The Indian maestro is head and shoulders ahead of any batsman on the planet - except Ricky Ponting, according to Chris Cairns
Tendulkar is not the game's only little master
Last week I was in India and before I ventured out of my hotel for the day, I saw the first 15 overs of the third ODI between South Africa and India. Now there's no way I could have thought that the Little Master was going to rewrite the record books on this specific day, but from the beginning there was an inevitability about the way he was middling the ball. You cannot heap enough praise on him for his achievement and it only took him 431 attempts to obtain it. That's how special this feat was, by a special man. Comparisons to Donald Bradman are natural but have left Tendulkar a little uneasy.
It seemed like his bat had somehow sprouted an extra three inches on either side and the ball that Dale Steyn was fruitlessly trying to pelt down had become the size of a grape. Much has been written about this genius and a genius of the game he is. His stats are there for all to see and he can lay claim to being the greatest batting star of his generation. But is he? The many Indian followers of cricket will be up in arms at that statement, but hang on a minute because I want to shed some light on something. Rather, someone. Ricky Ponting. This Aussie batsman, vertically challenged as he is, but with a desire and fortitude carved from granite is hot on the heels of Sachin.
This next part will only take a minute I promise, but requires me to get a little complex statistic wise. So bear with me, don your anorak and let's get in to it. Sachin has played 271 innings in Test cricket for 13,447 runs, average of 55.56. Ponting has played 240 innings in Test cricket for 11,859, average of 55.67. So if we extrapolate out Ponting's numbers to match Tendulkar's 271 innings, Ponting's numbers, based on his averages would read, Ponting 271 innings for 13,584. 137 more runs than Tendulkar. Hope you haven't fallen asleep yet but you get the idea of what I'm saying. Ponting and Tendulkar stand apart from their peers. Players of their generation. However, which one stands taller?
I'm not a big one for dealing in hypotheticals, a bit like saying "if I had guessed the correct lottery numbers then I'd have won 10 million dollars last week". Ponting will have 31 more innings to match where Tendulkar is now and time will tell if his numbers stack up. When Ponting made his Test debut in 1995 against Sri Lanka, he had that look of something special. Donned only with a cap, the precious "Baggy Green", he announced himself with a well compiled 96. I saw that match and as I was a youngster playing at the time I couldn't wait to have a crack at this new rising star. You see, that's the testosterone side of sport. New kid on the block and he's an Aussie and he's batting in a cap at the WACA! The home of speed. The shear tenacity to not respect a quick pitch. "This guy definitely has to come down a peg or two" were my initial thoughts.
It wouldn't be until the season of 1997/98 that I would get my first look at Ponting. I was still agitated by the whole cap-wearing thing from his Test debut but here in Brisbane, for the first Test of the series I would get to have my say. Stephen Fleming won the toss and it was a green Brisbane wicket, humid conditions and ideal for bowling. At lunch we had the Aussies four down and, with a bit of luck, I had taken all four. Ponting was at the crease and he had worn a helmet. Good man. He scored a few after lunch, but then Simon Doull took his wicket. This guy isn't much cop we thought. He then blazed us all over the park in the second innings to set up the Aussie declaration and was particularly severe through the leg side.
At our team meeting for the second Test in Perth we stated that we had to keep away from his legs and bowl a channel about four inches outside off stump. The next two Tests he nicked off to slip and I honestly thought this guy was going to be a good player, but he was vulnerable in this area. He might become a good Test player, but too deficient. Hmmm. He kind of worked on that and the next time we met he got 157.
Like all great players, Ponting has a tendency to hit on-side. The reason these great players are great, is because they take deliveries from the stumps and hit them through the area of the cricket field that is least protected - the on-side. In most cases when these big boys are playing in their zone, and from another world, they will take balls from four inches outside off stump and deposit it through the leg side.
Playing this way for the not-so-gifted will result in many LBW's and a short career. These players back their eye and with their wonderful balance know that they will not miss the ball. Ponting is an aggressive competitor. I don't think he is a good captain, a case of the best player becoming the skipper. However, he is the best batsman alongside Bradman to have played for his country. He is prickly and tough. A rebel in his earlier days, he curbed his ways and sought redemption in plastering bowling attacks around the globe.
Is he better than Tendulkar? There's really not much in it. Ponting, statistically, is as good, but he has won World Cups and trophies, but has played in a better team, better parts of the whole, than Tendulkar's India. I always felt when bowling to Ponting that he could make a mistake. Now I'm not saying he would, but he could. With Tendulkar it just always seemed he was so in control. I honestly felt at times with Tendulkar that I had to whack myself across the face to stop watching him when I was bowling to him. Get him out, don't admire him. But it was hard to not watch pure genius first hand. So it's Tendulkar for me. And comparisons to "The Don"? You're damn right. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Test-match record Steve Waugh once said he expected Ponting to overtake Tendulkar as the leading run-scorer in Test cricket but he is running out of time. Ponting has a better average (55.67 to 55.56) but trails Tendulkar by 1,588 runs One-day record Tendulkar changed the ODI landscape with his double hundred and possesses a far superior record. But Ponting has the bragging rights when it comes to medals having won the World Cup and Champions Trophy Temperament Ponting was a hot head in his early days and he blew a fuse famously in the Ashes 2005 when he was run out by Gary Pratt. Tendulkar, on the other hand, is unflappable. It is hard to recall a spat with a teammate or pponent. Challenges The Little Master claims he is not concerned with records but he will know he is just seven centuries short of 100 in international cricket. Ponting, meanwhile, is yet to win an Ashes series in England as a captain.