Here’s a blast from the past. I am going to discuss who was the better player out of Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara. It is the eternal discussion that has gone on for over two decades and here is my take on it.
Now I don’t want to look into match winning knocks or how a player’s performance affected the team. All that I am looking into is if both players were on the same team in the same situation who would come out better.
Well the answer for me turned out to be very simple once I started to think this way. Both players have had fantastic careers, both dogged by expectations and dependent teams.
While Sachin started his career earlier than Lara, it was Lara who was the front runner till the 1996 World Cup in terms of their respective career records. Sachin started in the middle order and shifted to the opening slot after 6 years into his career. This was a turning point in his career as this is where he made almost all of his records. Lara was always a middle order player, only very briefly shifting to the opening slot. The one down position was his favourite and made it his own for the best part of a decade.
After the ’96 World Cup, Sachin catapulted himself into the upper echelons of batting and was hands down the best batsman in the world for the next 5 years. Any talk of the best started and ended with Sachin, with other names coming close but not quite having the same consistency.
It was this consistency that separated the man from the pack. No other player could score like he did in all conditions. Whether it home or away, day or night, Sachin was Able to score heavily in all conditions. He was equally adept in the subcontinent and in faster conditions like Australia and South Africa. He was consistent in first innings and second innings. This was the one thing that could be held against Brian Lara as he was always a little suspect in English and South African conditions. He scored prolifically in the sub-continent and other places, with Australia only sometimes giving him problems. He was especially deadly against Shane Warne, as was Tendulkar. Both had a knack of going into the best bowlers in the world and ripping them apart. Whether it was McGrath, Akram, Steyn, Warne or Muralitharan, all bowlers of the time suffered at their hands most often than not.
Lara came into his own after the 2000’s, having his best years then. He lashed into the Sri Lankans famously, including Murali. Sadly, this was to be one of the last hurrahs as by the 2007 World Cup Lara had almost faded away. Sachin was however still at it and in a way just starting. With the advent of T20, big scores in excess of 300 were increasingly made and thus meant faster and much bigger knocks by openers. Tendulkar took this opportunity to once again rediscover himself and score the first ever 200 in ODI cricket. But what Sachin did in the twilight of his career and took him 20 years, Lara did that in 3 years of his debut. Brian Lara achieved immortality when he scored the highest score in test cricket 375 against England. This signalled the ability of Lara to dominate games as well as being able to play the long innings. He did something that was only in the grasp of someone at the top of the batting charts. And if that wasn’t enough, He also managed to hit the only 500 in first class cricket. He is the only player to manage that in its over 100-year history, underlining his concentration and ability to bat under any circumstance. He can whether those fiery spells, the moments of lowered concentration, the wickets falling around him and other tangibles not in the batsman’s hand.
And as if to underline the fact that he had not lost his touch, Lara became the only player to reclaim the world record after Matthew Hayden had broken it. Lara would score the only 400 in test match cricket against England at the same ground. With such accomplishments, it became clear that Lara never really went away. To put his achievements into context, Sachin never scored a triple century, neither did Ponting, Viv Richards nor Gavaskar.
But for all of Lara’s records, Sachin would end up the highest run maker and century maker in the history of both ODI and test cricket. Sachin always had the better and more compact technique of the two, he always looked the more assured and the guy more likely to get you the runs. Although Lara had more match winning knocks, we are not looking at that. Brian Lara was always an aggressive player who did not like to be bogged down, whereas Tendulkar had the ability to switch gears more readily. Patience and stability and hard work seem to work in Tendulkar’s favour, whereas Lara had the more range of shots and attacking intent to score runs quickly and intimidate. This is not to say Tendulkar did not have those, but they seemed Lara’s favourite weapons.
Tendulkar’s ability to put his head down and get a score are unparalleled, something Lara seemed to lack at times. Despite both being fabulous players who would walk into any team, Tendulkar’s technique and consistency would make him my choice, and maybe even Don Bradman’s, the greatest player ever.