"If Cricket is a religion, Sachin is God" is a phrase used by scores of Sachin Tendulkar fans across the country. It is also the title of a book by Vijay Santhanam and Shyam Balasubramaniam, two of the millions, possibly even billions of Sachin devotees in India. "The authors consider themselves fans and analysts in equal measure", and "armed with irrefutable statistical data...they seek to end all debate on Tendulkar's status as the greatest cricketer of the modern era", says the back cover of the book. Interestingly, both Vijay and Shayam are IIT + IIM-A graduates. But does their book live up to their academic achievements?
The book starts with a foreword by Harsha Bhogle. One line stands out. "The only tougher job (than Sachin's) I know is saving a life or standing with a gun in Siachen; one noble, the other a tragic waste", says Harsha, somewhat dramatically.
The authors themselves start off the first chapter by talking about the followers of cricket. They divide these followers into two types - fans and fanatics. Fans prefer the Test format, love a good game and appreciate good cricket irrespective of the team they follow. Fanatics consider the game to be "a battle between good and evil, with the heroes turning out for their team." The ODIs and T-20s target this audience.
The next few chapters analyse Tendulkar's career in detail. "The Wunderkind" talks about Sachin's "fast bowler mentality" (Sachin originally wanted to be a pace bowler, before being dissuaded by Dennis Lillee because he was too short) and how it influenced his playing style. "The Peak" analyses the years when Sachin was at the top of his form (8 years, no less!), "The Fall" analyses the two years leading upto the disastrous 2007 World Cup, when a lot of people reckoned that Sachin should retire. "The Resurrection" shows how Sachin 'came back from the ashes' to inspire India to glory.
Then the authors underline "The Case Against Sachin Tendulkar", based upon quotes made by Ian Chappel, Sanjay Manjrekar and various Cricinfo columnists. The next chapter, "The Case For Sachin Tendulkar" (my favourite) uses a wide array of statistics to effectively counter the charges and insinuations made against the Little Master. The next few chapters provide an array of quotes by sachin's contemporaries and cricket commentators. An interesting parallel is also made of Sachin's career with that of Vishwanathan Anand, the great chess GM. The book ends with a moving epilogue by author Vijay Santhanam.
Critics might argue that the authors are bound to paint a rosy picture of Sachin, given that they are also huge fans. But it is hard to argue against rock-solid analysis and cold statistics that the authors put forth throughout the book. Some of the very interesting statistics and analysis are given below:
1)The win-loss ratio of India in tests from 1930-1989 is a low 0.52. The same ratio dramatically increases to 0.90 during the period 1990-1999, when Sachin was effectively the 'lone-ranger' in the team. The ratio is a very good 1.32 from 2000-2008, when Sachin had help from Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly, Kumble and Harbhajan.
2) Sachin's ODI avarage is 45.12. This avarage increases to 57.43 (at the time of print of the book) in the matches India has won.
3)Sachin has top-scored for India in 44% of the World Cup matches he has played (compared to 24% by Ganguly, 18% by Dravid, 15% by Ponting and 32% by Lara).
There is also a very interesting theory forwarded by the authors, called the "Thirty-three effect". Using statistics, the authors show how the averages of many of the best batsmen fall by 10-20 for about a year or two in their early thirties. This period "is usually preceded by a period of immense dominance where the batsman is usually compared to the best ever." Statistics of Gordon Greenidge, Sobers, Gilchrist, Hayden, Gavaskar, Boycott, Dravid, Miandad and Greg Chappell demonstrate that they all suffered the symptoms on the "Thirty-three effect". So, interestingly, did Sachin Tendulkar between 2005 and 2007, the years when he was at his most vulnerable, and was constantly criticised.
So what did I think of the book? Being a Sachin fan, I was absolutely enthralled while reading this book. The criticisms of Cahppell, Manjrekar and Co. greatly angered me and to see all these charges dismantled one by one gave me great satisfaction. So I can definitely say that there is no Sachin fan who will not love reading this book. Having said that, the book is statistically and logically sound, and is also well written. It seems reasonable to assume that all but the most vociferous critics of Sachin will enjoy this book.