This business of comparisons is odious. It essentially means bringing someone big down to make someone else look bigger. It also means taking the context and common sense out of the process of evaluation to make it a crude match of numbers. How do you compare a Don Bradman with a Sunil Gavaskar or a Sachin Tendulkar with a Virat Kohli? Can their achievements be only about statistics?
Kapil Dev brought this caveat while making the remark that Virat had realistic chances of having a better career graph than Sachin if he managed to remain injury-free. There cannot be another Bradman or Sachin, but Virat has amazing talent, he said. Yes, there cannot be a second opinion about Virat being the most exciting batsman in contemporary cricket. He has been a prolific scorer and proved his enormous talent in challenging circumstances. If there’s one batsman who can carry that tag ‘great’ on himself with ease, it has to be him.
But comparing him to Sachin is indeed obnoxious. It’s like comparing two generations without keeping the context in mind. Sachin played 200 Test matches and amassed 15,921 runs at an average of 53.78. He played 463 One-Day Internationals and scored above 18,000 runs at a respectable average of 44.83. Virat has played 41 Tests and averages 44.02; in his 171 One-Dayers he averages above 51. As statistical comparisons go, there’s nothing to compare as yet. Sachin is miles ahead in number of matches played. And averages tend to dip as you go longer. There will be low phases in the career. We have to wait till Virat plays at least 100 Tests.
But more than the numbers, what is impressive about Sachin is how he changed the way we perceive cricket. Indian cricket was docile, he made it emphatic; it was staid, he made it vibrant. He blended class with talent, aggression with correctness, individual brilliance with team effort and a bit of ODI temper with that of the Test and lifted up the quality of cricket several notches. He represented a transition in mindset from the Gavaskar era. He played a pivot to the evolution of Indian cricket.
Coming to Gavaskar, the man the word ‘class’ was originally associated with before others came in, try to walk back in time to the 70s. Here’s a short man taking on the mighty West Indian quartet of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Colin Croft without a helmet. The skull cap he wore was an apology for protection. It was sheer genius that stood out as he stood up to the fiery bowling attack amid a hostile crowd and scored his runs in the Windies. His 10,000+ runs in 125 Tests with an average of 51.12 should be seen in the context of his times. It was during him that Indian cricket came of age. This, again, was a shift in eras.
While into comparisons, let’s not forget factors other than individual talent. Quality of bats has undergone a major change. An edge or even a poorly timed hit could fetch you a boundary these days; earlier any ball not hitting the sweet spot would carry to the fielders. Remember how coaches insisted that you play in the V and keep your strokes on the ground in the earlier days? The protective gears have changed too, allowing batsmen to take more risks. Changes in fielding rules in the newer formats have made scoring easy and plentiful.
Like a bit of ODIs seeped into Tests in Tendulkar’s days, a bit of Twenty20 has started getting into other formats of cricket too. One more transition is taking place and at the centre of it is Virat Kohli. He represents his times.
So please, stop getting into comparisons.