The unending Dravid-Tendulkar debate

The unending Dravid-Tendulkar debate

A fan poll reignites debate over who is the best among two India stalwarts

Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar, often compared, were great assets for the Indian cricket team through the 2000s. AFP

The debate is back, one which was only argued by two sets of fans or a group of friends with diverging loyalties -- which of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar is the better Test batsman? A fan poll by a cricket website to decide the best Indian Test batsman in the last 50 years saw Dravid pip Tendulkar to the post, setting the social media abuzz.

It’s always been maintained that comparing players of different eras is a futile exercise, given the different kinds of challenges they would have faced. How about batsmen from the same time-period then? Tendulkar vs Brian Lara topic has been debated all along, even after their retirement, with opinions still split wide open. Within India, though, it has been between Tendulkar and Dravid, not unlike another Mumbai-Karnataka duo of Sunil Gavaskar and G R Viswanath.

By the time Dravid made his Test debut in 1996, Tendulkar was a household name, having even drawn comparisons with Sir Don Bradman. By his own admission, Dravid was in awe of the Mumbaikar as an aspiring youngster, even though the Karnataka batsman is actually three and a half months older than Tendulkar. The flamboyant Tendulkar was always held a notch higher than the workmanlike Dravid. If Tendulkar imposed himself on bowling attacks, Dravid preferred to wear them down. They enjoyed great success with their chosen methods, but flair always attracts that much more praise than industry.

Dravid’s perceived limitations in one-dayers also added to his ‘dour’ image. While it took a while for the Bengalurean to establish himself in the 50-over format, his credentials in the longer version were never in question. Yet, it was only after the onset of the 2000s that he managed to step out of Tendulkar’s giant shadow.

Stats reveal that between 2000 and 2011, Dravid never aggregated below 600 runs in a calendar year whereas Tendulkar tallied less than 550 for four years. Though Tendulkar remained the preeminent batsman in the group dubbed the golden generation of Indian batting, Dravid was arguably the more trustworthy, especially outside Asia.

One of the primary criteria to judge the quality of a batsman is his performances in unfamiliar conditions; Dravid comfortably aces that test. He averages a whopping 71.26 per innings in 13 wins outside Asia, comfortably leaving behind Tendulkar, who averages 58.07. In overall Test wins, Dravid scores 65.78 runs an innings while Tendulkar isn’t too far back at 61.94. If you take their overall overseas Test record, Dravid has scored 7,690 runs in 94 matches at 53.03 with Tendulkar managing a marginally better average of 54.75 while gathering 8,705 runs in 106 Tests.

That said, certain other factors too will need to be taken into account. Tendulkar made his debut when he was not yet 17, having played only a handful of matches in domestic cricket. Dravid, by contrast, had worked his way into the Test team with huge runs in Ranji Trophy. Tendulkar also played almost the first 10 years of his international career without the support system he found when the likes of Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag came together to form a formidable line-up. He often appeared weighed down by unreasonable expectations in the early part of his career. While those expectations never ceased, there was less pressure in the second half of his career.

Another point that merits consideration is the quality of Indian attacks during the early part of Tendulkar’s career. While they were always good at home, they fell short of expectations outside Asia. However, with the re-emergence of Zaheer Khan, the arrival of other young pacers like Irfan Pathan, Ishant Sharma and S Sreesanth, and the guile of the trusted Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, India enjoyed great success post 2004 away from home too.

While polls can be great fun for fans to indulge in, it’s difficult to quantify one’s value to the side based on mere numbers. How do you digest the fact that Gavaskar has been pushed to the third spot? India, and the cricket world, should consider themselves fortunate that Dravd and Tendulkar, two of the finest batsmen of all time, played at the same time to enhance the standing of the same team. And neither one truly cared for the artificially generated top position.