In 2000, as the 20th century drew to a close, Wisden commissioned a poll to identify the five top cricketers of the previous 100 years. An electoral college of acclaimed cricket specialists voted unanimously for Don Bradman and near unanimously (90% votes) for Garry Sobers. After that the field spread out. Jack Hobbs made it, a tribute to his longevity and mastery of run-scoring over decades. Among contemporary players only Shane Warne made the cut. Viv Richards was the most recent batsman on the list.
What if Wisden were to do another poll, to identify the five leading cricketers of the past 110 years (1901-2010)? Would there be any changes? It's a fair bet that either Hobbs or Richards would surrender place to Sachin Tendulkar.
In 2000, Tendulkar didn't deserve space on that pedestal. He had scored thousands of runs but not done enough to live up to the promise he had shown as the finest teenaged batsman of all time. There was the massacre of Warne in Sharjah, the fourth-innings hundred against Pakistan in Chennai, the mighty scores in the World Cups of 1996 and 1999. Yet beyond that one had to go back to his early years, to the tour of Australia in 1991-92, for a standout sample of Tendulkar exceptionalism.
The past decade has changed all that. Within months of the Wisden list, in March 2001, India won a famous victory in Kolkata, turned their cricket fortunes around, and finally discovered the team and work ethic Tendulkar deserved. The great man responded as only greatness can, and has just completed the most meaningful decade of his career. Today he matches Hobbs for durability and hunger, and Richards for destructive strokeplay in all formats of the game he has made available to himself.
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