Before blurting out a fresh curse for a struggling Sachin let us zoom out a little further on this issue. We need to see the stats with tempered emotions. We have to remember that the 4th innings generally sports a Test match pitch at its slowest – a condition more suited for the openers playing tired fast bowlers with a new ball (no reverse swing) than for middle order bats slotted to play spinners waiting eagerly for their business end.
By the time a number four or five batsman enters the crease in the last innings it gets decidedly more difficult to play the slower men or even the faster ones; by then they are gaining ascendancy bowling with a ragged ball on a bruised playing surface. The list of batsmen with best 4th innings batting averages in that cricinfo link just about confirms the supposition by featuring a multitude of batsmen from the top three, including the modern greats Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting.
The weightages are reversed in the match 1st innings (i.e. the first innings of the team batting 1st). A fresh fast bowler with a new ball on a new turf means openers are having all the problems while middle order guys are relatively happier Why not? They will face slower bowlers with a half-new ball on a settling pitch. The track and the ball lose a bit of hostility by the time they come in. Not the worst time to bat.
So for Sachin fans, here is the flip side. We compared the figures of Sunny and Sachin in the 1st match innings. Result: Sunny averages 42 while Sachin soars at 73. Looks like 1-1, eh?
There is another angle to that study that makes the comparison of two Indian greats even more intriguing: Gavaskar, a master opener, played in the era of great fast bowlers – the ones that made the non-striking end look like a distant dream to batsmen of Sunny's trade in the match first innings. Sachin, a middle order virtuoso, plays in the era of great spinners – the same ones that make a living out of twisting judgements of middle order batsmen in the match 4th innings.
Do we have to pass a verdict on the two greats? Here’s mine in case we have to: as far as performance (read batting average) in sternest conditions is concerned, Sunny’s worst is 41, barely 10 points below his career average. However the corresponding figure is 34 for Sachin – a whole 21 points less than his career return. Consistency-across-a-Test-match, thy name is not Sachin Tendulkar.
The net knowledge gain for us laymen from this exercise can be summed up with a slightly modified version of a famous Mumbai catchline:
“One-two ka 4, four-five ka 1”
In other words, batsmen 1 & 2 are likely to make most runs in innings no. 4 while batsmen 4 & 5 profess their love for innings no. 1.
Note: I still harbour this preference for Sachin playing on for another 4 years in ODI’s and withdrawing from Test matches without any further delay. He may score the odd big score but even his success at the crease is much less value for (i) these days even in his more successful 1st innings he keeps getting out for 60’s and 70’s and (ii) his earlier dominance of bowlers, that was worth a multilication factor of 1.5 to the actual runs scored, is not going to return. For the past year and half he has not done enough in Tests to keep claiming that number four position ahead of a promising (albeit cocky) talent, Yuvraj Singh.
Sachin may be already thinking hard on this. We had discussed this half a year earlier. The current series in England may turn out to be a decider for his Test future. Coming to think of it - can Sachin yet be our Test opener like.........