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Tendulkar Better Than Bradman? Surely Not!

Sachin and the Don - two of the greatest ever.

Sachin Tendulkar better than Don Bradman? Surely Not!

When the Wisden 100 was published ten years ago, there was much controversy over the non-inclusion of any innings by the great Sachin Tendulkar. Steve Ferrier’s recent updating of the all-time list here also added no Tendulkar innings. Yet despite the fact that it is claimed he has not produced any particularly monumental innings during a career of more than 20 years, his greatness is still heralded the world over. How can this be?

Amongst cricket traditionalists, Don Bradman is unquestioned as the best batsman to ever pad up – they merely point to his Test average of 99.94, far and away the best ever, and say “QED”. He and Tendulkar have probably only ever been rivalled in terms of hero-worship by WG Grace, who was probably the most famous cricketer ever, at least the most recognizable outside of the cricket world.

When trying to build up their man, Tendulkar fans point out the generally higher quality of cricket nowadays, together with the much larger number of competing teams and the vast numbers of games in all forms which must be negotiated, among other things which typify today’s game. Bradman’s protagonists meanwhile highlight the uncovered wickets, lack of protective gear and, interestingly, the lower numbers of competing teams, pointing out that a higher proportion of Bradman’s games were against higher quality opposition as a result. In general, however these arguments are largely specious.

Tendulkar is the most capped Test player ever, recently playing in his 181st match, a feat of amazing longevity, and has scored over 2,000 runs more than anyone else has ever managed – and he’s not done yet (though neither is his closest rival, countryman Rahul Dravid). Yet that very longevity is used by his critics to deride him, claiming that his records are simply the result of being around for so long. But it’s one thing to hang around, and another thing entirely to put together a career with so many highlights.

In terms of sheer numbers per-innings or per-match, there’s little doubt that Bradman is streets ahead of every other batsman. He had a higher proportion of double and triple centuries than anyone before or since, and as mentioned earlier his Test average is an order of magnitude above the rest – his 99.94 puts him more than 34 runs ahead of New Zealand’s Stewie Dempster, next best of those who played at least ten Tests, though he played in just ten as compared to Bradman’s 52. However Tendulkar has fashioned far more centuries than anyone else, a massive 51 as compared to 40 by next-best Jacques Kallis – again, his detractors will point to 298 Test innings (or about one in every six innings), compared to a return of 29 centuries in only 80 innings by Bradman (or about one every three innings). Tendulkar also has a better conversion rate than his contemporaries, but again Bradman’s is far superior.

So how could anyone accept that Tendulkar is better than Bradman? The thing about hero-worship is it tends to focus the gaze, but not always in the right direction. Arguments fuelled by stats tend to use them, as Andrew Lang noted a long time ago, like a drunkard uses a lamp post – for support rather than illumination. A few carefully chosen stats are dropped in to “prove” the point which has already been pre-determined, rather than using stats for illumination, i.e. by first posing a question and using the appropriate stats to find the answer.

Method to their Madness?

Regardless of who is subjectively considered as being the best, I believe I may have come up with a way to measure the impact of a long career of sustained greatness in an objective way.

Let?s start by posing the question “Which batsman has had the most impact all-time”? Actually, since there are so many drawn games in Test cricket, let’s modify the question slightly, to ?”Which batsman should have had the most impact”? Let’s look at batting success in terms of the number of potentially high-impact innings played, and determine impact by looking at whether or not a particular innings of significance should, all other things being equal, have resulted in a win for his team.

It is fair to say that for the most part of his career, Bradman played for better teams – during his career Australia had a won-lost percentage of slighly over 70%. Tendulkar’s India teams meanwhile have enjoyed a won-lost percentage of less than 55%. So by using the method described below, looking at individual innings as a whole throughout Test cricket, we can attempt to neutralise the team factor, i.e. try to take away the impact of being surrounded by a successful team.

Throughout Test cricket history, we can determine how often a particular innings of significance would, or should, be expected to contribute to a win in a Test match; I’ve done this for a previous article, which required me to go through every Test cricket scorecard which produced a result to determine how often each milestone innings contributed to a victory. As an example, let’s take Tendulkar. Tendulkar numbers among his achievements 61 fifties and 51 tons, of which 20 were more than 150 and six of those double centuries – historically, each 150, for example, would be expected to prove the difference in a match around 24% of the time, which, for his fourteen 150s would give him around 3.2 win contributions to his team; in other words, if a player makes fourteen scores of between 150 and 200, he should expect around a quarter of them, or three in this case, to be winning innings. We can calculate this figure for each of his major innings, add them to give a total expected win contribution for Tendulkar, and then do the same for all Test batsmen based on their major innings. If we do this, we come up with the following top 25:-

Tendulkar IND 8.962
Bradman AUS 7.833
Lara WI 7.700
Ponting AUS 6.850
Dravid IND 6.055
Sangakarra SL 5.970
Jayawardene SL 5.826
Gavaskar IND 5.779
Kallis SA 5.642
S Waugh AUS 5.273
Sehwag IND 5.247
Javed Miandad PAK 5.214
Hammond ENG 4.944
Mohammad Yousuf PAK 4.429
Chappell AUS 4.265
Sobers WI 4.264
GC Smith SA 4.246
Border AUS 4.176
Richards WI 4.008
Atapattu SL 3.995
Hutton ENG 3.976
Kirsten SA 3.878
Langer AUS 3.875
Harvey AUS 3.702
Hayden AUS 3.651

(EXP – Expected win contributions based on individual inning).

Tendulkar, Bradman and Lara are the big three and some way ahead of Ponting, who in turn is some way ahead of the rest. In the previous article mentioned above I looked at actual winning performances and, in comparing the number of actual winning innings with the projected figures, it emerges that Bradman, Ponting, Waugh and Sangakkara have significantly more actual wins than their performances would suggest; in the first three cases, this may be partly attributable to the more extreme success of their respective teams, i.e. their teams were able to turn their big innings into wins; Sangakkara is an anomaly here, but this is possibly partly explained by Sri Lanka’s higher ratio of games against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe with Sangakkara in the line-up (about 40%), as compared to Australia, with only 7 of 97 wins (less than 8%) against the minnows with Ponting in the line-up. Another reason could be that Sangakkara is just a much better player under pressure.

Basically, the above chart reflects how people tend to think about career longevity, i.e. aggregate numbers with no real account of opportunity, strength of opposition or changing scoring conditions over time. However, as this shows Tendulkar at the top we may be getting some way to nailing down an objective measure of his greatness.

Playing the percentages

Of course, Tendulkar and Lara played in many more Tests than Bradman, so if we look at expected wins as a percentage of Tests played the list is somewhat different:-

Bradman AUS 7.833 15.06%
Headley WI 2.008 9.13%
RG Pollock SA 1.619 7.04%
Sangakarra SL 5.970 6.09%
Sehwag IND 5.247 6.03%
Weekes WI 2.868 5.97%
Lara WI 7.700 5.88%
Hammond ENG 4.944 5.82%
Paynter ENG 1.119 5.60%
Amiss ENG 2.741 5.48%
Nurse WI 1.532 5.28%
Hutton ENG 3.976 5.03%
SG Barnes AUS 0.648 4.99%
Tendulkar IND 8.962 4.95%
Mohammad Yousuf PAK 4.429 4.92%
Chappell AUS 4.265 4.90%
Walcott WI 2.156 4.90%
Jayawardene SL 5.826 4.86%
Morris AUS 2.213 4.81%
Ponsford AUS 1.379 4.76%
HL Collins AUS 0.893 4.70%
Harvey AUS 3.702 4.69%
GC Smith SA 4.246 4.67%
Gavaskar IND 5.779 4.62%
Pietersen ENG 3.603 4.62%

(EXP% – expected win contributions as a percentage of total Tests played; minimum five years and 10 Tests)

This brings into the top five such batting luminaries as George Headley, Graeme Pollock and…Virender Sehwag, while Ponting drops out of the top 25. Looked at in this way however, Bradman is now seen to be enjoying his customary position of being about half as “good” again as the chasing pack.

Still we don’t have the full story, however – we need to take into account the changing eras of cricket. For example, in the 19th century a score in the 90s would prove to be a difference-maker on far more occasions than in today’s high-scoring game.

The best of their time

Below is the revised top 25, again based on expected win percentage taking into account era-specific scoring:-

Bradman AUS 8.131 15.64%
Sehwag IND 7.210 8.29%
Mead ENG 1.406 8.27%
Sangakarra SL 7.842 8.00%
Lara WI 10.428 7.96%
Hobbs ENG 4.612 7.56%
Headley WI 1.643 7.47%
Ranji ENG 1.109 7.39%
Tendulkar IND 13.022 7.19%
Mohammad Yousuf PAK 6.257 6.95%
Paynter ENG 1.357 6.78%
Weekes WI 3.234 6.74%
Jayawardene SL 7.940 6.62%
Ponting AUS 9.692 6.38%
GC Smith SA 5.716 6.28%
Pietersen ENG 4.817 6.18%
Kallis SA 8.795 6.07%
Hammond ENG 5.080 5.98%
Trumper AUS 2.861 5.96%
Younis Khan PAK 3.930 5.87%
McGlew SA 1.972 5.80%
Atapattu SL 5.133 5.70%
Cook ENG 4.093 5.68%
SG Barnes AUS 0.731 5.62%
Lehmann AUS 1.476 5.47%

As might be expected, era adjustment has brought in some players from earlier eras, such as Victor Trumper, Ranji and Jack Hobbs, however we’ve also reclaimed some recent players, e.g. Younis Khan. This is because, nowadays a substantial innings has a higher likelihood in leading to a win than in some previous eras, where they may have more likely led to a draw, e.g. Pollock who played exclusively in the 1960s. But if we look at the top five, Bradman is top by some margin, although Sehwag and Mead now replace Headley and Pollock for second and third. So why has Headley dropped while Bradman’s score went up slightly, considering they played around the same time? This is because of the varying impact of particular individual scores – Headley’s breakdown of scores is quite different to Bradman’s; although their proportion of scores below 200 are quite similar, Bradman had 15% of his scores above 200, whereas Headley had 5%.

The make up of the above list is quite surprising to me. Despite the cut-offs of five years or ten Tests, it is still partially made up of players with relatively short careers, e.g. Cook, whose career is still quite short in terms of years, or Mead, who despite his long career duration did not play in many Tests, averaging only one per year.

Staying power

At the end of the day, though, as I mentioned at the beginning many modern-day fans don’t tend to make judgments on percentages – the truly great players are judged on and remembered most fondly for sustained brilliance maintained throughout a significant career. Here, then, is our final ranking, based on total expected win contributions adjusted for era:-

Tendulkar IND 13.022
Lara WI 10.428
Ponting AUS 9.692
Kallis SA 8.795
Dravid IND 8.485
Bradman AUS 8.131
Jayawardene SL 7.940
Sangakarra SL 7.842
S Waugh AUS 7.377
Sehwag IND 7.210
Mohammad Yousuf PAK 6.257
GC Smith SA 5.716
Hayden AUS 5.517
Kirsten SA 5.367
Langer AUS 5.343
Border AUS 5.181
Atapattu SL 5.133
Hammond ENG 5.080
Gavaskar IND 5.075
Pietersen ENG 4.817
Inzamam-ul-Haq PAK 4.796
Hobbs ENG 4.612
Chanderpaul WI 4.417
Hutton ENG 4.154
Sobers WI 4.134
Gooch ENG 4.125
Cook ENG 4.093
Azharuddin IND 4.052
Laxman IND 4.033
Harvey AUS 3.999

There are some surprises lower down the order, but keep in mind that this is measuring likely winning performances, so a mercurial batsman like Atapattu measures well despite his low average. The level of likely success of a given innings changes over time, plus this last ranking is based on totals and tends to favour players who batted in more Tests.

Tendulkar has a lead of almost 3 expected wins over the next man, Lara, which considering the small variations below him is a significant gap – the 25% lead over the chasing pack is almost, dare I say, Bradmanesque. That said, there’s no doubt that Bradman would have added to that total with additional Tests that would have been played had not World War II shifted the world’s focus away from sport.

The previous two tables I think illustrate how the two camps tend to feel about the greats – on the one hand, the pro-Bradman fans would expect to see the likes of Hobbs and Headly ranked highly, whereas Tendulkar’s admirers may expect to see Tendulkar, Lara and Ponting at the top. What I’ve tried to do here is show that there is an objective measure of greatness, other than averages and run aggregates, which illustrates just how special Tendulkar is.

The Last Word

While I’m not here to proclaim that Tendulkar is better than Bradman (for “better” is after all a relative term and means many different things to many different people), by the above measure Sachin Tendulkar is (or rather should have been) the most successful Test batsman ever, and by a significant margin.

I’ll leave the last word to Bradman himself, who was so impressed by Tendulkar that he made him the only player of the modern era to be included in his own all-time XI. And he knew a bit about cricket.


I always like to read an article that picks out certain stats to put Tendulkar at the top.

Enlightening read

Comment by GotSpin | 12:00am BST 18 October 2011

The batsman with the most all time influence would be Grace, wouldn’t it? Wasn’t he the first to combine front and back foot play?

Good read mate. Interesting stuff.

Comment by Burgey | 12:00am BST 18 October 2011

“However, as this shows Tendulkar at the top we may be getting some way to nailing down an objective measure of his greatness.”

There isn’t much objectivity in that statement to be fair, though I may be misunderstanding you. It seems that you’re saying that because it has Tendulkar at number one, it’s a better rating than the many other types of ranking or rating that has him lower down.

I’m a big fan of your work so no offence here, but this article seems to be drawn from the Vijay Sharma school of inventing a system that ensures Tendulkar at the top. Particularly when we see that all of the other highest rated batsmen according to this formula happen to be Tendulkar’s contemporaries.

Comment by The Sean | 12:00am BST 18 October 2011

As with most stats based analysis, it is pretty flawed but it is a refreshing way of looking at greatness amongst batsmen, so kudos for that. 🙂

Comment by honestbharani | 12:00am BST 18 October 2011

Bradman, Lara was great batsman, they give us lot of good memories in cricket but Sachin is better than them.
Sachin is the only batsman in this cricketing fraternity, and others (including Don Bradman) only know how to play it.?

Comment by sujoy singha | 12:00am BST 19 October 2011

well the concluding line says it all…..”last word to Bradman himself, who was so impressed by Tendulkar that he made him the only player of the modern era to be included in his own all-time XI. And he knew a bit about cricket.”

Comment by rahul | 12:00am BST 19 October 2011

read it……..

From the Period Oct-2009 to Jan-2011,
Sachin Tendulkar played only 7 ODI matches……
… So he dint have that burden of ONEDAY INTERNATIONALS…

Lets see how he performed during this period in TEST-MATCHES….
He scored 2357 runs in 15 test matches he played during this period….
He played in 30 innings in which many included not-outs and his average was 90.65 in these 15 test matches….

90.65 avg is almost close to Bradman\’s 99.94,
This is what wud have happened if Sachin dint play the ODIs…..

And just read this,
The remaining 7 ODI matches that Sachin played,
He scored about 450 runs in 6 innings with 2 notouts and a 200 vs southafrica,
This means his average during that period in ODIS was 112.5…

Any questions about the statement that SACHIN is greater than BRADMAN….??
And add to this Sachin\’s World Cup Performance….


And between all this TENDULKAR also played the IPL and he also played the CHAMPIONS LEAGUE during that period…

112.5 AVG in ODIs
90.65 AVG in TEST

And during that period SACHIN was the Highest Scores in the IPL-2010,
He was the 2nd Highest Scorer in 2011 WORLD CUP,
He was also the 2nd Highest Scorer in 2011 IPL with an IPL CENTURY…..

Just Imagine if like Bradman,
Sachin too dint have that burden of ODIs, IPL, CHAMPIONS LEAGUE and all that….
Where wud have that 90.65 average and records gone…??

SACHIN is undoubtedly greater than BRADMAN…

Comment by Rakhil raveendran | 12:00am BST 19 October 2011

Brilliant article. Atlast someone who dares to not just question popular beliefs but also provides facts to substantiate it. Bravo Dave Wilson!!!!

Comment by Andy | 12:00am BST 19 October 2011

I like your articles, almost always, but if I didn’t know it was you writing I’d think the author was taking the piss.

I find this statement:

[QUOTE]What I’ve tried to do here is show that there is an objective measure of greatness, other than averages and run aggregates, which illustrates just how special Tendulkar is.[/QUOTE]

particularly cringeworthy given the introduction about how people tend to use stats as a crutch rather than to be ‘illuminating’. :p

For me, Tendulkar is in the tier behind Bradman along with Sobers, Richards, Chappell, Lara, Ponting, Hobbs, etc. For me, his records re aggregate runs, 100s, etc, stop meaning much at a certain point. I think he has had a fantastic career, even if I do think he was somewhat fortunate in the circumstances that made such longevity possible.

Comment by Ikki | 12:00am BST 19 October 2011

Just out of curiosity, was Sunny ever compared to the Don back in his day? He’s a little bit before my time but i just recall a lot of people comparing Gavaskar and Tendulkar over the years rather than this recent obsession with comparing him to Bradman. If anything, it shows how good Bradman really was if he’s being compared to all these ‘greats’ 60+ years after he retired.

Comment by turnstyle | 12:00am BST 19 October 2011

Yes Tendulkar is the better batsman than Bradman

Comment by birender singh | 12:00am BST 19 October 2011

The above concerns Test cricket.Often considered the “ultimate” in cricket.
But ,we often conveniently forget ODIS. If not for the Hundreds and Hundreds of ODIS played, the difference in styles and temperament required, and the inevitable injuries resulting from overuse- it is arguable that Tendulkar’s Test stats may have been better.

In any case, given the fact that all Modern day batsmen have had the opportunity of showcasing their wares in ODIs how can we simply “Ignore” the One day game.

All in all, It is difficult to look beyond Tendulkar as the “GOAL”

Comment by PM | 12:00am BST 19 October 2011

Sensational article. Last word says a lot!

Comment by steve | 12:00am BST 19 October 2011

Pretty well written article.

Don’t agree with such stats based methods most of the time though.

Comment by Cevno | 12:00am BST 21 October 2011

It’s massively biased to playing in eras where Tests are more common. The second last chart entitled “best of their time” you have on that article is by far the most interesting and accurate IMO.

Comment by Prince EWS | 12:00am BST 21 October 2011

Some dead set shockers on the comments page, to be expected I suppose.

Comment by The Sean | 12:00am BST 21 October 2011

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