Ponting V. Tendulkar

Pitting great players against each can be tiresome (much like the Prince v. Michael Jackson debate of the 1980s). It should be enough to say that the last two decades have given us an incomparable supply of great batsmen, including J. Kallis, B. Lara, S. Tendulkar and R. Ponting.  Then again, the urge cannot be resisted (esp. in statistics-crazy cricket), and clearer answers emerge as time goes on  (after Jackson’s career ran aground in the 2000s, and lawsuits piled up, Chris Rock memorably said, “Prince won!”).

All of this is by way of introducing the great debate of our time: Tendulkar or Ponting? It wasn’t too long ago that Tendulkar, struggling against a dip in form and a dodgy elbow, seemed destined to be overtaken. Ponting enjoyed a higher batting average and had a ‘great captain’ feather in his cap (Tendulkar’s brief captaincy is hardly ever mentioned).

None of that holds true now — Tendulkar’s Test average is almost 57, while Ponting’s has slipped to 53 (a neat reversal from a couple of years ago, if I’m not mistaken). Ponting is also stuck on century #39, while Tendulkar has zoomed ahead to 51 (7 of which came last year). The last two years have been bad for Ponting’s reputation, with his average each year slipping into the high 30s. (He has also lost the Ashes twice, at home and abroad.) Tendulkar’s average, meanwhile, rose past 60 on both years.

It’s true that other batsmen could have earned better statistics than Tendulkar had they kept going (Don Bradman’s average, obviously, remains untouched). But, as The Old Batsman pointed out, this is precisely the point: Tendulkar’s endurance and ability to adapt are key parts of his greatness. It’s not just that he keeps playing (though, given how so many players have failed in this regard, it is). It’s also that he keeps playing well. He’s had off years (2003 and 2006), but on most years, he’s batted happily above 40. Watching Dravid, Ponting and Ganguly falter in recent years only heightens my appreciation for Tendulkar’s abilities.

Of course, you have to believe that once his own form begins to dip, the calls for his retirement will grow exponentially and, contrary to Ganguly’s claim that “Tendulkar’s never dropped,” the pressure will increase much as it is now with Ponting. Who exactly is planting stories about him flying off to captain an English county?

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