Shoaib Akhtar's straight, naïve, controversial, and at times, funny autobiography has triggered a mini-storm in India. The controversial ex-Pakistan speedster has grabbed attention by questioning Sachin Tendulkar's abilities.
The book has rubbed people the wrong way but taking pot shots at Tendulkar has elicited maximum attention. Shoaib's controversial career may have dented his credibility but it does provide the insight of arguably the fastest bowler in the game.
“I think players like Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid weren't exactly match-winners, nor did they know the art of finishing a game. Things changed when younger players like Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh arrived on the scene. These guys played to win,” Shoaib says in his book.
The biggest problem discussing Tendulkar's game is that one can lose perspective. He made his debut as a 16-year-old and is among the rare sporting talent to fulfill the promises he showed when he started out. Apart from his achievements for over two decades, Tendulkar has remained the face of Indian cricket, infusing faith in the game from time to time.
His technique, preparation and piling of runs and centuries have been discussed threadbare. Still, as he moves towards the end of a glorious career, two questions do come up.
The first is whether Tendulkar is the best ever in the game and whether he has been a consistent match-winner. Among contemporaries, he has had to compete with the artistic Brian Lara, the aggressive Ricky Ponting, and Inzamam-ul Haq.
Tendulkar's shots were compared with his own by Sir Don Bradman, which added momentum to the debate whether Tendulkar is the best ever.
However, Shoaib raises the question about the batsman's winning impact. “With the coming of the younger players…And Sachin has started scoring quickly, and playing the role of a match-winner for his team. I can't recall a series from his earlier playing days when he helped win matches.”
He adds: “To me, however, winning is everything. Viv Richards, Ponting, Lara are great batsmen who dominated with the bat and were truly match-winners. Initially, when I bowled against Sachin, I found these qualities missing. He might have had more runs and records but he lacked the ability to finish a game. Apne run liye aur out ho gaye. (He got his runs and got out). But in the last three years, he has changed his game.”
It is true that Tendulkar has slowed down at times nearing milestones, cutting out risks. Lara, Gilchrist, Sehwag and Ponting rather look to stamp their authority on the bowlers at that stage. But Tendulkar’s dismissals have often led to batting collapses, in the 1990s and in early 2000s. And on most occasions, his approach has worked for the team.
Statistics show one-third of Tendulkar’s 181 Tests have ended in victories. In those 61 matches, he has scored 20 of his 51 centuries. In ODIs, 33 of his 48 hundreds have led to wins, in 230 matches out of the overall 453.