Very few debates have been settled with an outright winner. When it comes to cricket, raging debates have taken place over who was the best bowler, best batsman, and other players; but no other debate has been bigger and more intense than who is the better batsmen in between Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara.
Both Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara have had storied careers for India and the West Indies respectively. One was a right-handed genius, while the other was a left-handed magician; but both were mesmerizing with the bat when they got going and carried the burden of scoring the runs for their team for a majority of their careers.
The Mumbaikar Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar was a child prodigy, who made a splash in international cricket at the tender age of 16 and sparked an intense interest amongst the cricket fraternity with his dazzling stroke play. Tendulkar came very close to becoming the youngest Test cricket to score a century but missed by a minuscule margin. However, he scored his first Test hundred against England at Old Trafford, Manchester.
On the other hand, Trinidadian Brian Charles Lara made his Test debut at the age of 20 and made an immediate impact with a masterful 277 against Australia in Sydney in what was his fifth Test match. The rivalry between the two had started and developed as the two ruled the roost in the Test arena in the 1990s and 2000s.
Both the greats are the owners of some of the most enviable records in Tests and First-Class cricket.
Sachin Tendulkar ended his career with the most Test runs in 15,921 in 200 Tests with 51 centuries and 68 fifties. His highest score was 248* against Bangladesh and he averaged 53.78 when he retired in 2013.
Sachin Tendulkar holds the world records of most runs in Test cricket, most centuries in Test cricket, most Tests played in Test history and is the only player to reach the milestone of 200 Tests. Tendulkar’s international career lasted for 24 years 1 day and had one of the longest active cricket careers of all time.
Brian Lara, on the other hand, retired from the game in 2007 after playing 131 Tests and 11,953 runs. He was the highest run-getter in Tests at the time of his retirement. His highest score in Tests was a majestic 400* and he hit 34 centuries and averaged 52.88.
Lara also holds the record for the highest individual score in FC cricket, a stupendous 501* for Warwickshire against Durham in 1994. He is the only player in Test history to score two 350+ scores and only player to regain the record for highest individual score in Test cricket.
Sachin Tendulkar had a watertight technique when it came to handling both spin and pace in defense mode. He had the god-gifted ability to gauge the line and length of the ball a split second before others. Sachin had the full range of shots and options of hitting the same ball to five different areas of the ground.
When in dominating mood, Sachin took on bowling attacks of the highest quality and rip them to shreds. His century in the fifth Test of the 1992 series against Australia at the quickest pitch in the world at WACA, in Perth at the age of 18 years is regarded as one of the best centuries on that ground by any batsman. He dominated the likes of Merv Hughes, Craig McDermott, Paul Reiffel and an in-form Mike Whitney on a pitch that spat venom and was lightning quick.
On the other hand, when India toured Australia in 2003/04, during the Sydney Test, Sachin recognized that he was getting dismissed outside off stump and decided to eliminate the cover drive from his repertoire of shots and scored a sublime 241*, with all the shots coming predominantly on the leg side.
Brian Lara was a dasher and dominated the bowling attacks at will, whether it was the amazing 277 against Sydney in 1992, or 221 against Sri Lanka on a rank turner in Colombo against Muralitharan on his prime; Lara’s best innings came in an era when West Indies cricket was in a steep decline and he single-handedly tried to keep the team above water with his batting.
Lara came into the news by breaking Sir Garfield Sobers’ record score of 365*, by scoring 375 against England at the St. John’s, Antigua in 1994. A decade later, at the same ground, against the same opposition, Lara reclaimed the record for highest individual Test score from Matthew Hayden, who had scored 380 against Zimbabwe a mere six or so months before in 2004. Lara went the distance this time, becoming the first and only batsman to score 400 runs in a single Test innings; a record that still stands today and is unlikely to be overhauled anytime soon.
Lara’s high back-lift gave him that extra power to hit shots along the ground and was exquisite to look at while batting in full flow. However, he was well adept at handling spin of both kinds, as evident from his battles against Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan.
Impact on the game
Sachin Tendulkar averaged above 40 against all the countries while Lara, despite being the best player of the slow bowling of his generation, failed to do it against India. Tendulkar also averaged above 40 in all the countries he played in, while Lara couldn’t manage to do it in India or in New Zealand.
Both have a good record against the most dominant team of their era in Australia. Tendulkar (11 in 74 innings) and Lara (9 in 58 innings) have scored the most centuries against them during this time. Tendulkar averaged 55 to Lara’s 51.
When Tendulkar played against Australia with both Warne and McGrath in their team; Lara’s average increases slightly while Tendulkar’s falls by nearly 13 to 42.28. He also scored 4 centuries against Warne-McGrath with two double hundreds to his name. Lara is also the only player to amass over 1000 runs against them and is only behind Kevin Pietersen’s 57.42 in terms of average. Sachin, on the other hand, averaged 55.97 in the 25 tests without Warne and McGrath.
Some of Brian Lara’s great innings, like 221 & 130 vs. SL in Colombo, 400* vs. England at St John’s and 226 vs. Australia at Adelaide came West Indies had lost the series.
However, his best innings of all time was the 153* that came against Australia in Bridgetown in 1999. West Indies was a target of over 300 to win the match and the series. Lara shepherded the tail brilliantly in the end against a raging attack consisting of Glenn McGrath, who took five wickets in that innings, Jason Gillespie, Stuart McGill and Shane Warne. West Indies won the match by one wicket and the four-match series 2-1.
Choosing Sachin Tendulkar’s best innings in a Test match is like asking for trouble. Every Sachin fan has their best innings, as some will choose his innings early in the Test career, while some will go for the era he dominated in the 2000s. However, his 103* against England in 2008 is widely regarded as his best.
England had come back to tour India after the 2008 Mumbai Terrorist attacks and this match was being played in Chennai. India required a record 387 to win in the fourth innings of the match against a bowling attack of Steve Harmison, James Anderson, Andrew Flintoff, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar.
Sehwag scored a blistering 83 to lay the platform for Sachin to carry on. Sachin’s record in fourth innings chases was something that has not been talked about much. But this time, he knew that he needed to go on and win the match for not only his team but for the country itself. He scored his only century in a successful fourth innings chase and won the match for India, with help from Yuvraj Singh, who scored 85*.
The debate of who is the best batsman- Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara will continue to rage on for ages, as fans of both batsmen will argue on their behalves.
It is better to leave the decision up to individuals to choose who was better as each has the edge over the other in different aspects of the game. If Sachin beat Lara in the longevity of career, Lara bests Tendulkar in scoring massive individual centuries; therefore, the cricket fans should pick either Tendulkar or Lara based on their preferences.