Sachin v The Don: the eternal debate

Whenever a comparison between Don Bradman and Tendulkar is debated, the pro-Sachin brigade bring out the argument that he was the more versatile batsman as he spanned Tests and T20 while Bradman was strictly Tests-only and never stood the pressure of batting against India on their own grounds, writes Ted Corbett.

As I watched Sachin Tendulkar ease his way to 80 against the Australians — don’t they look ordinary nowadays? — I wondered for the first time recently how much longer he would go on proving his greatness to us.

Later he sat among his team- mates in their special area, earphones on, wearing a cheeky grin at either the music or the words of the commentators; the perfect picture of the relaxed sportsman, happy in his own sponsored shirt, enjoying his life, his company and the noise of the chanting crowd.

How much longer? What is his status beyond elite? Can anyone measure his worth?

Whenever a comparison between Don Bradman and Tendulkar is debated the pro-Sachin brigade bring out the argument that he was the more versatile batsman as he spanned Tests and T20 while Bradman was strictly Tests-only, never stood the pressure of batting against India on their own grounds and was, as the wonder world of London has it, soooo 20th century.

Besides, Tendulkar came to the crease when coaches were having their influence, after 100 years of cricket had already given bowlers much greater cunning than they had on those flat, run-happy pitches of the 1930s and, in Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath and Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose he faced greater bowlers than Bradman ever met.

(You can debate that last statement but I believe it is true. Fast bowlers are quicker, reverse this and that and trial the brain to a greater extent and, as I remember it, fielding is so much slicker.)

There is another issue which never troubled Bradman.

In his career he did not have to deal with the sort of rampant press attention and the need to fulfil sponsors’ demands which has become an everyday occurrence. In every sphere of the world the work of the PRO, from politics by way of sport to the arts, is important and quite rightly these guys are paid vast amounts.

Yorkshire who are frequently the last to go for new trends have just appointed one and he has, with commendable speed, asked us to fill in forms, state our email requirements and join him in a cup of tea the next time we are in Leeds. I look forward to it; a vast difference from the days when the secretary, wanting to announce the sacking of Jonny Wardle had to shout at the top of his voice late in the day to turn the press box into a press conference.

How would Bradman have dealt with this mighty change? It is impossible to make comparisons between eras but all the indications are that the Don would have baulked at the idea of televised press conferences, mass media interviews and sponsorship gatherings which Sachin has grown used to for all his initial shyness and tendency to withdraw when the publicity machine grew too close.

Of course Bradman, with his batting average close to 100, his world record scores and his Test treble centuries was as close to being an immortal as Tendulkar and he must have had to put up with a great deal of back slapping, raucous applause and unwanted attention as even Pele, David Beckham and Bobby Charlton had to endure.

He was not fond of the media — sponsors barely existed — and there is a portrait of him in the museum at Bowral where he was brought up which shows a man who believes he is one apart. He had little to do with television, and although he made one trip to England to report an Ashes tour, he rarely spoke to cricket writers. If he had tried to behave in that way in the modern era he would have had pressure from sponsors to be more available.

A friend who knows him well tells me Sachin has learnt that he must show himself to the media and the public sometimes.

“He was very withdrawn early in his career and even now he has only a few friends among the media,” this writer says, “but if you send him an sms or a fax requesting an interview you may get lucky. In recent years he has spoken generously and willingly about other players.”

Would Bradman, who made the transition from player to selector and then administrator smoothly after his retirement, have made the same changes? Late in his life, he lived in Adelaide in what must have been almost total retirement, turned down interview requests by the handful although he wrote me a charming letter — as was his custom — when I asked him for details of his 1930s ghost who might have been a relative.

I suspect that the country boy who learnt enough to qualify as a stockbroker when he moved to the big cities might even have relished more limelight but in the uptight cricket world it is difficult to imagine.

Peter May was told by friends that TV had shown him scratching himself and muttered that he “wanted nothing to do with a game that attracts that sort of publicity” and retired, aged 31, soon afterwards.

I suspect that in the same circumstances Sachin, who occasionally scratches himself, might have giggled and got on with his career which is why I feel he is more comfortable in the 21st century than Bradman would have been.

Whether that means he would also have adapted to one-day internationals and T20 and the rest of the glitzy 21st century world is, of course, another matter altogether. On the other hand we must also wonder what Sachin might have averaged if he had only played in Tests.