Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli : is the comparison valid?
Virat Kohli’s extravagant exploits in One Day Internationals has prompted Cricket fans all across the country to get into a
hotly contested debate – who the better of the two is, in the shorter format of the game. While pure numbers are in Virat
Kohli’s favor, the mind-boggling circumstances and possibly some of the greatest bowling attacks the Master has had to face during his prime and a few more factors do work in the Master’s favor. While Virat Kohli has always idolized the Master Blaster, the Master, too, has always heaped praise on the protégé. Recently, Ricky Ponting probably got it spot on when he said that while comparisons, especially in a world of teenage Cricket fans obsessed with numbers, are inevitable, it’ll still be unfair on both; for staying on top for five or so years, even if a wonderful feat, is a great achievement, it’s still a magnanimous, gigantic and, simply put, unprecedented feat to be able to dominate a sport for more than a couple of decades; or four different generations of Players! Hence, it would only be practical to compare the two when Virat Kohli bids the game adieu, still insensible considering the era that
As I set out to write this Article, I can’t help but recollect the India versus Pakistan game in South Africa, back in 2003. Such are the indelible marks that Tendulkar has left on me, that I recall any of his games vividly. The build up to the game was, perhaps, closest to build up of a serious battle; anyone who watched that game live would swear by the fact that the field had indeed transmogrified into a battlefield of sorts,
that day, mostly because of the fervent fanaticism around the game. Imagine, a radical Yousuf Youhana, termed the
game as Jihad for them, a statement ludicrous and atrocious by all means and standards; or Shoaib Akhtar, who vowed to create a torrid time for the Indian batsmen. Sachin Tendulkar was expected to plant the flag of the Nation on the highest meridian, like he had done a numerous times before. He walked in, along with Sehwag. Punched Akram for a
tremendous boundary through the Covers, destroyed Akhtar in the mini-epic, gliding past him as Akhtar continued to watch helplessly and played what went on to become an iconic innings. In the end, he fell short of what could have been a phenomenal hundred by just two runs.
What speaks volumes about Tendulkar is how everyone who has watched and followed Cricket since the 1980s
remembers Tendulkar with eidetic ability. Do you remember a sixteen-year old kid, bleeding profusely after being hit by a fiery Waqar bouncer on the nose, stay on the wicket, saying ‘Mai Khelega’? Yes! He went on to save that Test by scoring 57*. Do remember a seventeen-year old kid, calm yet scintillating, scoring a fabulous hundred against England at Old Trafford, thus becoming the youngest Test Centurion, and yet again saving India the blushes? Yes. Do you remember an eighteen-year old dominating a top bracket Australian attack on a hostile seaming Perth, waging a lone battle? Yes. How many of such moments can you recall?
Countless, I’m sure. The point I’m trying to make here is, is that Tendulkar started his career looking special, already. You
could transfer your gaze onto him and would never take it off. At 21, he was already called the best batsman in the
World, a moniker you never associated with Virat Kohli, when he was 21, in 2010 or 2011. It was only after 2012 that
Virat Kolhi was noticed for the first time, after the scintillating hundred against Australia, followed by the swashbuckling knock against Sri Lanka.
Then, in 2014, Virat went through probably the worst phase of his career, after a horrendous tour to England, where he was consistently made to look pedestrian, by an in-form Jimmy Anderson and Co. He came back and met Tendulkar, is idol, who pitched in with a
few suggestions about the flaws in his technique. He needed to take his front foot closer to the ball, and also needed to
play a lot more horizontal than vertical, especially in England where the ball generally swings and moves late. Virat worked hard to make the necessary changes, and since then, he has never looked back. True, Kohli has looked surreal over the last five years. He has scored centuries for food and has made runs at an insane, even unprecedented pace. At times, he has batted like in a dream. He has looked exceptional. Even then, how valid are the comparisons, considering the circumstances, some of the statistics and a few other factors?
Sachin Tendulkar, throughout his career, has had to face some of the best bowlers the game has ever produced. Figure this, more than 60 percent of his runs have been scored when Courney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose, Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee, Shane Warne, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Saqlain Mushtaq, Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan were still at their respective peaks. Most of the names mentioned above are already in the list of the greatest bowlers the game has ever produced.
It’s obviously not Virat’s fault, but the
fact is that a lot of bowling that Virat Kohli is facing is pedestrian and mediocre. Add to this the flexible powerplays, a lot more batsman-friendly rules, shorter boundaries and greater quality bats – and you understand why scoring has become easier. I have frequently seen how a punch off the backfoot, during the middle overs, towards mid-on yileds four runs these days, when with regular field settings, it would yield a single or, if the fielder was slow-moving, two at max. The runscoring has become relatively easier, which is why we so frequently see scores of 300 to 350 being made and easily chased down as well. In a bid to make Cricket more entertaining, the pitches, too, are almost always batsman friendly. Moving on, I would like to highlight a few other factors.
Virat Kohli has played only 39 innigs at number four or below that, with 27 of those, being at number four. Therefore, Kohli has hardly had to play in the lower-middle order. Tendulkar, on the other hand, has played 103 innings at number four or lower. In fact, for the first 70 of his ODIs, Tendulkar played at number five or below, as result of which he could manage only 2000 odd runs from them. It’s only in the 71st game that Tendulkar got to open, an opportunity he grabbed with both hands, scoring a mind blowing 82 off 49 balls against NZ. In spite of this, Tendulkar managed to score 18,426 runs and whether Virat Kohli gets there, even with all the batsman-friendly rules and mediocre bowling attacks, is still a long shot, since he still needs more than 8000 runs to get there. This highlights the enormity of Tendulkar’s skill set,considering how he has set all of these records in spite of facing some of the greatest bowling attacks.
When Sachin Tendulkar was at his peak, he scored hundreds every 6.86 innings whereas the other batsmen of his era
scored a century every 25 innings. Virat, on the other hand, scores a century every 5.32 innings, whereas the others score a century every 15 innings. While Virat is ahead of Tendulkar
head-to-head, Tendulkar was far ahead of his contemporaries than Virat is, of his comtemporaries. This also shows how scoring hundreds these days has become a lot, lot easier. Another example of how run-scoring has become easier is when we compare the strike-rates of the
two. Tendlkar, at his peak, had a strike-rate of more than 92, whereas the rest of the world scored at 71.50. This was close
to 21 percent better than his contemporaries. In case of Virat, he scores at 92.51 whereas the rest of the top batsmen score at around 85, which means Virat is just 7.5 percent
better than his contemporaries. This goes on to show how Tendulkar dominated his era with a lot more difference than
Virat does, yet another sign of a truly legendary Cricketer. Tendulkar had 39 MOM awards after 209 ODIs, whereas
Virat has 30. Yet again, this shows how Tendulkar waged many more single-handed battles than Virat Kohli has had to.
Two other important aspects have changed and have impacted Cricket in general. Firstly, the introduction of two
new balls in an ODI innings since October 11, 2011, ensures the ball kind of remains new through out the innings, thereby making the all important weapon of reverse swing in a bowler’s repertoire next to useless. Secondly, the revised fielding restrictions since 30th October, 2012, have ensured runscoring has gotten pretty easy compared to what it was before. Tendulkar had to play close to a hundred ODIs with red ball which, yet again, has been proven to reverse earlier and more viciously. These little changes have significantly
tilted the balance of the game in Batsman’s favor. To add to the woes, the quality of bowlers across the world has gone down drastically.
In spite of the outlandish consistency Kohli has displayed and in spite of the prolific run-scoring over the past few years, Kohli still needs more than 8000 more runs to surpass the little master in ODIs, yet another reminder of how Tendulkar has scored consistently well even as the game has gone a few transitions. This, in spite of the unfortunate career threatening injuries that Tendulkar has had to battle
throughout his glittering career. I’m not even discussing Test Cricket, where Sachin Tendulkar is still out of grasp for
anyone at this point.Virat Kohli has been phenomenal. He has been scoring runs
at an insane rate. Sachin Tendulkar has himself said many times that he would be the happiest if Kolhi were to break his
records. However, to call Kohli better than Tendulkar would be extremely unfair on the God of Cricket. Virat Kohli, as an independent batsman, is great but to put him above the Master Blaster will be grave injustice.