Tendulkar is the best of the last 60 years

2010-02-27 00:00

SACHIN Tendulkar’s dazzling double century in Gwalior reinforced his reputation as the best batsman to appear in the last 60 years. At 36 the veteran summoned the skill and zest needed to break the 200 barrier in ODIs. After 20 years of intense pressure and a thousand hard campaigns the champion batsman was fresh enough to bat an entire innings and collar all sorts of bowling.

Nor was he playing against mugs. The might of South Africa was pitched against him. Certainly the pitch was flat and the outfield fast, but that has often been the case and the mark had remained intact. Moreover Tendulkar conquered not with brute force or daring gambles but with the purity of style that has been his hallmark since first he arrived as a child at Shivaji Park, the rising sun in the sky and in his face, a young boy seeking opportunity and competition. He produced the combination of classical and virtuoso that has set him apart.

No batsman has been more pleasing to watch in the last decades than Tendulkar and none has been superior. Amongst past masters, Viv Richards and Sunil Gavaskar stand out. They had much in common, including passion for the game and people.

Gavaskar tore attacks apart with supreme technique. Often he played within himself, relying on patience and precision to build his score. As much was the duty of the opening batsman and a proud patriot determined to prove that Indian batsmen were not to be cowered. Before Gavaskar, Indian batsmen were regarded as frail. After him the word was never again spoken. That is the true measure of his triumph.

Not that Gavaskar was always cautious. Indeed he played some of the most breathtaking innings the game has known, withering and wilful assaults that subdued rampant attacks. Then his range of shots was extraordinary and the execution was vibrant. Usually, though, he was meticulous. It was his fate to construct the building not to add the finishing touches. Arguably he was the greatest opening batsmen to emerge since the Second World War.

Viv Richards was the most feared batsman of the era. He did not so much walk to the crease as swagger. It was an announcement; a challenge had been issued. More than any other batsman he turned the pitch into a boxing ring. Always he set out to dominate and often he succeeded. He was a majestic batsman who relished the heat of battle and thrived on the great occasions.

But Richards was moody. He is remembered for his brilliance from 1976 to 1981, or thereabouts. In those years he was devastating as he hooked and flicked off his pads and imposed himself by force of stroke and character. For all his magnificence, though, he averaged only 50 in Test cricket, a modest return for a batsman of his stature not called upon to face the mighty West Indian pace machine.

The figures tell of a batsman somewhat at the mercy of his temper. Longevity has a part to play in the assessment. It is not merely a question of attaining a certain level. Sustaining is also important. Richards was imperious but wayward.

Amongst contemporaries, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis and Brian Lara belong in the class apart. Ponting’s greatness is not in doubt and the only debate about him concerns comparisons with Greg Chappell, the other outstanding Australian batsman of the post-Bradman period. Suffice it to say that both belong in the top category.

Kallis has been underestimated. In part it is because he often ends up in the all-rounder section, where he stands second only to Garry Sobers. As a batsman pure and simple he is a colossus, as good as any his country his produced. It is well nigh impossible to put any mark against Graeme Pollock and Barry Richards because they did not take the same exam. Kallis has been the most self-contained of the great batsmen, but his record speaks for itself. He has an excellent technique and a sturdy temperament and like the rest has had much to overcome off the field

Lara has been the most thrilling batsman of the period. His best has been the best. No one can touch him on his day, not even Tendulkar. Whereas the Indian is a great batsman, he is a genius. Where the right-hander is durable, he was inspired. No contemporary could soar as did the Trinidadian. But he was fitful, endured too many bad patches, bad series, bad years. Lara himself has acknowledged the merits of his rival, an opinion at once humble and accurate.

Tendulkar is not flawless. He is a man not a diamond. Of all modern batsmen, though he has been the most satisfying. And he’s not finished yet.

* Peter Roebuck is an international cricket correspondent who is based in the KZN midlands.

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