Tendulkar vs Lara - the irresistibles meet again

On Wednesday evening, as Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara walk out for the toss in Raipur, the crowd at the Shaheed Veer Narayan Singh International Stadium will once again cherish excellence.

Master batsmen: Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara have a chat ahead of a Test at Kingston, Jamaica, in May, 2002.   -  V. V. KRISHNAN

For a fleeting moment, as Brian Lara, captain of West Indies Legends, wearing the No. 400 jersey, stepped out to off-spinner James Tredwell, of England Legends, the past and present were aligned. Lara, now 51, was summoning the halcyon days of yore; at that moment, he was once again the undisputed Prince of Trinidad. Then, as if re-entering the mortal realm, he was beaten in the flight to be stumped for 3.

Tuesday night at the Road Safety World Series (RSWS) T20 2020-21 was about cricket; about joy and how Lara passed it on through his craft. And the old Lara v Sachin Tendulkar argument, of course, since India Legends, led by Tendulkar, take on West Indies Legends, in the first RSWS semifinal in Raipur on Wednesday.

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Fans and critics’ obsession with comparing Tendulkar and Lara set the standard for the current wave of often irrational subjective comparison between players. Not since the great days of Sir Don Bradman, more than half a century ago, have two batsmen inspired such a sense of wonder as these two. In careers spanning more than two generations of team-mates, Lara and Tendulkar scored runs in all parts of the globe and against the best bowling attacks. While Tendulkar currently holds the record for most hundreds in both Tests and ODIs, Lara’s 400 and 501 not out broke world records for the highest Test and first-class scores.

Dominating bowling attacks

But cricket, and all sports alike, has been consumed by “greatest of all time” debates that often undercut the sheer ingenuity of players that typify a sport. It wasn’t just down to the record number of runs Tendulkar and Lara scored. There was the ruthless domination through the 1990s and mid-2000s, and above all, their longevity. While Tendulkar fulfilled the dreams of tens of millions of his fans, Lara’s high backlift and blurring bat speed only accentuated the aesthetic pleasure of watching the sport.

If Tendulkar’s career was like calm reggae, Lara’s had balletic grace. If Tendulkar lacked Lara’s ability for playing the big knocks, Lara’s search for Tendulkar’s abiding authority never quite found a home.

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Lara gave the impression of a cricketer who was notably unmanufactured and strikingly natural, where Tendulkar was perhaps the byproduct of a team of scientists assembling the perfect cricketer in a lab. So, they complemented one another beautifully and the game’s richer for it.

It is now close to 28 years since Lara announced himself, in 1993, with a masterful 277 in Sydney, an innings that evoked praise from Bradman. And more than three decades since, as a 16-year-old, Tendulkar made his Test debut against Pakistan, in Karachi.

But rest assured, on Wednesday evening, as Tendulkar and Lara walk out for the toss, the crowd at the Shaheed Veer Narayan Singh International Stadium will once again cherish excellence, knowing well that it is futile to weigh their greatness in opposition to something else.