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Sachin or Rahul - my choice

Novak Djokovic Dravid and Tendulkar were two of the most important Indian test batsmen in the 2000s (ICC)

March 27, 2020

I have a confession to make. Throughout my childhood in the 2000s, I always liked Rahul Dravid more than any other batsman in the Indian test team or any team in the world. Even more than the much revered Sachin Tendulkar. In fact, I would often feel jealous when Tendulkar got plaudits for India’s victories because when Dravid performed, I felt (and wrongly assumed) it hardly made the news.

Due to my fandom of Dravid, I assumed the statistics would back me up and I would find any number to prove in an argument that the man brought up in Bangalore was far better than he was given credit for. “He faced 31,258 deliveries in his career, more than anyone in the history of the game. He must be great to survive that many deliveries,” was one of my regular facts I would use to support Dravid in a discussion about the greatest test batsmen. But I never really looked deeply into the subject other than just the standout statistic and a few hours spent on ESPNCricinfo’s website, looking through their records section.

So who really was better between India’s best number three and best number four batsman? Who was more consistent and who was more important to India’s batting lineup in test match cricket? These are questions that cannot be definitively answered because data does not measure the strength of the mind and what happens inside the dressing room. But let us give it a try.

For this analysis, I am only looking at Dravid’s and Tendulkar’s performances in test cricket from 1 January 2000 to 31 December 2009. This is because my assumption was mostly based on performances in that decade. There are a few things to note though. It is arguable that Tendulkar was already past his prime by the time the new millennium came, because the late 1990s are often considered as his best years. Also, Tendulkar actually had one of the best years of his career in 2010 as he scored seven test centuries that year. But I have not included that year in the analysis for this article.

I want to stress that any conclusions from this analysis should not be used as definitive arguments as to who was better, because it is only looking at a select time period and does not take into account injuries and poor form. It is simply numbers but it is something I have wanted to do for a while and with sport not being played for a while, I took the chance to do some number-crunching on these two generational talents.

Based on standard numbers like runs, average and centuries in the 2000s, Dravid outperforms Tendulkar by a relatively small margin. Dravid played 103 matches during the decade, while Tendulkar played 89 matches. They were almost neck and neck for centuries scored, with Dravid just edging Tendulkar 22 to 21, and also Dravid’s average was slightly better at 54.85 compared to 53.20. But as with any sport, basic numbers like this do not tell even a single iota of the whole story.

One measure which batsmen hold dear or value higher than most is performances away from home. Perhaps wrongly, a fifty in conditions which are foreign from your comfort zone is regarded better than a hundred plundered against hapless opposition at home. Based on this thought pattern, Dravid can be considered as slightly more successful than Tendulkar in the 2000s. Both played more matches away from home than at home during that decade and both made 11 test match centuries away from home during that period. But Dravid averaged 57.08 in overseas conditions, whereas Tendulkar averaged slightly lower at 54.07. This pattern was also shared in home conditions with Dravid averaging slightly more. All this is well and good, but it is important to see who these runs were scored against and in what types of matches both these players were successful in.

During the 2000s, Australia were undoubtedly the best and most consistent side in the world. Most of the players in the first half of the decade who played for Australia would have a good chance at getting into world XIs or all-time XIs. So performances against them seem to earn more respect. This is where Tendulkar has an edge on Dravid as he averaged 54.67 in 18 matches, compared to Dravid averaging 45.75 in 20 matches against Australia. This margin gets much smaller when comparing performances in Australia, but still Tendulkar has the slight edge of a better average by almost three runs. This is despite Tendulkar’s horror run in the first three matches of the 2003/04 test series. He famously abandoned the cover-drive in Sydney at the beginning of 2004 and scored 301 runs in two innings without being dismissed.

Dravid on the other hand had a much better record than Tendulkar against India’s biggest rival, at least emotionally, Pakistan. Especially in Pakistan too Dravid had a superior record. He averaged 78.57 in six matches, and scored three hundreds including a series winning 270 in 2004. Tendulkar, despite his famous or infamous 194* in that same series at Multan, averaged 44.66 in six matches during the 2000s in Pakistan. There was also a sizeable gap in average in the West Indies during the 2000s between the two players, as Dravid averaged 69.23 and Tendulkar averaged 41.37.

Dravid and Tendulkar test average comparison Dravid had a better average than Tendulkar almost everywhere in the 2000s

Through that decade, there were surprising difficulties that both players faced. Tendulkar struggled the most against Sri Lanka in the nine test matches he played against them, and particularly in the three matches he played in Sri Lanka. He averaged just 15.83 in Sri Lanka during that decade and overall averaged 34.35 against them. Dravid found the South African attacks away from home particularly challenging and did not score higher than 87 in the five matches he played there. But against every opposition and in most conditions, these two players had innings of substance in the 2000s. However, with the decade seeing the best of Rahul Dravid, it should come as little surprise that he averaged better than Tendulkar everywhere except in Australia, Bangladesh and South Africa.

The more surprising insights come when we break down the figures by innings and circumstance. Tendulkar did decisively better when India batted in the first innings of a test match as he averaged 71.27 compared to Dravid’s 62.04. But when it comes to looking at the third and fourth innings, the edge goes to Dravid in a relatively big way. Surprisingly, Tendulkar averaged 34.34 in the third innings compared to Dravid’s 43.1. The quintessential innings for scoring tough runs, the fourth innings, saw both players put up very impressive figures. While Dravid averaged 52.26, significantly more than Tendulkar’s 42.52, Tendulkar had a century in the fourth innings. It was the memorable 103* in Chennai in 2008 against England that led to India winning the game. It is a crucial fact that India won the game, more on that later. Dravid did not score a fourth innings test century in the 2000s.

Another interesting statistic to check is the matches during which they are most successful in a test series. Tendulkar does slightly better in the first test match of the series as his nine hundreds and average of 64.73 shows, compared to Dravid’s seven hundreds and 56.10 average. Dravid got better in the second match of the series, whereas Tendulkar actually got significantly “worse” with an average of 47.63. Dravid had a very marginal edge in the third and often decisive match of a series by averaging 41.07 comparing to Tendulkar’s 39.91 in the 2000s. They both had stellar records in the limited series that had a fourth test match with an average of 75.11 for Dravid and 87.75 for Tendulkar respectively. So what do these numbers tell us? It seems that Tendulkar was more successful in setting up a series for India, while Dravid was the reliable man able to close out a series for the team.

Now, I have always wanted to look for ways to measure the impact of a player on a team. This is obviously really difficult to measure without being inside the dressing room and seeing the mental side of the game. But a way to do is to look at the players’ performance in wins, losses and draws. Dravid had an astonishing average of 74.70 for Indian test victories and 64.88 for draws during the 2000s. Tendulkar had an almost equally stellar record with an average of 67.29 during wins and 58.57 during draws. But Tendulkar was more consistent because during losses he averaged a respectable 33.46 with two test hundreds. Dravid’s performance was poor during losses with no centuries and a miserly average of 27.23. This seems to suggest Dravid was more important for India compared to Tendulkar in the 2000s. But it is not that simple to say.

Another way to look at importance is the partnerships that both Dravid and Tendulkar had with other players in the side and what happened when they came to the crease, and what happened when they were dismissed. Dravid was involved in 442 partnerships in the 2000s in test cricket for India, and those partnerships saw 20,445 runs scored at an average of 48.79. There were 63 century stands and 66 fifty partnerships. Tendulkar was involved in 292 partnerships which saw 13,964 runs scored at an average of 50.05. These 292 stands saw 36 century partnerships and 65 fifty partnerships. What is more revealing is that Tendulkar contributed to 51.05% of the runs in his partnerships, while Dravid contributed 41.86% to his partnerships. This validates the perception that Tendulkar was more dominant than Dravid.

Investigating these numbers further, I decided to look at the matches in which Dravid or Tendulkar scored a 50 or more in the 2000s. With Dravid predominantly batting at number three and Tendulkar at four, it should come as no surprise that Dravid came to the crease with India on a lower total than when Tendulkar arrived. But the gap is interesting. Dravid arrived when the score was on average 62.38 runs, Tendulkar came to the crease with an average of 107.77 runs on the board. During their stays at the crease, Dravid saw an average of 228.28 runs scored while Tendulkar saw 186.98 runs scored on average. Tendulkar contributed to 48.24% of the team’s runs during his stay at the crease, while Dravid contributed to 43.27% of the team’s runs during his innings.

During my childhood, I always felt that Dravid was the most important player to India in their test match victories and if he was dismissed, our chances were next to finished. But if you look at the runs scored after they were dismissed, Tendulkar’s dismissal saw an average of 142.56 runs scored after, compared to Dravid’s dismissal seeing 147.64 more runs. Dravid scored a 50 or more in 17 wins during the decade, while Tendulkar scored a 50 or more in 16 wins. But Tendulkar scored a 50 or more in 41 matches during the decade, whereas Dravid did in 49 matches. That means even though Tendulkar saw less wins for his 50+ scores during the 2000s, but because he had fewer matches in which he scored a fifty or more, he looks to be more influential than Dravid.

I know that these two players were not the only players responsible for a win or loss, but it really took me aback when I found out how influential Tendulkar was as the statistics in the last two paragraphs highlight. My assumption was right in its basic statement, but the last statistic shows how important Tendulkar really was. He carried not only the weight of a nation, but probably the hopes and aspirations of his teammates out in the middle. His dismissal caused a pin drop silence often and now I can see why. Dravid was the more successful player in the 2000s, but whether he was more important than Tendulkar is not an assumption I can continue to make with the confidence I had before. Tendulkar had his undoubted significance, even if he was off form. Maybe I was just underplaying it. Still though, Dravid was better wasn’t he?