No other phrase defines the legend of Sachin Tendulkar better than what Rahul Bhattacharya wrote in the introduction to a tribute to the man. Framed as a question, it asked whether Tendulkar was as much a product of his times as he was of his genius.
What were those times like?
Times we remember turning off our television sets after a Tendulkar dismissal because it meant the end of hope.
When were those times?
Never more apparent than between 1 January 1996 to 31 December 1999. These were the times when Tendulkar was at his masterly best, dominating bowlers all around the world regardless of the scenario or the pitch. Navjot Sidhu, while paying tribute to Sachin in a tribute show, remembered an old man asking him “Tu Tendulkar wali game khelta tha? (You played the sport that Tendulkar plays?)”. What shaped an image of this man which appears to be bigger than the game itself? How dominant, and indispensable was Sachin?
I attempt to answer it through an analysis of his numbers during the period mentioned in the paragraph:
Observers often point out that of the major Test playing nations, England had the most consistently poorest run in international cricket in the 1990’s. India won just one (as pointed out in an earlier article) of the 39 overseas Tests it played in this period, and that victory was against a still young and weak Test playing nation, Sri Lanka (Tendulkar, incidentally scored a century in that match too)
In the aforementioned period too (1 Jan’96 – 31 Dec’99), India held up very badly against other Test playing nations, winning more matches than only Zimbabwe. And all of those victories came on home turf. India’s W/L ratio (.583), was also better than only Zimbabwe.
Table 1: Performance Summary of Teams (1 Jan’96- 31 Dec’99)
Sachin Tendulkar, it emerges, was not only the best batsman in the Indian outfit (going strictly by the aggregate and average), but was easily the best batsman in the world. Although Mark Waugh and Brian Lara may get more votes in for style and big match innings respectively, Tendulkar was easily the most formidable aggregator of runs in that period.
Tendulkar, in this period, averaged 11 points higher than the next ranked batsman and scored twice the number of centuries than both Ganguly and Azharuddin (7 each). In fact, the percentage point difference between his and Dravid’s average is second highest after Sri Lanka’s case where Aravinda De Silva (61.29) exceeds Sanath Jayasuriya's average (47.55) by 13.74 points.
Table 2: Best Indian Batsmen (1 Jan’96-31 Dec’99)
n case you’re wondering why is the article titled ‘The Atlas’, it is in reference to the former West Indies batsman George Headley who represented the Island nation almost on his own in the 1930s. Tendulkar merits legitimate comparison with Headley when it is seen that he scored almost 19% of his team’s runs during the period in focus.
Table 3: Batsman Runs as a % of team runs (1 Jan’96-31 Dec’99)
|Team||Highest Scoring Batsman||Runs||Team Runs||% of Team Runs|
|South Africa||Gary Kirsten||2591||19401||13.4%|
|New Zealand||Stephen Fleming||2116||17330||12.2%|
|West Indies||Brian Lara||2525||14580||17.3%|
|Sri Lanka||Aravinda De Silva||2268||14760||15.4%|
(That Brian Lara was to continue bearing the brunt of run scoring for his team right till his retirement in 2007 is a matter worth looking into).
A Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Sehwag later, India is still considered a lightweight touring side to major Test playing nations (excluding sub-continent opponents). Although spirited performances and wins under Sourav Ganguly had helped correct this image, successive leadership hasn’t helped further the cause thanks to heavy overseas drubbings from 2011 onwards.
But matters were worse during the period in focus where Tendulkar again emerges as India’s top batsman with considerable support lent only by Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly.
Table 4: Top Indian Batsmen-Overseas (Excl.Subcontinent) – (1 Jan’96-31 Dec’99)
In matches that India lost overseas, Sachin again stood out as the sole performer, averaging almost 24 points more than the next best, Mohammad Azharuddin. These efforts include two of his most awe-inspiring innings, 122 vs England at Birmingham (1996) and 169 vs South Africa at Newlands (1997).