There have been plenty of murmurs (again) about Tendulkar’s inability to make his runs count towards India’s wins. His two centuries in this World Cup – 120 v England and 111 v South Africa, resulted in a tie and a loss, while his four scores below 50 came in games when India won. A persistent undercurrent exists about Tendulkar making runs when it doesn’t matter. In this post I present some data to question this persistent trope. This has been done before, and people offer lots of statistics to prove their point. Im going to do the same. It is up to you to decide if these stats are self-serving, or whether they have reasonable standing in this argument.

This criticism is fueled by a number of things, including most prominently, criticism of the so-called “Bombay School” of batting’s obsession with personal landmarks. Sunil Gavaskar gets plenty of abuse when he explains why batsmen are careful whenever they approach a landmark. People who don’t understand what he’s saying think he’s advocating selfishness. In a sense he is – Cricket is defined by this tension between individual achievement and collective ambition. After all, every ball is delivered by one bowler and is faced by one batsman. The mistake people make is to equate this type of selfishness with a lack of concern for the team, with a lack of concern for anyone but oneself. I would equate it instead, with the selfishness of the single minded student, who turns down his friends invitations to go see a movie, or play cricket (!), because he has an exam the next day. If batting is about negotiating risk, and the century has some psychological significance, then it follows that as a batsman approaches a century, he must be more conservative in his approach, and not give away the advantage that he has worked so hard to build for his side. Runs from 101-150 are invariably the easiest runs (and fastest) most batsmen make. Moreover, it usually takes a really really good spell of bowling to test a well-set batsman who is past a century.

So people who think that Gavaskar is merely advocating putting self before team are being unfair to him. But then again, being fair tends to be optional in these matters.

Now coming to the numbers….

These two charts (drawn from Cricinfo’s Statsguru) show the records of a number of top ODI batsmen in Wins and Losses against the top 8 ODI teams – India, Australia, England, South Africa, New Zealand, Pakistan and West Indies. One of the questions I’ve always had about this allegation against Tendulkar is – compared to whom has he tended to make fewer runs in crunch situations? If the evidence offered in support of such a claim is purely anecdotal – like Lara’s 153 at Bridgetown (in which he was dropped twice, and escaped being stumped once), then there is no scope for any argument, because the original assertion itself is not argued in any serious sense. But I will assume that there is some argument somewhere, which supports the assertion that Tendulkar makes runs when it doesn’t really matter, and makes runs in a way which doesn’t always result in India winning.

First things first. Ricky Ponting, in the above charts, has played in 204 wins against top ODI teams and 89 defeats. Adam Gilchrist’s record is even more impressive – 158 wins and 52 defeats. Mathew Hayden, 91 wins and only 28 defeats. Jacques Kallis has played in 165 wins and 94 defeats. By contrast, Tendulkar, Lara, Sehwag, Ganguly and Jayasurya have all played in fewer wins than defeats. And yet, Jayasurya has a better record in wins than Gilchrist, Lara has a better record than Kallis and Ponting, Ganguly and Sehwag a better one than Hayden, and Tendulkar possibly has the best record of them all. In fact, it seems as though the players who have played in weaker teams (i.e. in teams that have won less) have been more important to their teams winning, than the players who have played in strong teams like Australia and SA.

Since he started opening the batting in 1994, Tendulkar has made a century in every 6th India win against a top Test playing team, and a half century in every other Indian win. Only Lara comes close – making a century in every 8th West Indies win, and a half century in every other. Tendulkar’s record in India’s defeats (12 centuries, 25 fifties in 138 defeats) is nearly as good as Gilchrist’s record in victories! I have added his record over the last 5 years, just to show that this hasn’t changed recently. India have won more (35-30 in the last 5 years, as opposed to 125-138 over the last 17, when Tendulkar has played), but Tendulkar’s contribution has remained steady. He has had one problem. Of his 12 half centuries, 8 have been 90s. These include 3 scores of 99, a 97, a 96, a 94, a 93 and a 91. Tendulkar has played three tournament finals in the last 5 years, and his scores in those have been 138, 117 not out and 91. India have won all three.

Not the record of one who doesn’t make runs when it matters. The problem of the 90s suggests that Tendulkar would do well to take the great Gavaskar’s advice seriously. I don’t use the word great for Gavaskar in jest, he really is one of the great batsmen of all time. For Tendulkar making 110 is always better than Tendulkar making 95, superstitions notwithstanding.

Compared to the top Australians and Kallis, Tendulkar has had nowhere to hide. Gilchrist averaging 40 has been enough for Australia to win, but for India to win, Tendulkar has had to average over 60. There is no comparison between the top Australians and Tendulkar or Lara. Those two are in a different class.

Tendulkar himself is a modest man. Over the years, the most I’ve heard him say is “One has to keep trying”. That, a fair minded individual free of psycho-pharmacological assistance should agree, is something Tendulkar does better than anybody else.