Monthly Archives: December 2013

Where does Sachin Tendulkar rank among the sporting greats?

I love these GOAT discussions. And Ben Dirs is excellent.


Where does Sachin Tendulkar rank among the sporting greats?
By Ben Dirs
BBC Sport

There is something faintly absurd about journalists ranking the deeds of our finest sportsmen and women: who am I, to whom greatness is a stranger, to judge greatness in others? And how ‘great’, really, is someone who happens to have been conferred with the talent of ball control? Nelson Mandela-great? Give me a break.

Yet there was lionisation of gladiators in ancient Rome and wrestlers in ancient Greece, suggesting it is inherent in humans to be awed by the athletic prowess of others. No pub bores back in Neolithic times, but there were probably caves full of blokes arguing over who was the greatest tree-climber ever. Even Mandela, usually taken up with more cerebral matters, admits one of his biggest heroes is Muhammad Ali.

So, let’s have it then: as he announces he will retire from cricket next month after his 200th Test, how great is Sachin Tendulkar? To answer that question, it is necessary to define sporting greatness. Then we must address how closely Tendulkar fits each component part of that definition. Don’t worry, this isn’t a university thesis, but Tendulkar hagiographies will be everywhere in the coming days and weeks.

When Andrew Flintoff retired from cricket in 2009 arguments raged in the media and in pubs across the land as to whether he was great or not. Some said not, because the first component part of greatness is cold hard statistics. In 79 Tests and 141 one-day internationals, Flintoff scored eight centuries and took five five-wicket hauls, and never a 10-for. South Africa’s Jacques Kallis has to date played 162 Tests and 321 ODIs, scoring 61 centuries and taking seven five-wicket hauls. In addition, his bowling average in Tests is better than Flintoff’s (the Englishman’s ODI bowling average is, admittedly, markedly lower).

If a great cricketer is someone whose numbers are comparatively better than all or almost all of his contemporaries, then Kallis qualifies. Flintoff does not. Tendulkar, meanwhile, has scored 29 more tons than the next highest century-maker in international cricket, Ricky Ponting, which puts the Indian out on his own. Miles out, in fact, just like Don Bradman’s vertiginous batting average.

Flintoff was a cricketer who occasionally did great things, which is different from being a truly great cricketer. Which takes us to our next component parts of greatness – longevity and consistency of performance.

To score 100 international centuries, it was necessary for Tendulkar to be at the top of the game for 24 years, which in any sport is extraordinary. In that time, at least until his struggles of the past two seasons, he has suffered nary a blip. He had a rough time in Tests in 2006, but the following year he scored 776 runs at an average of 55.4. Not much of a blip.

Paul Gascoigne had more talent in his big toe than most England footballers playing today. But truly great? It is difficult to countenance the idea – too few highlights, far too many lows.  John Daly has won two majors in golf, but only one tournament since claiming the Open Championship in 1995. Does that make him a better golfer than Colin Montgomerie, who has 40 professional wins to his name, but none of them a major? And if so, does it follow that Daly is necessarily a great? Again, many would say no.

Longevity was a big part of Ali’s greatness – he won Olympic gold in 1960 and regained the heavyweight world title 18 years later. Mike Tyson, past his best at the age of 24, did not even make venerable boxing historian Bert Sugar’s all-time heavyweight top 10. Sugar, meanwhile, had Britain’s Lennox Lewis down at 18 in his list. This is frankly bizarre, but I can understand his thinking: Lewis’s achievements, Sugar would no doubt have argued, were diminished by a lack of competition. Competition and rivalry are also significant factors when it comes to measuring greatness.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are considered by some to be the two greatest tennis players of all time, in large part because they have amassed 30 Grand Slam titles between them. But also because they have amassed those titles by having to beat each other on a regular basis.

In Tendulkar’s first Test, against Pakistan in Karachi in 1989, the 16-year-old faced fearsome pace duo Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis and he played during the last flourishing of great West Indian quicks. Against Australia, the world’s best team for most of Tendulkar’s career, he averaged 45 in ODIs and 55 in Tests. Like Federer and Nadal, he thrived against the best.

Tendulkar ‘only’ won one World Cup (in 2011) but a better gauge of the greatness of team players is how they perform as individuals on the biggest stage. In that respect, Tendulkar is peerless. In six World Cups, Tendulkar has scored the most runs (2,278), most centuries (six), most 50+ scores (21) and the most runs in a single tournament (673 in 2003).

When it comes to judging greatness, aesthetic considerations are secondary to numbers. But ask a Brian Lara devotee why they believe their hero to be greater than Tendulkar and there is a chance they will mention that majestic cover-drive of his, like honey dripping off the back of a spoon.

Lara, an alchemist like Ali, transformed sport into epic poetry. Tendulkar, meanwhile, dealt mainly in prose. But anyone who fails to appreciate that timed on-drive of Tendulkar’s has a small piece of their heart missing, by definition.

Last, it is necessary to look at how Tendulkar went about his business – the manner in which he achieved what he did, temperamentally rather than aesthetically speaking. Some believe Tiger Woods has tarnished his greatness with his personal travails, surly bearing and spitting and cursing on the golf course. And there are those who think Tom Watson, for example, is the greater golfer because of his more dignified nature.

Tendulkar is more Watson than Woods. During three decades at the pinnacle of his sport, under the glare of more than a billion countrymen, there has been barely a hint of controversy. Indeed, some would argue he has been a little bit dull, that a bit of off-field strife or outspokenness would have made him a more engaging figure.

But it is impossible to imagine the pressure Tendulkar was under. As the signs at his home ground in Mumbai say: “If cricket is a religion, then Sachin is God.” The poor bloke had enough on his plate without inviting more attention, and perhaps only Manny Pacquiao, whose fights stop wars in his native Philippines, can truly empathise.

Ask a member of England’s Rugby World Cup-winning side of 2003 who the most important member of the team was and there is a good chance he will say Richard Hill. Hill is a bona fide great, but he is fortunate in that he can stroll round his local supermarket and hardly anyone will recognise him.

The true greats – the really, really, really great – transcend their sports, become almost god-like. And gods don’t go to the supermarket for their shopping.

Tendulkar, a legend in his own career, is on the top table, up there with Tiger and Michael Jordan and Pele. Not the greatest, though – I’m with Mandela, that simply has to be Ali, the greatest great there has ever been and probably ever will be.

Ashes 2013/14 – some thoughts on England’s pitiful surrender

Along with most England cricket fans I guess, I have never felt such a sense of shame in my team as that produced by this Ashes series, currently standing at 4-0 after England managed to throw away a winning position in Melbourne. The teams of the 90s were outclassed – Atherton and Stewart versus Hayden and Gilchrist, Hussain and Gough versus Waugh and McGrath – but they tried their hardest, and were playing greats. This current England team is decent standard (their last series vs S.A. showed up those who thought they were any better than that), and Australia is decent too, and to turn that match-up into a humiliation has taken some doing.

So, a couple of interesting articles I’ve found recently. In the first, Mark Taylor makes an apparently astonishing comparison. For the record, I don’t think any sane person would pick Harris over Marshall, but it is noteworthy for such an experienced judge to say this:

Tubby puts Harris in elite company
It’s perhaps the ultimate compliment a fast bowler can be paid … being compared to one of the finest of them all – late, great West Indies legend Malcolm Marshall


And earlier today, in the Channel Nine commentary box, former Australia captain Mark Taylor offered Ryan Harris exactly that ringing endorsement.

“He’s as close as Australia have had to a Malcolm Marshall – that’s how highly I rate him,” Taylor said of Harris. “He is a quality bowler, Ryan Harris. “He obviously hasn’t played anywhere near as many games as Malcolm but he bowls very similar stuff; close to the stumps, round about 140-45kph, and just shapes it away.”

Marshall played 81 Tests for West Indies between 1978 and 1991, taking 376 wickets at the remarkable average of 20.94. Among bowlers with more than 300 Test scalps, his strike rate of 46.7 is bettered only by Dale Steyn (41.4) and Waqar Younis (43.4). Harris, in contrast, is playing in just his 19th Test, and has collected 82 wickets at 21.84. Amazingly, going into the third Commonwealth Bank Ashes Test, the 34-year-old’s strike rate was exactly the same as Marshall’s.

Taylor acknowledged the gravity of the comparison. “Yeah, it’s a big call,” he said. “He’s got a lot more cricket yet, if he’s got it in him – if his body and particularly his right knee have got it in him – to get to Malcolm Marshall, but I think he’s the closest I’ve seen for a long time. “Just the way he bowls – he hustles in, it’s quick enough, not super quick, but it’s quicker than say an (James) Anderson, and he’s always got that shape away from the right-handers. If you can do that consistently, you’re going to be a great bowler, as was Malcolm Marshall.”

The second article is another great bit of writing from one of the Two Chucks at CricInfo, discussing the might-have-beens:

Where it all didn’t go wrong for Australia
So much has clicked for Michael Clarke and his players, even on the occasions when things briefly looked like they might go right for England instead
Jarrod Kimber at the MCG

In another timeline, Alastair Cook just pushed a single to get Jonathan Trott on strike. Then Trott tickled a leg-side ball from Jon Holland around the corner, taking another one, as England won the series 3-1. Michael Clarke looks lost. Shane Watson is not there.

On this timeline, Watson burped a ball to deep square from Monty Panesar to move Australia ever closer to 5-0. Watson and Clarke embrace like brothers. Cook looks lost. Trott is not there.

It might seem completely inconceivable right now that Australia could have ever lost this series but, considering how much has gone right for them this series, it is not exactly science fiction.

Things have consistently not gone wrong for Australia.

For instance, they might not have picked Mitchell Johnson. Despite good white-ball form, and even with Kevin Pietersen and Trott flinching in the UK, Johnson might not have played had Mitchell Starc or James Pattinson been fit. Johnson was suspended on the Test tour of India earlier in the year, didn’t fit Australia’s plan of pressure through subtle movement. His batting is handy, but Australia’s tail did okay without him. So, had there been other options, or if Australia decided to move on, Johnson wouldn’t have played at the Gabba.

Without Johnson, Australia would not be 4-0.

Brad Haddin also could have been dropped. While he kept well in the UK, he also averaged 22. He is 36, it was his first real series back in the team, and he struggled to make an impact. The major reason he was brought back was to calm relations in the team but Darren Lehmann handled that quite well himself. Australia could have looked at it and decided that, with Wade averaging roughly the same and a better conversion rate for hundreds, it was time to bring him back in and let him take more of a leadership role.

Without Haddin, Australia would not be 4-0.

David Warner has made a lot of runs in second-innings knocks with little pressure. Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris have been good but have not really been tested in fifth and sixth spells. Nathan Lyon has been serviceable, but that’s easier to do with Johnson decapitating people at the other end. Watson has only passed 22 once in the first innings. George Bailey has barely played a proper Test innings yet and Chris Rogers would have been in far more pressure coming into this Test had it not been for the scoreline.

And none of that even takes into account the possibility of an injury befalling Harris, or Watson, or even Clarke.

Instead Trott went home. Graeme Swann retired. Matt Prior was dropped. And Cook looks under pressure.

James Anderson looks tired and beaten. Stuart Broad hasn’t bowled another great spell since the Gabba. Ian Bell has lost the magic he had in the home Ashes. Pietersen can’t seem to please anyone. Michael Carberry hasn’t gone on to make any real impact on the series despite looking okay most of the time. Joe Root’s constant travels around the batting order and his propensity to waft have had him in trouble. Tim Bresnan is not the same bowler he was three years ago.

And whether real or imagined, it seemed like every single decision that Alastair Cook made in this Test went against him. Whereas Michael Clarke probably made a mistake at the toss, ended up with a 51-run deficit, and still won by eight wickets.

In another timeline Prior takes the first catch, Cook takes the second and England win comfortably. But that never ever looked possible today. Just like all series, if something could go right for England, they made a mistake to ensure it didn’t.

And Australia have ridden the many gift horses into the sunset.

Jimmy Anderson’s Australian lament

What a fantastic, poignant piece that covers Anderson’s (and England’s) 2013-14 Ashes agony. This is top writing, knowledgeable and poetic.


Jimmy Anderson’s Australian lament
Jarrod Kimber

James Anderson has been one of the most skilful bowlers of the modern age, but when George Bailey thrashed 28 off one over it was a reminder that Australia has not always been kind to him

At the top of his mark at Trent Bridge, there was a broken man. Jimmy Anderson had bowled and bowled and bowled, and somehow Australia still hadn’t lost. There seemed to be a limp, but maybe you just expected one. Australia failed to pass 300, but he bowled more than 50 overs in the match. As Haddin and Pattinson inched Australia to victory, he was brought back.

His physical demeanor was more like a man who had just completed 10 straight Tests, not someone in the first of ten. He took the wicket of Haddin, and won the game. It was his tenth wicket of the game. He beat Australia on his own.

Since then, he’s taken 19 wickets at 47. Since then, across both series, England are 3-2 down.


The ball at the WACA is a on a length outside offstump. George Bailey leans back and slices it past a diving slip to the third man boundary. Australia are 479 ahead.


Jimmy Anderson is no Dale Steyn. Dale Steyn fans will tell you about this for hours on end. As if Anderson should be ashamed of any good press he gets that isn’t lavished on Steyn. Dale Steyn is a god, a myth, created from a tree struck by lightning and found in a crater in small town America. Anderson is a skilful, smart bowler. There have few men ever in the entire history of our planet as good as Dale Steyn; Anderson is not one of them.

Anderson is, however, a supreme mover of the cricket ball.

Pictures of his wrist position should be X-rated. When he gets the ball to swing, it moves as if operated by a remote control. And he can bowl a ball so good that only the off stump can stop it.

The ball goes where he wants it, and when he is at his absolute best, he can move the batsmen around the crease as well. When Robin Peterson was sent out at No 3 for South Africa in the Champions Trophy semi-final, Jimmy Anderson put on a clinic of swing bowling.

Coming around the wicket to the left-handed Peterson, he bowled four straight outswingers to him. A fair skill in itself. But each was gloriously out of reach. All within a few inches of each other. The length and movement meant Peterson could only leave them. Peterson edged towards each ball, so while he started batting on leg stump, he ended up on off stump. The moment he was in front of the stumps, from around the wicket the wicket Anderson swung the ball the other way, Peterson was out lbw.

That’s not good swing bowling, that’s a supervillain.


The ball is full and lovely. George Bailey smashes it back over long off, past the rope, boundary and into the sightscreen area. Australia are 485 ahead.


Anderson had to fight his way in. He’s not built like a fast bowler. He’s built like a greyhound. He’s not massively tall, he doesn’t have the fast bowler’s big behind, and his shoulders are like that of any mortal.

His action is also unconventional. He doesn’t actually watch the ball. His head almost disappears. He’s partly front on, not fully front on or fully side on. His front foot goes off on a random angle like it is ignoring the delivery. He shouldn’t really work.

But he was fast, and had an outswinger. So he made it to the top level. That is enough to take some wickets, but pace isn’t always enough unless you’re scarily quick. And top batsmen can handle consistent outswing, and sometimes the ball doesn’t swing.

It was Troy Cooley who tried to fix Jimmy Anderson. The man who helped turn the ’05 bowling attack into a machine. But Cooley’s ways go in both directions. Mitchell Johnson produced his best deliveries under Cooley, but also lost his way. Kabir Ali never made it under Cooley despite blatantly obvious natural talent. And for Jimmy Anderson, his time with Cooley went very wrong.

With Anderson, any bowling coach could see the flaws. Some will try and fix them, some will suggest he’s doing well even with them. Cooley tried to fix them. They were afraid Anderson would end up with stress fractures in his back. They changed his action – and Anderson ended with stress fractures in his back.

It’s not that surprising that the scientific method didn’t work for him. Even now, Anderson’s run up is not done with a tape measure. It’s the same run up he has had since he was a 15 year old back in Burnley. When marking it, he starts midway between the crease and then leaps his first step, walks his next 13, and then leaps his last one. It’s about as unscientific as anything in Team England, it’s the opposite of eating kale or psychological tests.


The ball is full at leg stump. George Bailey moves his front leg and flicks it to deep backward square and scrambles back for two. Australia are 487 ahead.


At home, Anderson can monster teams. Swing bowlers from other countries drool when they think about England; Anderson had the good fortune to be born there. Whatever it is about the climate that makes the ball swing, it’s certainly helped him.

He was pretty good when he had an outswinger, but a few years in he had a killer inswinger as well. Around this time he also mastered the art of hitting the seam when he needed too. That makes you a pretty good bowler on bowler-friendly wickets.

But in recent years he’s been as good in the UAE and India. A series England lost, and one they won from behind. For a swing bowler to succeed in India or the UAE, that’s not about seam up and get it in the right areas, that’s bowling intelligence. The ability to learn new tricks, and things that will work on unresponsive pitches, is how Anderson helped England get to number one.

When he was called the most skilful fast bowler on earth, the Steyn fans took great fun in comparing the records of him and Anderson. But Steyn is the best fast bowler on earth, by a distance. Anderson is the most skilful.

Anderson has even learnt from other bowlers who aren’t as good as Dale Steyn. From Stuart Clark and Mohammad Asif, he learnt the wobble ball. A ball that misbehaves because even the bowler is not sure what it is going to do. Perfect for flat pitches and boring interludes. The sort of ball that bad bowlers deliver by mistake.

From Zaheer Khan, he has learnt that sometimes on flat pitches you need to bowl faster, not slower. The modern wisdom is to bowl within yourself, with the occasional quicker ball. But Zaheer was the master of sometimes bowling as fast as his body would allow just to make something happen. For both of them, it often does.

Zaheer also bowled reverse swing. Anderson spent time watching him doing that as well. Then he learned the art himself, even adding the hide-the-ball style that Zaheer and many sub-continental masters had used before. It means that the outswing bowler can wobble one off a flat pitch, or reverse one to cause damage. He has come a long way from the young kid who just swing it away for a few overs.

When he was called the most skilful fast bowler on earth, the Steyn fans took great fun in comparing the records of him and Anderson. But Steyn is the best fast bowler on earth, by a distance. Anderson is the most skilful. One is superman, and is enhanced by the earth’s yellow sun. The other is Batman, flawed but really clever with endless resources that he uses to shield himself from the fact he’s not an alien with endless power.


The ball is a leg-stump length ball. George Bailey drop kicks it to deep backward square for a boundary. Australia are 491 ahead.


There is a theory that in Anderson can’t bowl in Australia. Reputations are hard to change. And the Ashes of 2006-7 left lasting impressions for many Australians. That was a series where Anderson found five wickets at over 80 apiece. Somehow it seemed worse than those figures suggest. They next time he stepped on a plane headed for Australia he must have paused a bit himself.

In 2010-11, he took 24 wickets at 26. There were no five-wicket hauls, although with Australian wickets falling so fast, it was hard for him to collect them all. He just spearheaded an attack, that was mostly without Broad, into completely and utterly smashing Australia consistently.

The series was 0-0 on that morning of Adelaide. The run out of Simon Katich was annoying, but it shouldn’t have meant the end of all happiness for Australia. Jimmy Anderson did. He dragged Ponting into playing the wrong shot at the wrong ball. He tempted Clarke into playing a stupid shot at a beautiful swinging ball. And he allowed Watson to find gully with a normal Watson drive. He only took one more wicket that innings, and two more in the second innings, but that start to the game was something Australia could not recover from.

In Melbourne, after England’s shock loss in Perth, he took four wickets in Australia’s series-losing 98 on Boxing Day. The wickets of Clarke, Hussey, Smith and Johnson: not a tail-ender between them. Any chance of a comeback, or even a less than embarrassing total, was gone with one Anderson spell.

But that was by far Anderson’s best against Australia, home or away. During 2009 his bowling was mute, only 12 wickets. His last Ashes had the glorious start at Trent Bridge, but England won the series with him contributing only an occasional really good spell. And this one, well, it’s been better than 2006-7, but that’s about it.

The Australians and Anderson don’t like each other. Anderson has enjoyed the good times over the Aussies, and his hand-over-mouth sledging technique gets to them. The ‘broken f*cken arm’ comment shouldn’t be looked at as a one-time thing. There is almost no time when Anderson is out on the ground when he isn’t having words with someone.

The Australians probably enjoy it; they just enjoy it more when they’re winning. As Anderson does.


The ball is very full and very straight. George Bailey slogs it into the first few rows of the crowd with a slap. Australia are 497 ahead.


If Anderson were to retire now, which is unlikely given his age of 31, he would retire with a bowling average of 30. It seems very high for a bowler who at times has beheaded Michael Clarke’s off stumps with balls that were as deadly as anything ever bowled.

Like his team, he is a player with a decent record which does not really convey how good he could be at his best. Like his team, he’s a bit flawed, but gets through it through bloody-mindedness and determination. Like his team, he was skilful and smart.

Like his team, he looks tired.

It would be stupid to write off England and Anderson right now. With South Africa having a great team, and India a team of greats, England still rose to the top of the world. hey did it with a spearhead with an average average, a splayed front foot and a head that yanks the wrong way. They did it when no one really expected England to be as good as they were, and no one really expected Anderson to do as much as he has.

James Anderson has more Test wickets than every English cricketer other than Ian Botham. From the same amount of Tests, he has more than Willis. That skinny frame and dodgy action has got him there. There is something special about him. Even if he did have the misfortune to be more mortal than Botham or Steyn.

Anderson, and England, can come back. If not now, then one day.


The ball tails in at very nearly yorker length. George Bailey hits it onto the sightscreen covered seats with ease. Australia are 503 ahead.


Anderson bowled a quality delivery to Chris Rogers that went off the edge towards Prior and Cook. Prior never moved. Cook jumped violently but couldn’t hold on. Anderson went back to his mark as the catch was trickling slowly behind them. Australia already had a big lead for no wickets, Broad was off the ground, the birds were gathering above England’s heads waiting for them to fall over.

Anderson should have just kept walking past his mark and into the member’s bar.

Instead he kept bowling, 19 overs in all. His first 18 went for 77. His 19th conceded 28.


After Bailey’s 28th run, Michael Clarke holds his hand up. He doesn’t call the team in with the familiar captaincy gesture where you gesture for them to come in. He just holds his hand up like a police officer stopping traffic. Stop. You’ve done enough.

It was quite clear, for now at least, Anderson and England were done.

Australian Open Tennis Final 2009: Federer vs Nadal

Unbelievable quality, these highlights. If you only watch 10 seconds, pick the rally at 11’00”, but there are so many others.