Denting Indian pride

Published : Jan 24, 2009 00:00 IST

Complied by V.V. Rajasekhara Rao-
Complied by V.V. Rajasekhara Rao-

Complied by V.V. Rajasekhara Rao-

Is the ICC hinting that Sachin Tendulkar’s faultless career has been a teeny-weeny bit boring, asks David Hopps.

The International Cricket Council has been forced into a hurried damage-limitation exercise after having the temerity to produce a list of batting greats that did not include Sachin Tendulkar.

India would probably classify Tendulkar as second only to Sir Don Bradman on a list of all-time greats — and there would be many on the ICC who would happily agree — but Indian pride has been pricked by the publication of ICC all-time rank ings that place him as low as 26th.

The outcry began when the ICC marked the retirement of the Australian batsman Matthew Hayden by pronouncing that he was the 10th-best Test batsman in history — a figure based on the all-time Reliance Mobile Test rankings, which purport to compare players from different eras. But while Bradman led, and England had three batsmen — Sir Jack Hobbs, Sir Leonard Hutton and Peter May — in the top five, India had only Sunil Gavaskar in the top 20 and Tendulkar was nowhere to be seen.

One Indian cricket site chided: “It is indeed very interesting to see the ICC believes 12,429 runs, with 41 centuries over a period of 19 years, are not excellent enough. This is despite Sachin Tendulkar holding the record for getting the most runs in Test cricket.”

The perennial problem is that the ICC rankings, which seek to measure a player’s worth at any time in their career, over-emphasise current form above career performance. A player’s ranking can rise or fall in a couple of months just as a company’s share price can veer wildly on the back of a single profit forecast.

Tendulkar’s career has been mind-blowingly consistent. He has been a reliable production line of Test runs for two decades, but just as he has rarely had a prolonged lean patch, neither has he ever put together a stupendous run of form to impress the ICC rankings computer.

The ICC has now issued an emergency press release that seeks to assuage Indian hurt with the headline: “True greatness must include protracted excellence.”

James Fitzgerald, an ICC spokesman, said: “The best-ever ratings are effectively snapshots of greatness. When it comes to judging a player’s greatness over his career, it’s necessary to look at his entire graph rather than his peak. It’s not so much how high a player soars as how long he stays there. If you think of a player’s graph as a mountain, a high, long plateau could be worth more than a single sky-scraping peak. Hence Tendulkar would be deemed greater than most other players despite having a lower peak.”

Fitzgerald even risked an outcry from the Gold Coast by adding: “Matthew Hayden’s position of 10th and 18th in the all-time Test and ODI Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for batsmen is an impressive achievement by anyone’s standards but this does not necessarily mean he is the 10th-best Test batsman or 18th-best ODI batsman in the history of the game.”

The damage, though, has been done. Tendulkar produced one of his finest Test innings to beat England in Chennai in December, in the aftermath of the Mumbai atrocities, establishing still further his iconic status. It was a privilege to witness it. But, according to official ICC figures, his entire career has been a plateau, unchanging from one year to the next, entirely reliable, but lacking ultra high-performance, the Volvo of great Test batsmen.

Nearly everybody would secretly rather gaze up at mountains or down into river valleys. One hardly dare suggest it, but is the ICC hinting that Sachin’s faultless career has been a teeny-weeny bit boring?

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009

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