Watching Sachin Tendulkar peel off another two tons against the at-times amateur Bangladesh bowling unit in the recent series got me thinking. How are these cheap runs affecting the game? But not just runs; take Muralitharran for example: His international record is outstanding but will forever be jaded by the fact that most of his test wickets have come against the hopeless outfits of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. 176 wickets in fact at an average that only just tops 15. Is this the same for Tendulkar?
The answer on paper looks convincing. The Indian master, whose record is proclaimed by his loyal cult following to be untouchable, is very much false. Let’s boil it down; here are the records of the top three run-scoring test batsmen in full:
1) Tendulkar—Runs: 13234, Matches: 164, Centuries: 45
2) Lara—Runs: 11953, Matches: 131, Centuries: 34
3) Ponting—Runs: 11859, Matches: 142, Centuries: 39
Looking at this, Tendulkar just looks simply the most prolific run scorer of the modern game. But now look at what happens when you take away the runs scored against the minnows of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe:
1) Lara—Runs: 11558, Matches: 127, Centuries: 32
2) Tendulkar—Runs: 11496, Matches: 148, Centuries: 37
3) Ponting—Runs: 11309, Matches: 135, Centuries: 37
This means that against quality opposition, Tendulkar has played 21 more games than Lara and scored less runs.... And played 13 more games than Ponting and scored the same number of centuries! No wonder Tendulkars record always looks so much more prolific!!
It's strange how people always call Muralitharran for taking cheap wickets, but you never hear anybody discredit Tendulkars record, which looking at the facts, people should be doing. Why?
The only explanation that I can imagine is that it is a classic case turning a blind eye to the obvious. Tendulkar has for twenty years been the darling of cricket, never faced criticism like Muralitharran, and so the cherub image fostered by his cult fans and adoring international press, especially in India, which has created a smokescreen over the fact that Tendulkar is maybe not the best player we've had the luxury of watching since Bradman...
If anything, it should rightfully be Brian Lara who takes the plaudits looking at it. Playing in a poor side against better opposition, he outscored Tendulkar by quite a margin.
But is it fair to call runs against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh easy runs? Of course it is... if it wasn't for the efforts of Shakib-al-Hasan and Heath Streak, I would expect that the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, and Sangakkarra (top three leading scorers in tests against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe) would be even more falsely embellished. Lara would probably never have lost his batting record to Matthew Hayden if it wasn't for the lowly Zimbabweans being annihilated so easily by him en route to his 380.
The argument that keeps cropping up the more I talk about this is that you can't blame the likes of Sachin and Murali for taking the runs and wickets, as you can only play against who you’re put up against, true. But that doesn't mean that we should therefore take their records on face value and base their reputations on them, because in reality, it's not a true reflection.
Is this the same, though, in the one-dayers? Now, I'm not even going to bother questioning if Tendulkar really is the greatest one day player because that is a fool's argument. But his record is a lot more human than super-human when you take away the runs scored against minnow nations such as Bangladesh, UAE, Hong Kong, etc. Here are the consequent top three records:
1) Tendulkar—Runs: 14670, Centuries: 35
2) Jayasuriya—Runs: 11110, Centuries: 22
3) Ponting—Runs: 10899, Centuries: 24
Tendulkars record is still, without doubt, the best in the world. But I cant help thinking that there are a lot of runs pillaged against the lower teams that are giving players credit that they don't deserve. Yes, they have performed brilliantly, but that does not mean the records justify huge praise. Certainly not the amount of attention given to Tendulkars feats, which before I started looking at the facts, were untouchable.
This is, in my view, quite a funny turn of events. All those years listening to ardent Tendulkar worshippers about his colossal run scoring feats, and how he is the best the world, is very much a hyped-up opinion built by endless coverage of centuries against the minnows and press deification as a result.
Tendulkar's great, but not that great...