Friday, 24 October 2008
Tendulkar or Lara, Lara or Tendulkar? The two highest scorers in test cricket. No doubt they are both great, but who is better?
Let me lay the cards on the table first. As an Arsenal fan I cannot bring myself to cheer Tottenham, and it follows that as a fan of the Pakistan cricket team, I find it difficult to cheer for Indian cricketers. So last week when Lara and Tendulkar were tied at the top of the table for the most career runs, and I knew I had to write this post comparing the two, I was secretly cheering for Lara. The Lara who scored a world record 375, and then when he was overtaken, came back with an unbeaten 400 a decade later. The Lara who made you sit at the edge of your seat because you never knew what was coming the next ball, a slashed four through covers or a snicked catch to gully. But, when I did the analysis, Tendulkar doesn't just beat Lara, he rules him.
There are numbers to compare them with but first there are other factors that must be mentioned. Tendulkar went out to bat each time in the suffocating glare of a billion people. The intrusions, the pressure, the expectation on him for the last 20 years has been immense. And through it all he has been unflappable. Lest we forget, Tendulkar came to public prominence as a 16yr old by putting up a world record unbroken partnership of 664 runs for his school with another 17yr old prodigy by the name of Vinod Ganpat Kambli. Anyone remember him? Kambli averaged 54.2 in 17 tests with 2 double centuries and 2 single ones and then fizzled out and retired by the age of 24. Tendulkar has gone on for another 13 years and still averages over 54.
By contrast when Lara broke the Test and first class record by scoring 375 and 501 within two months in 1994, the resulting fame turned him into a confused and contradictory figure. He fell in and out of love with cricket, fought with team mates and administrators and it didn't help that he played for a losing team. Yes, his 400 not out and 501 are the highest individual scores for Test and First Class matches, but he can statistically rival Tendulkar in little else:
Matches Runs Highest Bat Avg. 100s
Tend 151 11939 241 54.02 39
Lara 131 11953 400 52.88 34
Tendulkar has scored more runs at a higher average with the help of more centuries. That should be the end of the argument. But some Lara supporters argue that Lara played better against the best team of their day, Australia. Also that Tendulkar scored easy runs on flat sub-continental wickets. Well, wrong and wrong.
Matches Runs Highest Bat Avg. 100s
Tend 26 2414 241 54.86 9
Lara 31 2856 277 51 9
Tendulkar scored at a better average against Australia than Lara did and with the help of the same number of centuries, even though he played 5 less matches. Also, when away from home Tendulkar's average was not only better than Lara's, it fell by fewer runs than Lara's did.
A few last mistakes to set straight then. Lara helped his team win more than Tendulkar did. Well, I looked at their averages for the matches their teams won. Lara 61.02, Tendulkar 62.67. Tendulkar's performance lifted more when winning.
One last nail in the coffin. When are the conditions most hostile for a batsman? When they lose the toss and are sent in to bat. The toss winner clearly making the judgement that the conditions will suit their bowlers and prove difficult for the batsmen. The average for both batsmen when their team lost the toss and were sent in to bat: Lara 34.71, Tendulkar 53.12. Case Closed!