The perennial question which surrounded most young Indian cricket fans of the mid to late 90s and the first half of next decade would be – ‘Who is better among the two – Lara or Tendulkar?’
Many a cricket statisticians, historians, writers and fans have come up with their own yardsticks to gauge the two on several parameters and determine who is better.
While Tendulkar is the undisputed king in the shorter formats, Lara has wrested that throne from him on many a times in the longer format.
Here’s a closer look at the career of the two:
Tendulkar averaged above 40 against all the countries while Lara, despite of being the best player of slow bowling of his generation, failed to do it against India. Also, while Tendulkar averaged above 40 in all the countries he played in, Lara couldn’t manage to do it in India or in New Zealand.
Tendulkar’s numbers are bloated by the fact he went on to score 8 centuries against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh in 23 outings. On the other hand Lara just managed a mere 6 innings against the minnows, in which he reached the three figure mark twice.
On average, Sachin faced 90 balls per innings while it is 85 per innings for Lara. Multiplying the average balls per innings with the career strike rate, Lara scores just over 51 per innings while the similar figure for Sachin is 46.
Another reason for the surge in Tendulkar’s career average is the large number of undismissed innings. Taking the average balls per innings as a cut off and counting all the not out innings where the batsmen faced a higher number of balls than the average balls per innings in calculating average, we obtain runs per innings (RPI). For Lara RPI is 52.19, lower by 0.69 than his career average. The RPI for Sachin is 50.70 which mean a fall of 3.08 from his overall batting average of 53.78.
These are just a few ways of looking at the records, than merely interpreting the overall figures.
In this article, we look upon another method in trying to figure out who was better between the two.
We have already seen the impact of playing against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. But the analysis I am going to present here runs a little deeper. Here we see how both fared against teams when they were up against their best attacks.
In this analysis, I have taken all the leading pairs in the world with a combined 400+ wickets between them during the period 15 Nov 1989 till date.
|C Ambrose + C Walsh||WI||95||762||22.67|
|S Warne +G McGrath||Aus||104||1001||23.17|
|Wasim + Waqar||Pak||61||559||22.13|
|A Donald + S Pollock||SA||47||397||21.84|
|C Vaas + M Muralitharan||SL||95||895||24.11|
|G McGrath + J Gillespie||Aus||58||484||23.01|
|D Steyn + M Morkel||SA||55||474||25.08|
|A Kumble + Harbhajan||Ind||54||504||30.22|
|J Anderson +S Broad||Eng||69||523||28.75|
|S Pollock + M Ntini||SA||63||490||26.24|
|M Hoggard +S Harmison||Eng||45||340||30.61|
The two exceptions one can find above are Donald – Pollock and Hoggard – Harmison. Considering the impact Donald and Pollock had over the matches, they were given an exception as they just fail to reach the cut off by a mere 3 wickets. Their average of 21.84 per wicket is the best from the above list. The Hoggard – Harmison pair was included as both Tendulkar and Lara played against them during the time England was at their peak from under Michael Vaughn (i.e. between 2004 and 2006).
The table below show how Lara and Tendulkar fared against the strongest bowling line ups of his time.
Brian Lara against the leading pairs
|Ambrose + Walsh||NA|
|Warne + McGrath||16||30||1429||51.03||226||58.8||4/5|
|Wasim + Waqar||6||11||354||32.18||96||60.72||0/2|
|Donald + Pollock||9||18||600||33.33||83||46.87||0/5|
|Vaas + Murali||5||9||987||123.37||221||58.02||4/2|
|McGrath + Gillespie||11||21||947||47.35||213||57.84||3/3|
|Steyn + Morkel||DNP|
|Kumble + Harbhajan||2||4||66||16.5||26||72.52||0/0|
|Anderson + Broad||DNP|
|Pollock + Ntini||9||17||840||49.41||202||49.46||2/4|
|Hoggard + Harmison||8||15||764||54.57||400*||62.16||1/2|
Sachin Tendulkar against the leading pairs
|Ambrose + Walsh||4||4||193||64.33||88||36.41||0/2|
|Warne + McGrath||7||14||592||42.28||126||55.48||2/5|
|Wasim + Waqar||4||7||278||39.71||136||49.55||1/1|
|Donald + Pollock||5||10||387||38.7||169||53.67||1/1|
|Vaas + Murali||9||14||570||40.71||143||48.51||3/0|
|McGrath + Gillespie||5||10||374||37.4||126||55.24||1/3|
|Steyn + Morkel||9||16||738||52.71||146||47.82||4/2|
|Kumble + Harbhajan||NA|
|Anderson + Broad||7||13||318||24.46||91||51.53||0/2|
|Pollock + Ntini||7||13||447||40.63||155||53.92||1/2|
|Hoggard + Harmison||3||5||174||43.5||92||66.92||0/1|
Leading batsmen against top pairs (min 10 innings)
|Ambrose + Walsh||Inzamam||8||12||736||66.9||177||52.16||3/3|
|Warne + McGrath||K Pietersen||8||16||804||57.42||158||56.61||2/5|
|Wasim + Waqar||M Taylor||8||14||802||66.83||123||43.37||3/6|
|Donald + Pollock||R Jacobs||9||18||631||52.58||113*||47.01||1/4|
|Vaas + Murali||Younis Khan||8||12||750||68.18||313||48.76||3/1|
|McGrath + Gillespie||M Vaughn||6||12||637||53.08||177||57.69||3/0|
|Steyn + Morkel||S Chanderpaul||6||10||547||78.14||166||39.23||2/3|
|Anderson + Broad||R Dravid||5||10||597||74.62||146*||45.5||4/0|
|Pollock + Ntini||A Strauss||5||10||656||72.88||147||50.15||3/1|
The Australians were the undoubtedly the best team during the 1990s till mid-2000s. Tendulkar (11 in 74 innings) and Lara (9 in 58 innings) have scored the most centuries against them during this time, comfortably ahead of the next placed VVS Laxman (6).
Tendulkar averaged 55 to Lara’s 51. Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath were their leading bowlers during this era. Together they took 1001 wickets at 23.17 in 104 tests together – the most by any pair in history. In the tests played against Australia with both Warne and McGrath in their ranks, Lara’s average increases slightly while Tendulkar’s falls by nearly 13 to 42.28. Lara has scored 4 hundreds against them including two doubles (only player to do so twice among 5 double centuries against Australia which featured both Warne & McGrath). Lara is also the only player to amass over 1000 runs against them and is only behind Kevin Pietersen’s 57.42 in terms of average. However Lara (3) is the only player to score more than one double hundred (among 11) in tests featuring either Warne or McGrath or both.
When they played against an Australian side with neither Warne or McGrath, the averaged increased for both. Sachin’s averaged 55.97 in the 25 tests without them and it further increases to 66.85 if we exclude the test played in the last 2 years of his career. His epic 241* at the SCG came when McGrath was injured and Warne was facing a one year ban. Lara’s 6 innings in this category reads 58, 0, 26, 110, 91& 122.
He often took a back seat to McGrath and Warne, but Jason Gillespie constituted one half of the best new ball attack in the early years of the new millennium. Both Lara and Tendulkar managed to score lesser against McGrath-Gillespie rather than the McGrath-Warne combo.
Tendulkar fared much better playing against one of them rather than both as the average of 47.66 over 37.40 suggests. 8 out of Lara’s 9 hundreds against Australia came when at least one of them were playing while Sachin managed only 3 from his tally of 11.
South Africa was always the bridesmaid during their encounters against Australia ever since their return to international cricket till 2008. But against all oppositions they were as devastating as the great Aussies. Their bowling was spearheaded by Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock in the 90s and once Donald fumed down, his place was taken by Makhaya Ntini.
Both Lara and Tendulkar struggled against the scorching pace of Donald – Pollock, averaging fewer than 40 with Tendulkar slightly ahead. Lara’s strike rate against them was 46.87, the lowest for him in the table, and 14 lesser than his career strike rate. Tendulkar also has a century to his name with an attacking 169 at Cape Town in 1997. In terms of batting average against Donald – Pollock with a cut-off of 10 innings, to many one’s surprises, the one leading the list is West Indies’s wicket keeper Ridley Jacobs with 52.58. But with Donald’s place taken up by Ntini, Lara’s average jumps to nearly 50 against SA.
In the 7 tests against the Proteas after Donald’s exit, Lara managed hundreds in 4 of them.
Coming to the sub-continental teams, Lara always had a liking towards the spinners. He averaged 86 against Sri Lanka and 100 in Sri Lanka. Against two of their greatest bowlers, Vaas and Murali, he averages a phenomenal 123.37 with 4 hundreds in 5 tests. But Tendulkar, despite on average over 60 against SL and in SL, averages only 40 against both of them, shooting up to 55 playing either one or both of them.
Both Sachin and Lara made their test debut in Pakistan and their leading pair was the 2 W’s – Wasim & Waqar. Lara as well as Sachin faltered against them with averages comfortably under 40 though the sample size is small. Tendulkar did manage to score a magnificent century against them in a tense 4th innings run chase at Chepauk in 1999, scoring 136 out of a team total of 258 in a heart breaking loss. Lara scored his first hundred against Pakistan only in 2005 after the retirement of the 2 W’s. His scores against Pakistan since read – 130, 48, 153, 0, 61, 122, 216, 0 & 49. 779 runs at 86.55. If there was any side which Lara failed to master throughout his career, it was India. He averaged 34 against in India and it further falters to 33 playing in India though he played only 3 tests there. In the 2 tests against Kumble and Harbhajan, he scored a mere 66 runs in 4 innings.
Apart from Australia and SA, the other quality side which they faced in their career was Michael Vaughn’s England. England’s success at this time was attributed to their 4 pronged pace attack consisting of Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison, Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff. Against the new ball duo of Hoggard and Harmison, Lara averaged 54.57 in 15 innings. But 400 of the 764 runs came in the St John’s 2004 epic. Excluding that, he averaged 26 without any hundreds. Tendulkar averaged a respectable 43 against both in 3 tests and 62 when at least one or both among them played.
Lara played his last test in 2006 while Tendulkar continued doing so for another 7 more years. Lethal bowling pairs during these years were South Africa’s Dale Styen & Morne Morkel and England’s James Anderson & Stuart Broad. Tendulkar managed an average of only 24.46 against the latter pair as most tests coincided with the last phase of his career. Anderson had dismissed him on 9 occasions. But against Steyn & Morkel, Tendulkar averaged 52.71 with 4 centuries in 9 tests including his last two in tests.
Against the 7 top leading pairs, Lara faced a substantial number of times; he averaged above 47 against 5 of them. On the other hand Sachin managed to do it against only one among the 9 he was up against. So when the other batting greats during the same era heralded Lara as the best batsmen they have come across, we can safely say they were not completely wrong. Though this is not an exhaustive way for identifying the better of the two as it does not take into account the match situation. Some of Brian Lara’s great innings, like 221 & 130 vs SL in Colombo, 400* vs England at St Johns and 226 vs Australia at Adelaide came well after the series was conceded. But this analysis gives a fair indication of how the two fared when the opposition had the best talents at their disposal.
There is no question on the talent and ability of these two legends; it is up to the individuals to decide who was better and what parameter should be used to scale.