What is a match winner?

April 2, 2011, an exciting day at Wankhede stadium Mumbai where large gathering of Indian cricket fans was awaiting team India to repeat history after 28 years and conquer the world of cricket. Malinga bowled a regulation delivery in the off side channel, Sachin who was by then on song with two hits to the fence and already on 18 of just 13 saw an golden opportunity to drive through the line, however,  the ball moved just a tad bit away, enough for Sachin to be not close to it for the drive. The resultant edge safely rested in the hands of Sangakarra and the whole crowd along with billions of Indian fans across the globe went into a stun silence.

You would have thought that the entire cricket fan base around the world would have been muted at this occasion, but you would be wrong, there was a section of Indian cricket followers who had a grim on their faces at that moment as they felt that their point was proved, and believed that they were right in saying “he never performs when needed”. This same group of people, perhaps, would have wished Sri Lanka to win the finals had Sachin scored anything over 50, just to prove their theory. As a true cricket fan and an Indian cricket lover I felt truly happy that India went on to win from that moment on, even though I belong to those who believe that “He is God”.

Of course, the doubters, the critics, quickly logged on to their computers started writing how they were right and how he had failed yet again, quickly pointing to his twin tons in WC 2011 games that India couldn’t win, while conveniently forgetting the fact that the second leading run getter of the tournament – Sachin, and his performance in the quarters and semis were the sole reason why India was at Wankhede stadium for that finals, in the first place. You simply can’t argue with this bunch, even if you use a proper cricketing logic!  Then,  I decided to go about fact-finding. The exercise was not to prove any side right or wrong but to find out the truth, the simple truth, nothing but the truth.

I took a list of common allegations from the “doubters” camp and researched facts. Below are my findings:

1) The most common allegation: Sachin bats for the records and not for the team

Okay, so first I gathered his figures for the entire ODI career and then filtered them for the matches that Team India won/tied. Then I compared that with other great Indian players who were “tagged” as true match winners by the same “doubters” camp (criteria used was min. 100 ODIs)It is a wide-known fact that Sachin has scored most hundreds, but the glaring fact is that he has the best ODIs/Ton ratio amongst all, in fact that only Indian batsman to hit a ton every less than 10 ODIs. The only one ahead of him on avg runs was Dhoni who also has 25% of his ODI innings ending up as unbeaten, proving his tag as the finisher.

In the games that India won/tied and Sachin played, his ODIs/Ton improve to a century every 7th game, thus completely disproving the “claim” that he plays only for records. 71% of his tons resulted in India not losing a game, throwing another theory out of the window that “when he scores hundred, we lose”. His protege, Viru has an impeccable record that barring his one ton, on every other occasion victory was assured for team when he reached triple digits. A massive effort by any means but then such instances happen only half as many times compared to those of Sachin, so even with 71% century-to victory conversion rate, India would have more chances of winning when Sachin reaches the landmark. Now these are facts and not an opinion.

2) Allegation: He doesn’t contribute to the team’s win

This was a truly interesting allegation.  Even though the table above clearly indicated that his batting average and ODIs/Ton, both, improved drastically in the instances that team India won, thus clearly indicating that he was stepping up a notch. So I decided to go even further and compared him with two of the greatest ODI batsmen of his era: Ricky Ponting and Brian Lara
Lara’s case is noteworthy and goes to show that he had to step his game about 50% (jump in average from 40 to 60) to help his team win and in spite his greatness he ended up winning only 47% of games. While Ponting showed only a slight improvement yet his team won72%, underlying an important fact that Cricket is a team game that no one man can win. Sure, you play a defining knock but it always takes two to tango and eleven to win. It can be clearly concluded that Ponting performance didn’t change much whether the Aussies lost or won, but Sachin and Lara showed 25% and 50% improvement respectively.  The facts again prove that Sachin and Lara stepped their game significantly, to contribute to team’s win.

3) Allegation: He’s played so many games; no wonder he holds the record

This was indeed tricky. Yes he’s has played the most number of games, however what the “doubters” conveniently forget is that he didn’t open the innings or score a ton until his 79th ODI. I do agree that in a 50 over format, the top three batsmen have the maximum chance of scoring tons and getting runs, hence the leaders in such category are usually the batsmen who bat in those spots for their team. So I again gathered data on Sachin, Lara, and Ponting when they batted in position 1-thru-3
Again, Sachin leads in performance and averages over 60 runs in Team’s victories and as an opener scores a ton every 6th game that team wins. Also, look at his average in the games that India won/tied, it is 10 runs better than Ponting’s when Aussies won/tied games. Which captain in the world wouldn’t like to have an opener that guarantees you 60+ runs in half of the games and scores a ton on every 8th outing?

4) Allegation:  He always disappoints in the finals.

Now this one is downright the most famous one in the “doubters” camp and their claim is solely based on two WC finals. So I took help from our friends at cricinfo and researched all the finals he featured in and look what I found:
He averages almost 10 runs better in all 40 finals taken together than compared to his 453 games international career. Opinions are one thing, but the numbers tell the real story!!! Also note, he scores Tons at a faster rate in the finals than his 21 years career. Now these numbers are not just one or two instances here and there (like the two failures in WC Finals) but these are 40 various instances averaged together!!!

5) Allegation: When it comes to Test cricket (real stuff) Laxman is the match winner and Dravid is the wall, Sachin is over-rated.

Some heavy stuff, really. First of all, let me make one clear distinction between Tests and ODIs. In ODIs a team can win by simply outscoring the other but in tests you really have to take 20 wickets. So a batsman alone can’t win the game unless the bowlers contribute. However, the batsman can set it up or surely save the test. Thus I have included stats where players have won/drew tests for their teams.

I researched Sachin, Sehwag, Laxman, and Dravid for their entire career and for the tests that India won/drew

They all contributed equally to India’s wins and ended up saving/winning 70-75% tests. The fact to be noted here is that Sehwag-Laxman-Dravid, almost played their entire career together during the golden era of Indian cricket since 2000. Sachin on other hand played 75 of his tests in the 90’s where is support staff was Sidhu, Azhar, Manjrekar and Kambli but still managed to win/save games for team India.

Laxman has played mesmerizing knock against the Aussies and some real good ones on bouncy wickets in South Africa, but quite frankly that’s it!! His record in sub-continent, England, West-Indies, and New-Zealand is not as good per his own standards. That is why Laxman averages in high 40’s. While Sachin is good against any opponent almost anywhere around the globe. Also, in the above facts, Sachin leads the Averages and #Tests/Ton in the games that India won/saved.  In test cricket, impenetrable defense equates more and more runs (like Sunny G), however, the numbers indicate that Sachin averages even better than the wall Dravid.

6) Allegation: He’s not an all time great international test batsman.

This one I agree, because before even researching a single number, I can confidently say that the honor only goes to Sir Don Bradman. But then Bradman himself said that Sachin reminded him of his younger days. So is Sachin really next best? Let’s see:
Well, It’s indeed a close call between Sachin and Sir Garfield Sobers. Gary averages slightly better while Sachin scores Tons at a slightly faster rate. Another glaring fact that the table above brings out is that even Sir Donald Bradman lost 23% of tests that he played, again, reminding us all that it takes eleven to win.

The opinions can vary and the “doubters” have every right to still call him a failure or over rated or simply selfish. However, the numbers always tell you the truth, the simple truth, nothing but the truth.  At this moment I can’t help but recall the title of a book, written by two IIM Graduates: Vijay Santhanam and Shyam Balasubramaniam, “If Cricket is a religion, Sachin is God”

Good Friday, was the day when Jesus was crucified, however, he rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion – the Easter Sunday. The critics continue crucify the cricketing God, time and again, but he answers them back every single time, with his bat and his performance on the field. Take a bow Master!!!

-Nikhil Sharad Jadhav

(Wrote on April 22, 2011 – Good Friday. All the stats are from http://www.cricinfo.com)

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About Nikhil S. Jadhav

Cricbuff....I can watch, read, write, play, listen, and talk about cricket anytime of the day or night....I live cricket in every moment of my life....It's my passion...my obsession...
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