Tendulkar scored 53% match-winning centuries in international cricket. That's a huge contribution.


The percentage had dropped considerably during his Tennis elbow days. Inzamam-ul-Haq and Ricky Ponting were way ahead of him. Nonetheless, Tendulkar shrewdly reorganised his technique, approach and short-circuited any attempt by the opposition to block his range of shots.


When he observed he wasn't getting his favourite cover drive, he cut out that shot and scored 241 in the Sydney Test in 2004. Apparently, he was very thoughtful about the choice of the bat.


Tiger Pataudi may have picked a bat closer to the door of the dressing room while going out to bat, but Tendulkar seems to have got the best of the craftsmen for manufacturing bats that help him tackle situations. He gets bats manufactured with specific positions of sweet spots which help him tackle different situations depending on the nature of pitches.


In the hectic schedule of international cricket, Tendulkar wants to be a perfectionist with tools that will enhance consistency in performance. Minimum effort to optimize maximum output seems to be his mantra for success.


Tendulkar uses bats of 1350 grams with 4 centimetre thickness, whereas Sunil Gavaskar, in his first series against the West Indies in 1971, when he scored 774 runs in 4 Tests, used perhaps the thinnest bat weighing 1100 grams with 2 centimetre thickness. That bat looked like a spatula, so thin was the blade.


Though comparisons are odious, the two legends Gavaskar and Tendulkar differed in their styles but the process of achieving their goals is the same.


During his speech at the Dilip Sardesai Memorial lecture, Kapil Dev made a pertinent point. "When Sunil Gavaskar played for the country, not losing a match was as good as winning it, so brittle was the batting line up of the Indian team," said Kapil Dev.


The statistical analysis indicates that while only six out of Gavaskar's 34 Test centuries were match winning, on 22 occasions his centuries helped India draw Tests.


This effectively means Gavaskar's match-saving centuries were 64.70%. From his six match-winning centuries, he scored one at the Port-of-Spain when India chased 404 runs in the last innings.


In fact, he scored 13 of his centuries against the might West Indies attack.


This is an astonishing record when one takes into account the role Gavaskar played against formidable fast bowlers of the opposition, and that too, without a helmet. To his credit Gavaskar played on uncovered pitches which are more bowler friendly than the covered pitches.


In the case of Tendulkar, India's batting has been strongest for a decade, especially when Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman and Sehwag joined him. Since Gavaskar didn't have that luxury, the opposition attacked him venomously, knowing well that once they saw the back of him, they were unlikely to face much resistance.


Together Gavaskar and Tendulkar scored 25087 runs in 306 Tests and 21203 runs in 561 ODIs. Both made the best use of the crease. To them all that mattered was its occupation. Runs flowed from the bat when their duration at the crease increased.

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