It was late afternoon past six when one of the world’s greatest ever sportsmen came out for what he did not know would be his final innings. Such was the respect he was held in that the crowd applauded as he came down to the crease and the opposing team captain led his players in giving three cheers.The opposing team captain was the captain of England. The man he was saluting played for Australia who in this sport were the nemesis, the archrival, the one to beat. To put this in perspective this would be like the Minnesota Vikings cheering for Aaron Rodgers, Real Madrid for Messi or Roy Keane’s Man Utd for Patrick Viera’s Arsenal. What is more this event happened in the last game of a series where England had not just lost but had been crushed. The Australian team they faced were known as ‘The Invincibles’. They hadn’t lost a game on their months long tour and they had broken records doing so.What is more and I want to stress this the three cheers wasn’t like the losing team at a cup final applauding the other after the game or forming a guard of honour for the new champions. This event was something that was truly meant (if you don’t believe me go onto youtube and watch it and compare it to Gary Neville’s guard of honour for Chelsea). Who was this sportsman who evoked such displays? It was of course Sir Donald Bradman ‘The Don’.
Why am I talking about Don Bradman’s final innings at the Oval you ask? I hark back to this moment as today in Mumbai India perhaps the only player who can even plausibly be mentioned in the same breath as Bradman, Sachin Tendulkar is playing in his 200 and final test match. At stumps he was 38 not out. This means he has already done quite a bit better than Bradman did in his final innings when he was infamously dismissed for a second ball duck.
Now you might be thinking that I’m going to write about which I think is better the ‘Little Master’ or ‘The Don’ don’t worry I’m not. I’m not qualified to and frankly I’d sooner poke a dragon in the eye than try to do so on the internet. What I am going to say though is how a comparison between the two events shows how society has changed more specifically the way we deal with sports has changed. When Bradman walked out to bat at the Oval he needed just 4 runs to finish his test career with an average of 100. I would say imagine this if it happened today. But you don’t really have to. Just look back a year or two and see the endless pages spoken and written about Tendulkar’s ultimately complete arbitrary 100/100s statistics. You can see exactly what would have happened. If Bradman had been coming out to bat today the magical 100 average is all anyone would be writing about in the build up for weeks. When he came out to bat the time between balls and the walk to the crease would be filled with reminders (I can almost hear Jonathan Agnew’s voice now). Instead when Bradman came out to bat no one knew about the statistic. Not even Bradman himself. The BBC commentary doesn’t mention averages. No one in the crowd is holding up banners.
I’m mentioning this not to criticise but to highlight at important point. The greatness of Bradman never lay in his average (although it obviously suggested you wouldn’t want to play against him). The greatness of Bradman lay in his play. The timing of the ball. The cut stroke. The off-drive. Watching him dismantle an attack by scoring a century on the morning of a match and 308 by the close of play. Likewise Tendulkar’s greatest isn’t in his statistics. Its in the wall of noise as he goes out to bat. The utter silence when he is dismissed. His greatness is in the masterful drive past the bowler he played today at the age of 40. I bring this up because more than ever in modern day sport the statistic seems to be king. Such and such has only scored one goal outside of London (Giroud). Or this team has only won such a percentage of late kickoff games (Arsenal). Stats like these are all too often substituted for real analysis in a way that taints the spectacle just a little .
Here’s hoping Tendulkar writes a victorious ending for himself tomorrow.