In the aftermath of Sachin Tendulkar’s eventual achievement of 100 test/one-day centuries some discussion has turned to the great Sir Donald Bradman and Tendulkar’s fellow countryman Sunil Gavaskar.
Bradman and Gavaskar are inextricably tied because it was Gavaskar who eventually passed Bradman’s record of most test centuries, which now lies in the possession of Tendulkar.
One of my good mates is a huge Gavaskar fan. What made Gavaskar so great was the fact that he played a good portion of his career before helmets were introduced into Test cricket. Plus the quality of pacemen he faced were very great, especially those from the Windies.
Helmets were first introduced into Test cricket between 1976 and 1978, but there is some discrepancy whether it was Dennis Amiss facing the Windies in 1976 or Graeme Yallop also facing the Windies in 1978 who wore the first official Test helmet. I’m inclined to think it was Yallop.
In any case, I will assume Gavaskar did not wear a helmet until after the 1977/78 series against Australia. At this point he was still less than a third into his eventual haul of 125 tests.
At this point, Gavaskar had played 37 tests, and was averaging a respectable 47.36 for his 11 centuries. But he obviously got better, finishing with an eventual 125 tests, averaging 51.12 with 34 centuries.
Bradman scored his 29 centuries in just 52 tests (one century every 1.79 tests). Gavaskar’s 34 centuries came at a rate of one per 3.77 tests. Tendulkar, with 49 centuries in 188 tests, has a strike rate of one century every 3.84 tests.
For the curious, Gavaskar’s equalling 29th century came in his 95th test, and his 30th century (236no) came in his 99th test. Both theses centuries were scored in a torrid series against the Windies in 1983/84.
Who were the great fast bowlers Gavaskar faced? The fast bowler who appeared most against Sonny was England’s Bob Willis, in 17 tests.
Imran Khan was next with 16 Tests, followed by Mike Holding (15), Malcolm Marshall and Ian Botham (both 14), Tony Greig (13) and Chris Old and Andy Roberts (both 11).
Sonny didn’t face Lillee or Thomson much. He played against Thomson in five Tests in 1977/78 and against Lillee and Pascoe in three tests each in 1980/81. That was it. The Aussie paceman he faced most often was Rodney Hogg (8 Tests).
Interestingly, Gavaskar’s last five tests in 1987 (against Pakistan) were also the first five tests for the young Wasim Akram. This was the only time they would cross paths in Test cricket.
There are also questions as to the quality of pacemen faced by Bradman. The fast bowlers who appeared most against Bradman were of course Harold Larwood, and the English all-rounder Gubby Allen, who each played him 11 times.
Apart from 1932/33, Larwood didn’t really do much, but this has more to do with the poor manner in which he was used by his English captains and authorities (Jardine excepted), rather than his true ability.
Allen was quite fast apparently and, apart from Ken Farnes, was probably the next fastest after Larwood. Farnes only played Bradman eight times, veteran all-rounder Maurice Tate nine times. Bill Voce and Alec Bedser played against Bradman 10 times each.
Of the non-Enlishman, South Africa’s Sandy Bell and Windies Herman Griffith each played Bradman five times.
Interestingly, Bradman averaged 105.72 from his 15 Tests after WW2, when there was an immediate dearth of great fast bowlers (Australia excepted). Bradman’s batting average at the outbreak of war in 1939 was 97.94 from 37 tests.
Curiously, he improved that by an even two batting points to an eventual 99.94.
So what does any of this tell us about either Bradman or Gavaskar? Bradman played against some fine pacemen in his career, without any of them being top-drawer, except for Larwood.
Even allowing for this fact, Bradman is still way in front of any other batsman to play Test cricket.
Gavaskar’s opposition of pacemen is quite compelling, even allowing for the fact he played more than two-thirds of his career with a helmet, or that he rarely appeared against either Lillee or Thomson.
Needless to say, Willis, Imran, Holding, Marshall, Botham, Greig, Old and Roberts are some of the biggest names in fast bowling ranks to grace the cricket turf.
Gavaskar is India’s greatest opener, but Tendulkar perhaps pips him as India’s best batsman in any position.
In my all-time selections, Bradman would be in the First XI, while both Gavaskar and Tendulkar would probably be in the Second XI, and only because of the quality of competition for places.