By Rudolph Lambert Fernandez
Recently Imran Khan claimed that Sachin was ‘lucky’ to have escaped facing the West Indian pacers of Imran’s era. In the 1970s and 1980s, West Indies produced a conveyor belt of fearsome fast bowlers that were the crucial ingredient in the team’s dominance of world cricket for almost two decades.
And while it is true Tendulkar did not face most of them - for no fault of his own – he wasn’t as ‘lucky’ as Imran seems to believe. Tendulkar was severely tested by a plethora of great fast bowlers from his own era.
Let’s look at pacers from the 70s and 80s on the one hand and those from the 90s and since, on the other.
Malcolm Marshall was the only West Indian pacer from that era with 22 hauls of five wickets in an innings. Among Sachin-era pacers, Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose and Waqar Younis each had 22, Wasim Akram 25 and Glenn McGrath 29 such hauls. Marshall’s fellow pacers had far fewer: Michael Holding (only 13), Andy Roberts (only 11) and Joel Garner (only 7). The greatest pacer in this respect wasn’t West Indian at all – New Zealand’s Richard Hadlee had 36 such hauls.
Though there is a caveat that with four fast bowlers hunting in a pack, it was harder for any single bowler to take five wickets, there is no question the quality of fast bowling Tendulkar did have to face stands up to that of the past.
Marshall is also the only West Indian pacer from that era with as many as 4 hauls of ‘ten wickets in a Test’; but Sachin-era pacer Makhaya Ntini too has 4. Akram, Younis and Dale Steyn each have 5 and McGrath, Ambrose and Walsh each have 3 such hauls. But Holding and Roberts had only 2; Garner never managed it. The greatest pacer in this respect wasn’t West Indian at all - Hadlee had 9 such hauls.
Bowling economy rate (runs conceded per over) is a sign of calibre in inverse proportion; the lower it is, the higher the calibre of bowling.
• Ambrose sustained a rate of 2.30 (to Marshall’s 2.68) having bowled 4,519 more deliveries than Marshall did.
• Akram sustained a rate of 2.59 (to Roberts’ 2.78) having bowled 11,492 more deliveries than Roberts did.
• Walsh sustained a rate of 2.53 (to Garner’s 2.47) having bowled 16,850 more deliveries than Garner did.
• McGrath sustained a rate of 2.49 (to Holding’s 2.79) having bowled 16,568 more deliveries than Holding did.
Bowling average (runs conceded per dismissal), too is a sign of calibre in inverse proportion.
• Ambrose’s average of 20.99 was over a lengthy career of 98 Tests; Roberts’ average of 25.61 was over a fleeting 47 Tests.
• McGrath’s average of 21.64 was over a lengthy career of 124 Tests; Holding’s average of 23.68 was across only 60 Tests.
Now, Ambrose and Walsh together bowled 52,122 deliveries, or an average of 26,061.
Marshall, Garner, Holding and Roberts together bowled 54,568 deliveries, or an average of 13,642.
Ambrose and Walsh sustained their low averages and economy rates, having bowled twice as much as their predecessors: a stunning expression of their genius............and the very real threat that Sachin faced.
Walsh, Ambrose, McGrath and Akram were far more experienced than their predecessors because they were tested in at least 50 more Tests, on average, than Marshall, Garner, Holding and Roberts. A larger, more diverse pool of prolific batsmen had a longer shot at them and they still held their own.
Tendulkar-era pacers were just as, if not more, effective and consistent and feared. There were more of them in the 1990s, from across nationalities.
If anything, batsmen from the 70s and 80s might more accurately see Tendulkar as ‘unlucky’ for having crash-landed in the most competitive era of cricket imaginable. They might, at the same time, envy him because he thrived in a more challenging environment and still emerged the most accomplished batsman in history.
It’s just as well that we’re not discussing spinners. Murali Muralitharan and Shane Warne together took 1,508 wickets - 422 wickets more than Marshall, Holding, Garner and Roberts combined.
Muralitharan had 22 hauls of ‘ten wickets in a Test’ and Warne ten such hauls. Muralitharan had 67 hauls of ‘five wickets in an innings’: this is beyond the grasp of any bowler – pacer or not - from any era, from any team. Perhaps batsmen from the 70s and 80s were lucky to have escaped this devilish duo from the 90s?
Everyone has a right to an opinion. But can we at least start with the facts? Nostalgia is nice as long as it doesn’t magnify myth.
Rudolph Lambert Fernandez is writing a non-fiction book that celebrates batting greatness in cricket history. His writing has appeared in Indian and UK cricket portals. Follow him @RudolphFernandz