New Delhi: Sir Donald George Bradman and Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar have more in common than just their batting styles. Not only did they exhibit attacking and entertaining cricket, drawing spectators in record numbers, the two also stood out as icons that brought solace to their respective nations in difficult times.
Bradman became Australia's sporting idol at the height of the Great Depression. In the post-war years he captained an Australian side who were called 'The Invincibles'. And while he accumulated that statistically mind-boggling average, he did so because of his discipline. He was not of the manor born, but there was an exuberance that was intensely appealing. And they went to watch him because he believed in the joy of giving.
Four decades after the Don had called it a day, it was exactly this intensely appealing exuberance that shone through from the blade of Sachin Tendulkar. It is precisely this quality that made Tendulkar India's 'middle-class hero'. In an era where icons were few and far between, Tendulkar was the torchbearer for an entire generation who had begun to believe that dreams did come true. It was the discipline and the joy of giving that attracted everyone towards him. And it was exactly this reason that prodded The Don to include Sachin as the only playing cricketer of this generation in his best-ever lineup.
Bradman and Tendulkar have more in common than just their batting styles. Bradman ranked Tendulkar above Brian Lara, Graeme Pollock, George Headley, Wally Hammond, Mark Waugh, Steve Waugh, Viv Richards, Everton Weekes, Stan McCabe, Charlie Macartney, Neil Harvey, Greg Chappell, Denis Compton, Peter May and Victor Trumper.
The Don, in fact, went on record to say that he felt he was looking at a 'mirror-image' of himself when he watched Tendulkar play. It really is, therefore, nothing short of blasphemy when the two are compared time and again and polls are conducted to find out who is better than the other. The what-if scenarios constructed by those fixated by sheer numbers is a hollow homage that they pay to either of these players. It is a fixation on the parts of the intensely capitalistic who believe in mass production. Maximisation of runs and minimisation of balls faced is their only way of appreciating their greatness.
But they fail to see what The Don and Tendulkar stand for. Numbers, for them, is a by-product of their endeavour to create a welfare state of mind. How many times have you seen a great Tendulkar innings and not felt good about yourself? And how many times have you thought that you will in the years to come tell the future generation that you saw this master play in flesh and blood? Will numbers still continue to be as important as the moments you recount?
Sports journalist Michael Parkinson in his book on cricket recounted a conversation with former Australian pace bowler Jeff Thomson about Don Bradman that I am compelled to share for the sheer manner in which it moved me and how I have been able to view cricketers ever since.
'In the 1970s he (Jeff Thomson) was at a social event organised by a man who owned a cricket field. During the afternoon, Sir Donald, then in his sixties, was approached by two young cricketers who were on the fringe of the state team. They asked Bradman if they could bowl at him. He pointed out he hadn't played for nearly thirty years, but eventually removed his jacket and picked up a bat.
'At first, the young men bowled respectfully at him, aware both of his age and the fact he had neither pad nor gloves. But when Bradman started playing shots, they quickened up and eventually were bowling flat out. According to Thomson, the quicker they bowled, the harder Bradman smote them to the boundary.'
'Jeff said, 'It was bloody magnificent. All my life I had looked at his record and thought, "How can anyone be twice as good as Greg Chappell?" That day, I found out.'
As 2013 nears an end, Tendulkar, already retired from ODIs, has announced his Test retirement as well, having erected moutains of runs, encompassing 100 international hundreds and over 50,000 career runs spanning 24 runs of sheer commitment.