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The debate – Rules of Engagement

August 9, 2009

What makes a good ODI batsman?

Is it one who takes the attack to the opposition in the first 15 overs? One who successfully finishes run chases? Has a high average from consistent performance? Has a high strike rate to indicate he makes good use of his time at the crease? What about those other more exotic statistics like percentage of wins when the batsman scores over fifty? And by extension, has a significantly lower average in games lost to indicate dependence by the team? Should a good ODI batsman have roughly the same average batting first as when batting second? Should he have a better average against the top sides and when playing away from home or should runs scored in big tournaments (like world cups) matter more? Test cricket would raise a different set of questions.

In a free-wheeling discussion to design the perfect batsman, the answers to almost all of them and another bunch of them would intuitively be ‘Yes’. This also explains why every observer can, by focusing on a specific subset of those questions, categorically justify rating one batsman better than another. And that’s my beef with most arguments that set out to prove that a batsman is in fact better or worse than another. The writers based on their own opinion, look for the statistics to support their argument all the while making it look like an unbiased assessment and a shrug of the shoulders as if to say “the numbers don’t lie”. And let’s not forget that often the same data can be looked at in different ways to draw opposing inferences.

So, given this series is already called ‘The Sachin Tendulkar debate’, isn’t it a foregone conclusion that a mountain of data will be presented to back up the credentials of the man? Not quite. Because the intent here is not to produce a ranking of the best batsmen with SRT on top. The intent is to answer the question: How good is Sachin Tendulkar, really?

And we’ll do that in three steps

  1. Set out the top four-five attributes of top class ODI/Test batsman by asking “What are the hallmarks of top class performance in the respective format?”
  2. Pick a set of contemporary batsmen based, not on statistics, but simply as those that come to mind as the most prolific over the last few years
  3. To see how Tendulkar compares with these batsmen on those key attributes from step 1

The final objective is to attempt to structure a debate that is, at the very least, very subjective, and often, very emotional.

Next: What the best ODI batsmen have…

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