Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Greatest

The greatest batsman the game has known
... the other bloke is Don Bradman
The most important Ashes series - since the last one - is about to start but all the cricket talk this week is about Sachin Tendulkar. Anyone would think he was Bradman ...

... well, perhaps not anyone, perhaps not many, but thecricketragics has previously made a strong public case for Tendulkar to be considered better than Bradman. Sure "The Sachin" fails the test of audio impact that "The Don" has. My uncle used to genuflect when he said the most reverend term in Australian sport ... one bought straight from the English higher educational system and imparting an air of all knowing, all seeing, all doing infallibility. Bradman, knighted after his final innings, enjoyed ... correction ... revelled in all things English upper class and was happy to be accepted in those circles. Despite his humble start, he was never a man of the people in Australia, either among his team mates or the general public. He played his cricket as though privileged and lived his life the same way.

Both men of short stature, Tendulkar's nomenclature of "The Little Master" is somewhat the trump played on the last trick. I'll see your "The Don" and raise you with "The Little Master". The hand ends.

Of course there are two major problems with making comparisons between Bradman and Tendulkar: stats and integrity.

There is just no way around that bloody average. Its the single most significant statistic in the Australian sporting pantheon and it wasn't just achieved by doing as Bill Johnson once did and only getting out once in a long tour of England whilst batting last. Bradman took his batting average above the ton during his innings of 232 at The Oval in 1930. It is said to be the innings that moved Douglas Jardine to invent a tactic to win back the Ashes, as towards the end, Bradman looked uncomfortable on a wet wicket against balls delivered at his chest by Harold Larwood. Who wouldn't?

That monster average dropped as low as 89 in the next four years but in 1934, 304 at Headingley and 244 at The Oval took him back to a three figure average which he more or less kept until an Eric Hollies wrong-un enshrined the principle that the game is bigger than any of its players.

Bradman maintained his batting average until 40, a ripe age for batsmen. Beyond 35, batting becomes tougher as eyes and reflexes start to creak and then fail.

Tendulkar's last two years have been hardly worthy of a Test place but who in India would suggest he stand aside. His last trip to Australia proved that the discipline which was his trade mark, had deserted him, a fact not bought on by a lack of will but rather over exposure. He played too much cricket, for too long. Each Test match means something, whilst energy and talent are recklessly spent on other forms of the game that are as aimless as they are endless. In 2003/04, after five innings had netted only 82 runs, Tendulkar looked to have been bought back to earth in Australia. Swatting outside his off stump, Adam Gilchrist had caught him three times. In the next Test at Sydney - Steve Waugh's farewell - he was out once making 241 and 60x. In the first innings, he didn't play a scoring shot outside the off stump until he reached 135.

Discipline.

Bradman had his share of it and something else. Malcolm Knox in  "Bradman's War" highlights the ruthlessness of the man during the 1948 tour. Bradman wanted to beat everyone in England. He wanted his legacy to include being the only captain to tour England without losing. Knox uses the evidence gathered from key players and journalists such as Bill O'Reilly and Jack Fingleton, among others, to make his assertions. Arthur Morris recently denied Knox's claims in his "Conversation" with Steve Canane on ABC Radio but in the process, let slip actions which spoke of the same ruthlessness. There is a difference between ruthlessness and single-mindedness.

Tendulkar was single-minded when he batted.

Bradman was ruthless.

Its hard to know which makes one greater?

Statistically, Bradman's average is imposing but its worth pointing out two governing factors. "The Don" only played 52 Tests and only in England and Australia. His near seven thousand runs were made on just ten grounds. Tendulkar played 200 Tests on 59 grounds, in every Test playing country. Had Bradman played more often and on different wickets, perhaps that average would have taken on more human proportions. To have never played on the slow decks in New Zealand or the turners on the sub continent, is a major flaw in a record that is skated over by those who wish to shine the icon rather than examine it.

Adam Gilchrist was averaging 83.08 after the same number of Tests (52) and had played in New Zealand, India, England, South Africa, Pakistan, The West Indies and Sri Lanka. Gilchrist is no Bradman and his batting position and game situations give further weight to that fact but it does point to what can happen to freakish averages over extended time. Gilchrist finished with an average just under 48.

Its not just the matter that Bradman's appearances were limited to ten grounds but more that 11 of his Tests - that's more than one innings in five (21%) - were played at the MCG, a ground where nearly a third of his 29 Test centuries were scored. Tendulkar, by comparison, has played more at Eden Gardens than anywhere else but it still only accounts for one in seventeen of his innings or 6%. This significant home ground advantage for Bradman has painted an indelible bias in his stats.

Both batsmen had an enormous impact on the game. Bradman changed the rules, largely as administrators acted to stop those tactics he couldn't conquer but also with monocled vision in the 1970's which sought to keep players poorly paid and beholding. Like Jardine, Packer also beat Bradman.

Whilst Bradman gave Australia dominance, he also killed the aspirations of English cricketers. They beat him once and then the rules were changed and wickets were prepared to favour his prodigious run making. There is also strong evidence from O'Reilly and Fingleton, that in depressed England of the 1930's, administrators needed his runs to fill grounds and wickets were prepared accordingly.

Bradman, described by singer Paul Kelly as the great avenger, was just that, but the question remains what act he was avenging. His brilliant batting left the oval and became a symbol for at first a financially depressed and desperate Australia and then after the second world war, it was a symbol of hope and a loud gong to ring to the world of our still young country's brash confidence. England, who had suffered immeasurably more than the antipodeans,  were given more misery in 1948, only twelve months after the joy and love of the game that Lindsay Hassett's Combined Services team had delivered in the "Victory Tests." Bradman didn't get it. Avengers never do.

Bradman, in many ways, nearly killed cricket.

The same can't be said of Tendulkar.

Both are icons ... gods even ... in their own countries and across cricket playing nations.

You and I could go at it all day and not prove a thing. Too many ifs. Too many buts.

So to the manner of the men, for in the end, they gave more than stats and results across a playing span that may differ in run totals and average but are remarkably similar in years.

I won't argue the case but set you this challenge.

Find me those who have bad things to say about The Little Master's character. Find me those who will speak ill of his intent. Find me those who can point to selfishness or arrogance. Find me former players whose career he retarded by his choices or business partners he has treated with teflon gloves.

When you have, I'll give you the location of the telephone box where they can have their meeting. Its across the city from one of those newer, expanding suburbs where new streets are added every year. That's where those of us who can see Bradman for who he was - as opposed to who Australia needed him to be - that's we live. There seems to be plenty of space but then, there's more of us every year.

Tendulkar better than Bradman ... you bet. By the width of a suburb.

www.greaterthanbradman.com ... a new ebook on the topic