Tendulkar vs Ponting: An old debate in a new light
It is not the first time the colossal talents of Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting have been compared and it certainly won’t be the last, but let us attempt to compare them in as comprehensive a manner as possible.
Let me explain what I mean when I say ‘comprehensive’.
The usual tendency is to compare the two modern-day greats on the basis of their batting skills alone but let us compare the two on the basis of everything a cricketer is supposed to bring to the table.
‘Everything’ includes batting, bowling and fielding skills and virtually anything else that a cricketer can do to make his team win which, importantly, would include captaincy skills, being a team-man and the like. This, one may stress, is what determines the true value of a cricketer.
Now, let’s begin with batting skills. If one were writing this article some years ago when Ponting’s test average was pushing 60, he then looked the standout batsman of his generation but a lot of water has flown under the bridge since then.
Not only has Ponting’s form suffered dramatically, one might say, by his own exalted standards, the last few years has seen an unbelievable resurgence from Tendulkar.
While Ponting’s average has plummeted, Tendulkar’s has improved materially. Today, Tendulkar boasts of an average of 56.25 and Ponting’s stands at 52.23. Now, this is not a huge chasm between the two but i’ts certainly not a difference to scoff at.
A whole lot more is revealed when we break this average down further. The most relevant questions in this regard are, simply: What is Tendulkar’s average in Australia and what is Ponting’s in India? One need not go back to our old friend Google for this as it is fairly safe to say that Tendulkar’s is above 50 and Ponting’s below 30. And that, my friends, is a huge chasm in every sense of the word!
If we turn our attention to ODI cricket, we will find that Tendulkar’s average stands at 45.16 and Ponting’s at 42.63. Additionally, and importantly, Tendulkar’s strike rate of 86.13 also meaningfully exceeds that of Ponting’s 80.6. So, here too, the differences are significant enough to render this a no-contest.
It is very important and perhaps even more interesting to note that such differences did not exist between the two for a major part of their careers. The fact that they ran neck and neck for so long is the very reason why one started the debate in the first place!
What really happened? What made Tendulkar pull away from competition in this manner? How and where did Tendulkar manage to discover these hidden reserves in him that the Energizer bunny finally has competition? That, ladies and gents, seems like the billion dollar question.
Yet the answer is very simple, but one that is likely to spark debate. The answer may even be dismissed as jest by some but, nonetheless, let the answer be revealed.
The answer is that Tendulkar stopped bowling! Huh! That’s right, he stopped bowling so that he could concentrate solely on batting and concentrate he did.
Remember what happened when Irfan Pathan’s, Brett Lee’s, Mitchell Johnson’s and Harbhajan Singh’s batting improved? Their bowling standards fell! There is old Hindi proverb that translates as “It is not wise to keep each leg on a separate boat”. It almost always spells trouble. Tendulkar, for his part, has completely removed this risk from his cricket.
He has transferred his entire value as a bowler to his batting and that should be significant since he was no once-in-a-blue-moon bowler by any standard. Ponting was hardly a bowler and so, there was nothing he could have done on that front.
So, the entire period when he ran neck and neck with Tendulkar as a batsman, it was the latter whose value as a cricketer was higher but that never really got noticed.
There are two more issues to consider. Fielding and captaincy. To many, Ponting is the better fielder but here too, one has an interesting take. Ponting was the better fielder in the circle but Tendulkar was superior in the outfield. A rather interesting and very important piece of trivia about Tendulkar is that he was the fastest to complete the 100m dash in most Indian cricket squads chosen over the years.
On the issue of captaincy, again, had this issue been raised some years back, the answer would have been a no-brainer in favour of Ponting but Australia’s slide down the test rankings and Tendulkar’s performance as Mumbai Indians’ helmsman has evened things out.
In conclusion, Tendulkar stands out as the superior cricketer. Not necessarily by far but in light of the discussion above, one would be inclined to believe that the answer is clearer than before. This is not a discourse that intends to diminish the magical talent of Ponting nor is it one that is fixated on statistics.
We know that the lightning swipe through the off-side and the brutally powerful swat-pull, the latter to nullify a genuinely quick bouncer even during the days when test pitches were a lot quicker, are Ponting trademarks that ought to take this debate into a different realm altogether. But, for now, we only hope Dhoni doesn’t toss the ball to Tendulkar!
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