Tendulkar is the greatest

Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar are better placed than the others to improve their current status and ratings.

Television swamps the cricket watcher with information — required run-rates, batting and bowling strike rates, runs in partnerships — and such a myriad of facts and figures that the spectator becomes glutted with information and comes to use statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts — for support rather than illumination. Personally I prefer to be illuminated. I therefore assess batsmen aesthetically and subjectively — not merely statistically.

I find that there are too many variables in the stark facts and figures of players who often come from disparate countries and different eras. How for instance, does one express the differences in the quality of opposing teams in facts and figures? Is a century against Bradman's side of the mid-1930s worth as much as a hundred against today's Bangladesh Test team?

Secondly — opportunity. In the last month of 2005, Australia's Adam Gilchrist was top of the One-Day-International ratings and Sachin Tendulkar was 9th. The difference between the two lay not in their figures — but rather in the fact that Sachin had been sidelined for much of the time under review with a tennis elbow. Pitches too are a dominant but changeable influence on a batsman's productivity. The Indian or Pakistani batsmen who failed to cash in on the docility of the Lahore and Faisalabad strips in the recent Test series must feel like committing hari-kiri. These games produced as much as 1700 runs each and were golden opportunities for batsmen to boost their averages.

To minimise some of the influences of such analogous inconsistencies, two Australian statisticians, Ric Findlay and David Fitzgerald, have dreamt up a computerised Cricketworld package which irons out the wrinkles occasioned by players coming from different eras; It also factors into the comparisons the performances of opposing players and the home ground advantage. No prize for guessing who emerged as the greatest batsman of any era in the Findlay/Fitzgerald equation — D. G. Bradman with a rating approaching twice that of any other player.

Surprisingly, however, Bradman was followed by three Englishmen: Herbert Sutcliffe, Ken Barrington and Wally Hammond, before the intervention of Ricky Ponting, who, according to the ICC Ratings, and in the aftermath of his twin hundreds against South Africa, is rated as "numero uno". Sachin gets a look-in at number seven on the basis of his 10,323 Test runs, 35 centuries and a rating of 86.73. Oddly, the cricket world's most prolific Test batsman, Brian Lara, does not merit a mention in spite of his 11,204 runs and 28 hundreds.

Five of the still active Test batsmen listed by Findlay and Fitzgerald as being "The Best of the Best" are Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Jacques Kallis with Brian Lara not far behind them. Three of these cr�me de la cr�me players, however, are better placed than the others to improve their current status and ratings — the 31-year-old Ponting who can look forward to another five years at the top to add to his 28 hundreds; Tendulkar who seems certain to improve on his Test tally of 35 centuries and 10,323 runs; and Lara who has the potential to add to his record 11, 204 runs.

Coincidentally all three must be classified as front-foot players — symptomatic perhaps of the pluperfect wickets on which they bat. Ponting even hooks and pulls as he advances his front foot down the pitch in front of the batting crease and only gets into trouble when he plays back, becoming chest-on and cramped by incoming balls which often lead to his downfall, lbw or caught in the slips.

Lara's backlift is initially all hands and vertical, followed by a good shoulder rotation: a feature which allows him to play those characteristic "Not a Man Moves" cuts, drives and pulls which bring him his enormous scores. His footwork is as nimble as Nureyev's and he has inherited Garry Sobers's mental ability to play long innings. His only discernable weakness, exploited by McGrath in the 2005-06 West Indies series in Australia, is the chasing drive outside the off-stump and the inevitable edged catch to gully.

Tendulkar has been burdened with the traditional comparison with Bradman — an analogy made by the "The Knight" himself, who likened the diminutive Indian to himself in his younger days.

Tendulkar is my favourite in this trio of stars — because of his correctness. He is the Parnassian batsman: a player who seeks technical perfection and is never satisfied until he achieves it. His initial trigger movement is a slight shift of weight on to the toes of the front foot, followed by a full commitment to the chosen stroke. Classically straight, his achilles heel is his tendency to flirt with balls outside the off stump; deliveries which he sometimes edges when he fails to move across and get behind them.

So abideth these three; Ponting, Lara and Tenduilkar. But the greatest of these is Tendulkar.