OPINION | Stop comparing players, just enjoy success of Virat Kohli’s team
Cricket itself frowns upon such comparisons. Purists sneer at these because cricketers are unique products of circumstances and standalone situations. It’s therefore incorrect to square off players who played years apart.Updated: Jan 09, 2019 10:41 IST
Cricket is played in the middle and discussed animatedly across offices, parks, teashops and homes. At most times, the conversation is about comparing players from different eras: Do Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar stand shoulder to shoulder or is one taller than the other? Where does Virat Kohli sit among India’s all time greats? Who among our treasured spinners is the most precious?
Cricket itself frowns upon such comparisons. Purists sneer at these because cricketers are unique products of circumstances and standalone situations. It’s therefore incorrect to square off players who played years apart.
This argument holds because cricket is fundamentally dynamic, impacted by changing laws, conditions, pitch behaviour, field restrictions, equipment, player fitness and mindset. A counter narrative (articulated among others by Ian Chappell) says a champion is a champion and greats like Gavaskar and Kapil Dev would succeed in any format in any country in any era.
Regardless of one’s position, comparisons become inevitable considering cricket’s precise measurement of individual contributions and scorebooks that tell stories. Stats can lie or conceal some truth but what else is cricket but runs scored and wickets taken? So, player versus player is orange versus orange.
THE BEST XI?
This comparison industry attempts to provide context to India’s history creating success in Australia. The nation, a large part of it at least, wants to know if Kohli’s eleven is India’s best ever? Do Kohli/Pujara match the batting standards set by Tendulkar/Dravid/ Laxman/Sehwag and Ganguly? Are the three spinners (Ashwin/Jadeja/Kuldeep) as good as the famous four (Bishan-Prasanna-Chandra-Venkat)?
When coach Shastri declared the present team the ‘best’ in terms of ‘travelling’ overseas many reacted violently, alleging disrespect to previous sides. But Shastri was, as IS Johar once famously said, only ‘half wrong half right’. Wrong because India competed abroad with credit in the past and won. Right because the current side has the skill and capability of winning more consistently overseas than before.
Never in its Test history since 1932 has India boasted of quality pacers as now -- Bumrah/Shami/ Umesh/Bhuvi/Ishant are a serious threat to batsmen everywhere and Ashwin/Jadeja already have 500 Test wickets between them. This certainly is India’s best all-round bowling attack.
NUMBERS OR ROMANCE?
The batting numbers of Kohli and Pujara are as impressive as those of their illustrious seniors.
Kohli with 19,000 international runs trails Tendulkar (34,357) and Dravid (24,064). Sachin scored 100 international hundreds, Kohli has 63, far ahead of Dravid who is next best at 48. SRT and Virat are locked in a photo finish on Test averages (53.78 vs 53.76 ) but the Indian captain (despite an astonishing 25 hundreds from 77 matches) must log many miles before reaching the monster SRT milestone of 200 Tests.
Pujara (68 games at 51.18, 18 hundreds) and Dravid (163 games at 52.63, 36 hundreds) have comparable numbers but these are still early trends and Pujara needs to last the distance and maintain form and fitness.
Though hard numbers convey a message they miss out on the elegance factor of players and the romance of cricket. Stats don’t capture the technical purity of Gavaskar, the artistry of Laxman or Bishan Bedi, Ganguly’s elegance, Kapil Dev’s enthusiasm and energy, Sehwag’s swagger or Dravid’s grit to make runs under tough conditions. Tiger Pataudi and Prasanna have modest records but are legends who took Indian cricket forward.
Instead of comparing players and triggering ranking battles, best to celebrate the skills of champion players and enjoy the magic they created.
(The author is a senior sports administrator and views are personal)
First Published: Jan 09, 2019 10:40 IST