Thursday, July 19, 2007

Comparison or . . .

As the India-England series gets underway, the media is awash with the expected admixture of nostalgia, all-time team lists, predictions and hopes, speculations on individual head-to-heads, wishes, superlatives and hype. And that one activity that cricket writers can never tire of – comparisons. Among the recent is the one comparing Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid on Times Online.

Much has been said against comparisons. They are odious, they are speculative, they are unfair, they are biased, they do not consider context appropriately, numbers aren’t everything… the rants go on. Of course most of this is true. But does that mean we stop doing comparisons?

Cricket, or for that matter any other sport (or entertainment even), loses a lot of its charm if you don’t compare players – within teams, across teams, across generations, across different forms of the game (I don’t remember reading a piece on whether Tendulkar in whites is better than Tendulkar in coloured clothing, but I’m sure there is one, or may be more than one)… the comparison parameters can be endless. And so can the debates.

Can you even talk cricket for any meaningful length of time without making comparisons?

For the rabid Tendulkar fan, Sachin is the No. 1 player, only because there are others who takes up slots No. 2 downwards. Which is comparison in itself, isn’t it?

For the Statsguru seeking number cruncher, Mutthiah Muralitharan is the best spin bowler in the world because his average is better than any one else’s. In his mind, there is no, er, comparison.

For the cricket-crazy connoisseur, David Gower is a better batsman than, well, any one else you care to name, for reasons only another cricket-crazy connoisseur can understand. What a waste that connoisseurship if he can’t make statements like that?

Of course, a comparison piece in the media is bound to evoke counter-arguments and denials, heat and fury. One reason for that is perhaps that a comparison is a personal opinion, so people react strongly when a journalist (who, for the most part, is expected to be fair and neutral) indulges in a comparison piece.

But may be there is more to it. Any comparison is not likely to find more than fifty per cent of readers supporting it; the other half are likely to go the other way. And what good is a comparison if it does not invoke that polarisation? And what good is a comparison if you do not get an opportunity to counter it?

Compared to a comparison, what would you rather have?

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