In a CricInfo roundtable discussion on what makes a batsman great, Sanjay Manjrekar asks various ex-luminaries their thoughts on who the best current batsman is:
“We’ve got contemporary greats here; Tendulkar, Lara, Waugh, Dravid, Ponting, Inzamam and Jaques Kallis. I want you pick your greatest batSMen [sic] in this era. So John, first of all what do you think makes a batsman great and who’s your choice?”
Leaving aside CricInfo’s woeful inability to distinguish between “batsman” and “batsmen”, and the obviously shoddy, find-replace, editing which has led to every occurrence of “sm” in the article appearing in capital letters, we get responses. John Wright likes Tendulkar and Lara. Ian Chappell rates Tendulkar, Lara and Ponting. Greig talks about Lara as supreme. Ravi Shastri talks about Tendulkar and Lara, puts Ponting in the same category but not quite as high up there yet.
(Another aside: in Shastri’s view, Tendulkar did well in 1996-97 against Australia. Between 1 January 1996 and 31 December 1997, Tendulkar played a grand total of 0 Tests against Australia. Admittedly he did hit a 90 at the Wankhede and a couple of 50s in the Titan Cup in October 1996, but most people I’ve spoken to rate his performances in the Test Series in early 1998, and then the sublime Sharjah knocks, as far better performances. I personally think that the 1998-2000 period – starting with that huge series against Australia in the Tests, including that 177 at Bangalore, moving on to Sharjah, then to the Wellington ton, the 136 against Pakistan, then the 217 (Tests) and 186 (One Day International) against New Zealand, and finally the Melbourne 116 – is Tendulkar’s purplest patch ever. Evidently a few innings in the Titan Cup are more important to Ravi Shastri, or his memory is not as good as he thinks it is.)
I do agree with most of the commentators there that Lara’s genius is supreme. The unpredictability makes it even more special. You don’t know which Brian Lara is going to turn up, destroyer or disappointer, and that raises the excitement when he comes out to bat. I’ve never identified with Tendulkar to the same extent, except during that 1998-2000 period. I do find it curious that the august crowd Manjrekar has assembled mentions Dravid hardly at all. I can understand the omission in Kallis’s case – watching him score a ton is a feat of will and a laudable conquest over sleep – and Inzamam’s, to a lesser extent, but Dravid? Dravid, who has shown the ability to be a one-day dasher and Test Match wall, who has taken India to greater triumphs than Tendulkar ever did, who – to dirty ourselves with statistics briefly – has scored more double-hundreds and averages more than Tendulkar, whose performance at Adelaide is the best by an Indian batsman bar none?
Shastri and Manjrekar say that Tendulkar dominated better bowlers for longer. Perhaps there is some fairness in that. Dravid only hit a 148 and an 81 against a rampaging Donald and Pollock in South Africa and top-scored with 27 when India folded against them for 66, when Tendulkar obviously did more. Dravid did do abominably in Australia in 1999-2000, when Tendulkar shone, but then inexplicably hit 180 at Kolkata against McGrath and Warne when Laxman made 281. Tendulkar’s twin 50s in the lost game at Mumbai were obviously more important.
This is a rant and a theme to which I’m often drawn, much against my better judgment. Ultimately Shastri and Manjrekar are only expressing an opinion. I’m just not sure how much is based on nostalgia, and how much on reality. Tendulkar at his finest was supreme and subliminal – his patch from 1996 to 2000 was something few batsmen can hope to rival, and he showed glimpses of that form in the 2003 World Cup as well. Dravid, on the other hand, has been consistent for over 10 years. He too has smote the world’s best attacks, at home and away, and some would say he’s been more effective for India. Perhaps it will take better bowlers bowling better for Dravid to be recognised as right up there.
On the other hand, I haven’t been able to discern much difference between Dravid’s performance and Ponting’s in recent times. I don’t think I’m the only one. Ponting still receives accolades. So I wonder if Indian Cricket fans and former players – particularly those of the Bombay persuasion – aren’t being just a little unfair and rose-tinted in their view that Sachin is supreme. Dravid has been more useful to India (we’ve even won sometimes when he’s batted well abroad). He’s had fewer dips. He’s dominated attacks and racked up big scores in places as far apart as Headingley, Rawalpindi and Adelaide. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the greatest Indian batsman since Gavaskar, and I don’t think I’m alone in that view either – or am I?
Is it too much to ask that Indian fans recognise the rose blooming among us, as well as remembering the one that is wilted and dying? Perhaps it is.