| Spontaneously sincere
The Australian cricket captain, Steven Waugh, is more than just a sportsman. His work for disadvantaged children in Calcutta has already won him wide renown. That city enjoys “most favoured status” with him, but to show that he does not shun other parts of India, Waugh was recently in Bangalore, promoting a new children’s charity. I was lucky to be part of the crowd that heard the athlete, Ashwini Nachappa, engage him in an hour-long conversation. Listening to Waugh speak made me ask myself the question — how does he compare with Sachin Tendulkar'
Let us, first, put them together side-by-side as batsmen. The Indian has much the wider range of shots, and a greater ability to decimate bowling attacks. Except for the pick-up sweep against slow bowlers, Waugh is less daring — he plays few lofted drives, few pulls and hooks, and absolutely no dabs past slip. An innings by him is efficient but unmemorable. When he scores a hundred, one remembers little of the specifics. With Tendulkar, on the other hand, a big score is studded with jewels: the imperious force past cover, the dazzling straight drive, the cheeky late cut.
Again, unlike Sachin, Waugh cannot transform a match in a matter of minutes. One will never see him hit four fours in a row. This means that he is, on the whole, less effective as a one-day player. But what Waugh lacks in strokemaking ability he makes up in temperament. His record in a crisis is staggeringly good (For all the matches that he has won for India, Sachin has yet to play an innings the like of which Waugh played against South Africa in the 1999 World Cup).
Day in day out, and when we consider both varieties of the game, I think our man must just get the edge. He is what we like to call him, the greatest batsman in the world today. If one has to pay to watch, or choose a batsman to win a match, then it is better to go with Tendulkar. Turn now to the other departments of the game. Both Waugh and Tendulkar fancy themselves as bowlers, and both have got key wickets at key moments. I guess, on the whole, the Australian is slightly more effective in this regard. And he is much the better fielder.
As cricketers, then, there is little to choose between Tendulkar and Waugh. One’s advantage in batting is cancelled out by the other’s greater strengths in bowling and fielding. For me, at least, captaincy does not come into the equation at all. With McGrath and Lee and Warne to bowl for him, with Hayden and Martyn to bat for him, with Ponting and Mark Waugh to field for him, and perhaps above all, with Adam Gilchrist to keep wickets and pinch-hit for him, Sachin too would have beaten all sides in the world.
Consider them next as characters. Both are fierce local patriots. Waugh plays as hard for New South Wales as he does for Australia. And Tendulkar’s roots in Bombay are deep and enduring. Who can forget the double hundred he scored against Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy final a couple of years ago' When he played the shot that got his side the crucial first innings lead, he pumped the air in exultation, his gesture captured by a photograph that told us that this meant as much to him as any of his test and one-day hundreds.
Both Waugh and Tendulkar are proud of their city and state. But they are prouder still of their country. Tendulkar is a deeply patriotic man. It is said that when India loses he feels the pain more acutely than anyone else. And Waugh’s love for his country is manifest too. Indeed, he still wears the baggy green cap that was awarded him when he was first capped for Australia.
Come, finally, to the duo as global citizens. Here one must concede that the Australian leaves the competition trailing. Waugh’s work for the poor is spontaneously sincere. Its origins lie in a note slipped under his hotel room during the Calcutta test of 1998. Now foreign cricketers in India are subject to all sorts of entreaties. However, a look at this particular note convinced Waugh that it was unlike all the rest. The letter asked for him to come and see a shelter run for the homeless. He did, and what he saw moved him enough to return at periodic intervals. Now he has taken his campaign to other parts of India. Unusually for a man in his position, he puts his money where his mouth is. Fully 30 per cent of Waugh’s annual income goes towards charity.
Steve Waugh comes across as a cricketer of great dignity and intelligence. In Bangalore, he spoke knowledgeably about the history of cricket, respectfully about his opponents (Curtly Ambrose and Sachin Tendulkar were singled out for especial praise), and passionately about the need to help the less fortunate. The only time he did not persuade or charm was when commenting on sledging. He claimed that the Australians were unfairly singled out merely because they were world champions. He insisted that they were no worse or no better than any other team. The television cameras tell us otherwise. Viewed charitably, this defence of his mates must have been a working out in practice of the Churchillian dictum: one should never criticize one’s countrymen outside one’s country. Perhaps in the privacy of the dressing-room, Waugh does indeed teach Glenn McGrath some three-and five-letter words.
Waugh had come to Bangalore via Calcutta and Kochi. His fund-raising trip coincided with the huge fuss in the Indian papers about Sachin Tendulkar’s Ferrari. The chain of one’s thinking led inevitably to the following comparison: one man gives away his surplus wealth to charity, the other man seeks unwarranted favours from the tax-man. Tendulkar was, without question, poorly advised in the matter of the Ferrari — either he should not have accepted the car, or voluntarily paid the duty. Still, his behaviour in this regard is not exceptional. What is exceptional is Waugh’s work for the poor. In this respect he stands out, not only in comparison with Tendulkar, but also with regard to the overwhelming majority of modern sportsmen. He has done what Don Bradman and Sunil Gavaskar, as well as Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, could not bring themselves to do.
Speaking in Bangalore, Waugh generously acknowledged that Tendulkar will break any cricketing records he might himself set. His own career will carry on, the normally unsentimental Australian selectors permitting, until the tour of India next year. If Waugh is chosen for that series, it will mark the final clash between two of the greatest cricketers to have graced the game.
“Waugh versus Tendulkar” is a nice title for an article, and a nicer one for a book. Perhaps a writer with greater energy and enterprise shall attempt just such a study. This might begin with the cricketing traditions of Sydney and Bombay, and move on via the respective national histories to a careful consideration of the two cricketers as batsmen and team-men. The book will naturally end with the India-Australia test series of 2004. But somewhere in the middle of the cricketing chapters there has to be a chapter analysing, or pschyoanalysing, the human beings behind and beyond the players. Why does Waugh care so much for the poor' Is there a mid-life crisis at work here, or a previously submerged Christian conscience' One would love to know.