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Sachin Tendulkar's 200, Roger Federer's French Open and Statistics

It has been almost a month since Sachin Tendulkar tore apart yet another page in cricketing history and rewrote one of his own. History books will fall short if they were to list all the accomplishments of the Little Master, and the man himself will have a torrid time remembering even half of them. The euphoria of Feb. 24th, 2010 is yet to sink in, and there are still times when I occasionally browse through the archives on my social network pages and put on a smile on reading the comments from fans around the world about the person who enjoys demi-God status in the world’s second most populous country.

Sachin Tendulkar waving to the crowd after his 200

Sachin Tendulkar waving to the crowd after his 200

With time, though, rationality has started to creep in, and I started to burn more of my grey cells on that masterful innings. Why did the media go crazy over this innings of Tendulkar when it is not even the best innings he ever played? In fact, I can count at least five more innings that I would rank better than the one which rewrote history – his twin innings at Sharjah in ‘98, the 98 against Pakistan in World Cup ‘03, his 175 against Australia in a losing cause at Hyderabad this year, and 117* against Australia to win the first final of the CB Series in ‘08.
On a similar note, why did Roger Federer need to win that elusive French Open to prove that he was the greatest player of all time when he was already an established clay court player and his GOAT rival Pete Sampras was not? Even if he had won the Wimbledon trophy last year after failing to win the French Open, there would still have been lingering speculation regarding the status of the Swiss as the world’s greatest. Then why did the legendary trio of Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras make sure that they were present to watch Federer win the title he had won five times before, instead of attending the one he had failed to win in the past four attempts?
Why do statistics play such an important role in the perception of media and fans when even they know that they never convey the full picture?
The answer is somewhat evident if we analyze the state of the South African cricket team over the years which has routinely managed to come close to the finish line but is always ultimately left stranded perilously close to it. They had arguably the most well-balanced team during the 90’s which boasted of great batsmen, intimidating fast bowlers, versatile all-rounders and a shrewd captain. Yet, they never managed to win a World Cup despite dominating the early stages in the three events in ‘92, ‘96 and ‘99.
Critics always brush off statistics as mere numbers, but contrary to the popular belief that statistics hide more than they reveal, I believe they also tell a lot more than the obvious. A big number is the difference between a supremely talented player and a player dedicated to the sport. It conveys not only the player’s talent, but also his mental strength, willingness to fight, ability to absorb the pressure and adapt under different conditions, and most importantly, physical fitness.
After all, the reason the barrier of 200 had not been crossed until now despite multiple scores above 180 is that there was always too much pressure. The pressure of reaching a celebrated landmark. Saeed Anwar fell six short of the target with more than three overs still to go in the innings. Sanath Jayasuriya fell 11 short of the landmark with two overs still up his sleeve. And one should not forget that both these players fell to part-time bowlers – Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly respectively.
Even the Master himself had failed to reach the target on numerous occasions, the most disheartening of which was his dismissal at 175 against Australia which brought India to the brink of a miraculous victory. That the master was able to shrug off the earlier disappointments and hold his forte even when time was running out due to the phenomenal counter attack by Mahendra Singh Dhoni makes the accomplishment even more special. And the fact that he was limping with cramps during the later stages of the match and yet refused to take the help of a runner – it should be remembered that Saeed Anwar scored more than two-thirds of his 194 runs with a runner – elevates the class of this knock beyond comprehension.
Numbers may not always tell everything, but the obsession of statisticians and fans with numbers is not necessarily worthless. These are the factors which differentiate the Vinod Kamblis from the Sachin Tendulkars, the Rahul Dravids from the Rohit Sharmas.
The first double century in the history of limited international cricket scored by Sachin Tendulkar ranks right up in the echelon of the most remarkable achievements in the game even though it may not even be among the five best innings played by the master.

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