Each era of cricket produces two or three players who are clearly the best of their generation. From Don Bradman, to Viv Richards and Shane Warne, these players stand head and shoulders above their contemporaries over long and distinguished careers. Of the current generation, Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting certainly fit the mould. Both have accumulated an enormous amount of test runs, and have continually played important innings for India and Australia respectively. Both have also been captains of their country, though Ponting certainly holds the edge over Tendulkar in this department. But, as they drift toward the inevitable climax of their careers, it is interesting to look now at how these two powerhouses are travelling, and ask the simple question of who, like a fine wine, is ageing the most gracefully.
For the purposes of this article I have chosen to focus solely on test cricket, although both of these players continue to perform at extraordinary levels in the ODI arena, evidenced recently by Sachin’s imperious 200 not out (feel free to watch the Sachin Tendulkar Double Century Video Highlights here.)
Tendulkar also, has embraced the T20 format, although Ponting has never really shown much of an interest, particularly for Kolkota in the IPL where he performed poorly. So, it is test cricket that I have chosen to limit my analysis to, as this is still the premier form of the game. To judge how these champions are ageing I will analyse their records over the last two years, a period where Ponting has played 27 tests, and Tendulkar 20.
It is certainly interesting to note that of the two, Tendulkar immediately stands out as his average over the last two years of 67, is easily better than his career average of 56. Ponting on the other hand has averaged 41, compared to a career number of 54. If we break this down even more we can see that Tendulkar has scored a full nine centuries through this time, compared to Ponting’s four. Interestingly, both have scored double-centuries during this time, with Tendulkar’s coming just last week against Sri Lanka. It is also interesting to note that Tendulkar has not averaged below 50 against any of the nations India have played in the last two years, whilst Ponting has not managed to average over 50 against any.
Averages and statistics only provide part of the story I know, and much depends on the stability of the batting order around you, but Ponting has looked scratchy of late, as indeed Tendulkar did in the middle part of the last decade. However, it seems clear that Tendulkar is getting better as he enters into the last passage of his career. Many pundits believe that Ponting will eventually eclipse Tendulkar’s record as the leading run scorer in test cricket, but on this comparison it seems that the little master may just have him covered for a while yet.
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