So, it looks like Sachin Tendulkar will walk out to bat at Lord's tomorrow. The numbers are aligned, as everyone knows. Here's something I posted a while ago that I think holds true:
Sachin Tendulkar stands on the edge of the greatest feat of batting in the history of the game. When he registers the 100th hundred of his international career, he will achieve something that, like Bradman's average, will never be superseded.
It's human nature to try and measure achievement and to be driven to close to madness when it proves impossible. Time and its changes usually mean that it is. But Tendulkar's argument as the best ever is gaining weight.
It's a question of degree of course. Bradman's is measurable. He is, statistically, more than 30 per cent better than anyone else who has played. That's a stat that makes him not just the greatest cricketer of all time, but by the gap that he created, the greatest sportsman of all time. To draw facile comparison, Usain Bolt would have to run the 100 metres in six seconds to equal him; Tiger Woods would have to win another ten Major Championships.
Yet Tendulkar edges closer. One hundred international hundreds will put him more than 30 per cent clear of the next best, Ricky Ponting who has 68. Only one other player has 40 Test hundreds [SRT has 51] and that's Jacques Kallis. Yet Kallis has 'only' 17 ODI tons. There is Tendulkar and then there is daylight.
The Don of course scored with greater mass. If he had continued at his career rate, he would have made 100 Test hundreds in roughly 250 innings [Tendulkar has batted 290 times for his 51] but that presumes Bradman would have been able to continue. All of sport's geniuses, from Ali to Woods, have been slowed down and altered by life. No, what separates Sachin even from the Don is endurance.
Tendulkar has spent more than a year of his life playing ODI cricket, and a lot more than that in Tests. He has played the game internationally from the age of 16, and he's now 37. That's 57 per cent of his time on earth. He has played 626 Tests and ODIs in that time. Bradman played for 20 years, for a combined 234 Test and first-class games. The pace of life and the pace of the game is irrevocably different.
Efforts have been made to calculate what Bradman's average might have been had he played today, given the differences in bowling and especially fielding, and it comes out to around 77. What's unknowable is how modern life and the demands of the game would have impacted upon him. There is empirical evidence of Sachin's apparently unquenchable desire.
You'll get no argument from me if you want to surmise that Bradman could have scored a hundred international hundreds. But Sachin is actually going to do it, and given the likelihood of ODI cricket [and perhaps even Tests] surviving for long enough to prove that anyone can outstrip him, his record will stand forever, as distant and unreachable as anything of the Don's and as worthy of consideration as the greatest ever. It's hard to imagine that Bradman was better.