There’s been a bit more talk recently about the possibility of Tendulkar reaching his 52nd Test hundred. The current India v West Indies Test is in Mumbai, and if he could get the the magic five two in his home city it would be extra special. What is so special about fifty-two you ask? Well it is the first even number after fifty for one thing. That’s pretty special. Of course the real reason why there is such a fuss about it is that if he goes to 52 Test hundreds his 48 ODI hundreds would make his total number of international hundreds is a nice round number, and people like nice round numbers. I am actually rather dreading the moment when he gets to it. Not because I have anything against Tendulkar, I should point out, but the fuss surrounding it is rather tiresome.
For one thing, it’s not a proper milestone. His fiftieth Test hundred was an amazing accomplishment, but Test and ODI hundreds are different beasts. An ODI hundred does not require the same endurance as a Test hundred, the bowling cannot tie down a batsman in the same way in ODIs as they can in Tests. Furthermore there are a lot more ODIs played than Tests. (Tendulkar has more than twice the number of ODI caps as he has Test caps.) It doesn’t really mean anything to add them together; one wouldn’t merge Test and ODI batting averages, one wouldn’t merge Test and ODI strike rates why merge number of hundreds? It’s only nice in that it will add up to a hundred international hundreds. It’s still a nice accomplishment but only insofar as the number of Test and ODI tons are individually impressive. It is not like going to a hundred first class hundreds, which involves no addition of separate stats. (Remember that Test matches are a subset of first class matches.) In the end it just isn’t meaningful. Would any rational person claim that Sanath Jayasuriya’s combined 42 international hundreds are more impressive than Wally Hammond’s 22?
And that hints at the main reason why I am dreading Tendulkar’s 52nd Test hundred (or 49th ODI hundred). There are a lot of people (I don’t think a majority, but an annoyingly vocal minority) who already claim that Tendulkar is the greatest batsman of all time and they will all come out of the woodwork again. There may even be serious articles in otherwise reputable news sources about this. It’s ridiculous though. There should not be any discussion about the greatest batsman of all time that does not begin and end with Don Bradman. Everyone knows his average and it is a sight higher than Tendulkar’s 56.08. Furthermore, Bradman played on more treacherous pitches. (I’m not trying to sound like Geoffrey Boycott, but feel free to imagine him saying ‘uncovered pitches’ there.) The Don also has a far higher centuries/matches ratio; he scored 29 hundreds in 52 matches compared to Tendulkar’s 51 in 183. At the rate at which he scored, if Bradman had had the opportunity to play as many Tests as Tendulkar (remember that there were fewer Tests in Bradman’s time and that he lost six years to the war) he would have scored 102 Test hundreds. Bradman blows Tendulkar out of the water in every category that corrects for a different number of Tests played.
To be fair to Tendulkar, playing 183 Tests over the course of 22 years is an incredible feat itself. Bradman, however, did not lack in longevity. He played Test cricket for 20 years and there is no reason why he could not have played close to as many Tests as Tendulkar. Tendulkar’s record is very impressive certainly, but not only is he is a long, long way behind Bradman, he is probably behind Wally Hammond as well. Hammond averaged 58.45 in his 20 year career and like Bradman did so on difficult pitches and had his career interrupted by the war. Tendulkar also has had the advantage of playing Tests against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. (Though at the time New Zealand and India weren’t much better than Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are today.) There is a decent discussion to be had about the exact order of the all time greatest Test batsmen after Bradman (Hammond, Hutton, Hobbs and Grace all have good arguments for the top five and that’s just amongst Englishmen). Tendulkar would certainly be in the top ten, but no rational person could claim him to be better than Bradman.
Perhaps I’m overreacting, but the number of Indian fans who (in some cases literally) treat Tendulkar like he is a god is already a source of irritation. I know that there are lots of rational Indian fans (and lots of irrational English fans, and indeed of all nationalities) but for whatever reason the Indian ones are louder. Perhaps it is because there are more of them as an absolute number (not as a percentage of all Indian fans). The fact that there is even talk about this ‘milestone’ is a bit daft and part of it is due to the deified status of Tendulkar. When he finally does go to three figures it will be enough take precedence over a lot of more important goings on. (I was thrilled that he didn’t do it in England and that India could not hide their humiliating whitewash behind that.) One could say that I like Tendulkar but so not like his fans. In the end I’m left teetering schizophrenically between wanting a good player to do well and dreading the reaction it will provoke.