When they finally close the book on cricket and write about the greatest players of all time, three names from this generation will be in the top 10 batsmen of all time. You know the three, probably by their first names: Sachin, Brian and Ricky.
Each batsman was different, with qualities that every team would want and arguments about who was the best tend to be settled by which part of the world you’re in. If you’re in the Caribbean it’s Lara, India it’s Sachin and Australia it’s, well, they sometimes say it’s Ricky. One thing is for certain, you’ll remember the first time you watched them play and make your own mind up who was the best.
Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar
Sachin is the last of these three juggernauts to retire from Test cricket and is about to play his game in his home city against the West Indies. If you check Sachin’s stats, you’ll find yourself rubbing your eyes.
- 200 Test matches by the time he’s done.
- 309 ODIs
- Over 15800 Test runs
- 34000+ international runs
- Test average of 53.71
- Highest score of 248 in Tests and 200 (yes, 200) in ODIs
- And 200 international wickets too.
That’s a record that matches anyone.
I first saw Tendulkar play for Yorkshire when he was a boy and the first person to play for the county who wasn’t born there. Even then he looked like he played with a bat 3 feet wide. As the years have gone by he’s got wider and slower, but the site of the Little Master – he’s only 5ft 5 – walking to the crease is enough to have most bowlers waving for the physio.
When Sachin was on fire, no one could bowl to him. He knew it, the bowlers knew it and the crowd knew it. He became revered in India as a God and he carried the hopes of a billion people with him when he went out to bat. His innings in Mumbai, his home town, just after the terrorist atrocities in the city will be remembered as one of his all time greats. He won the world cup, he holds almost every record a batsman could dream of and he’s done it with barely a whiff of scandal in a career that start in 1988/9. He’s amazing.
Brian Charles Lara
One record that Sachin has never held, despite playing on the flat sub continent pitches his entire career, is the record score in a Test match. Lara has that record, and has held it twice. The left-hander from Trinidad has a comparable average to Tendulkar (although from fewer games) of 52.88, but scored the big numbers more often than anyone else. His 375 was a record in Tests before Matthew Hayden stole his record, so he bludgeoned the England attack for 400 in Antigua just to get it back. Oh yeah, don’t forget the 501 he scored against Durham in a First Class game too.
It wasn’t just the big runs that Lara scored that made him great, it was the way he scored them. The huge back lift with his bat made it look like he had so much time, even against the fastest bowler and his placement had opposition captains looking for an extra three fielders.
Lara’s ability also shines through because of the average side he played most of his cricket in. The West Indies were far from a force by the time he was a fixture in the team – unlike Ponting or Tendulkar – yet he still managed to bat like a God while the lesser mortals walked backwards and forwards from the pavilion.
Ricky Thomas Ponting
One thing Lara or Tendulkar aren’t remembered for is being great captains. It was often thought they performed better for the team by not being burdened with the additional responsibility of captaincy – just go out there and bat. Why let your best player worry about practice sessions, batting orders, team morale, media commitments, field placings… you get the picture.
Punter never worried about captaincy issues – he just went out to make runs. And he made plenty of them – 13,378 in Tests at 51.85 and 13,704 in ODIs while holding down a place in one of the best teams ever to play the game.
He might be remembered in England as the guy who lost the Ashes three times, but don’t let that cloud your judgement. He was picked to captain a team that included Warne, McGrath, Hayden and Gilchirst and they all respected him. That’s good enough for me.
He was probably the least stylish out of the three and probably the least naturally gifted, but he was the best fighter and would be the man you’d want in a crisis.
So who was the best of his generation? The stylish Lara, the fighting Ponting, or the peerless Tendulkar? For me, if I was paying to watch a game, I’d want Lara playing, but if I was picking the team I’d want Tendulkar.
The elephant in the room
There is one other thing to add to the statement above. If I was picking a team and wanted the best cricketer of this generation, I wouldn’t pick any of the three legends.
I’d pick Jacques Henry Kallis.
He’s a handful of runs behind Ponting in Tests, averages 55.44, has scored over 11,000 ODI runs and (and it’s a HUGE and) has taken over 550 international wickets. While the others were stood at first slip, spending a little break in the treatment room or grazing on the boundary, Kallis had his sleeves rolled up and was charging in for more than 5,000 overs in Tests and ODIs.
I don’t just think Kallis is the best cricketer of his generation, I think he’s the best ever. And that includes The Don and Sir Garry.