Comparing legends: Sachin Tendulkar and Don Bradman

2010-12-28 00:00

INDIA’S consuming interest in comparisons between Don Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar is ultimately pointless.

Matters of this sort cannot be settled. It is like putting Shakespeare alongside Tagore. A thousand opinions can be expressed, but in the end the words speak for themselves. Sometimes it is enough to absorb and appreciate.

Still, the fuss has been illuminating on several fronts. Besides their abilities with the willow, Bradman and Tendulkar have much in common.

Both reached from the field into the hearts and minds of supporters. Bradman emerged at a time of depression, with workers queuing for soup and businessmen throwing themselves off buildings.

The sight of this chuckling little man from the bush cutting a swathe with his bat offered some small measure of consolation.

Later The Don returned to brighten the mood after the dark years of war. He was reluctant to come back and batted terribly in the nets, but friend and foe alike urged him to take the plunge. That is another common characteristic. Bradman and Tendulkar are admired as much overseas as at home. In some way they are better loved because their foibles remain hidden.

Tendulkar has charted the rise of his country over the last 20 years. India in 2011 is much changed from the country that existed in the early 1990s. Now it is a modern economic powerhouse seeking a place on the United Nations Security Council.

Tendulkar sits comfortably with this progress. Where Sunil Gavaskar was the freedom fighter in whites, he reflects a nation at ease with itself. His success has come through India, not despite it.

But India still yearns for a definitive local champion. Hence the excitement when a poll taken by an Australian newspaper indicated that a majority of voters regarded Tendulkar as Bradman’s superior. Of course, the poll was far from scientific. It is more likely that votes were cast by current enthusiasts as opposed to sages steeped in history.

Many supporters were inspired by the idea that Tendulkar might have replaced a batsman whose eminence has not hitherto been seriously questioned. Besides revealing an urge, the existence of the debate shows how far Tendulkar had advanced in this final surge. Even two years ago he was put in the same category as Viv Richards and Brian Lara, was cast a champion of his time but not necessarily all time.

His majestic form has taken Tendulkar into another orbit. Along the way he has filled all remaining gaps in his record, has become stronger as others faded.

Before long he will score his 100th international hundred for India, an almost unimaginable feat. His stamina has been unsurpassed. Certainly he has been fresher and fitter than Bradman. Perhaps it is the modern lifestyle, or else his extraordinary ability to take pressure in his stride and to treat cricket as a game even deep into manhood.

At the crease Tendulkar is the constant child but never remotely childish — he was an adult at 12 and a child at 38. Throughout he has managed to combine delight and judgment.

And yet there is one part of the response that does not sit well. At times Tendulkar is treated with something close to adulation. Lara evokes the same response. And it is dangerous. Lara is to be paid a fortune to serve IPL as some sort of consultant. It is money for old rope. Idolatry has little appeal.

Meanwhile, committed provincial cricketers are paid a pittance and often belatedly. Ask the Hyderabadis why Laxman is given so much and the rest so little, though he is hardly worth his place in the T20 side. India has come a long way in Tendulkar’s time but there is a short distance still to travel.

* Peter Roebuck is an international cricket correspondent who is based in Pietermaritzburg.

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