Don or Sachin - who's the greatest?

Is Bradman or Tendulkar the best player ever?

Martin Smith

27 August 2014, 02:26 PM AEST

For as long as most of us can remember, only one man deserved the right to be labelled the greatest cricketer of all time - Sir Donald Bradman.

For decades after his retirement in 1948, The Don's record across an astonishing career was seen as the mark for which all other batsmen should be compared.

But as India's Sachin Tendulkar continued to dominate attacks around the world, some pundits began to question Bradman's standing as the greatest ever.

English journalist Simon Hughes was one of the first to publically challenge the status quo, writing in The Telegraph in 2011: "When you factor in Tendulkar's prowess in all countries and all conditions ... and the burden of expectation of a billion people, he must be regarded as the best ever."

A study from Gold Coast academic Dr Nicholas Rohde later that year and a 2014 book by Rudolph Lambert Fernandez titled Greater Than Bradman also challenged The Don's status as the best of all time.

Bradman himself paid Tendulkar the ultimate compliment, once declaring that the Indian was the only batsman who reminded him of himself.

"I saw him playing on television and was struck by his technique," Bradman said before his death in 2001.

"There is a similarity between the two ... his compactness, technique, stroke production... it all seemed to gel."

As we remember Bradman on his 106th birthday, we've decided to compare The Don with The Little Master.

Quick Single: Greats pay tribute on Don's birthday

The Averages Nine, nine, nine, four.

Those four numbers, Bradman's Test average, is all most Australians need to prove their theory that The Don is the best ever.

Bradman scored 29 Test centuries in 80 innings at Test level, meaning he passed triple figures every 2.75 innings.

On the other hand, Tendulkar only averaged 53.78 from 200 Tests, scoring 51 Test hundreds from 329 innings, or one every 6.45 innings.

Bradman's average is so ingrained in Australian culture that the mailing address of the ABC, the country's national broadcaster, is PO Box 9994 in each capital city.

It's an incredible mark and one that is unlikely to ever be surpassed.


Conditions One of Tendulkar's greatest strengths was his ability to dominate against all teams, against all styles of bowling and in all conditions.

While many of his teammates regularly struggled away from spin-friendly wickets on the sub-continent, Tendulkar's record was impressive in all ten Test playing nations.

Interestingly, he averaged more in England and Australia than he did at home in India, with his lowest average in any country (40.00) coming from four Tests in Zimbabwe.

A breakdown of his record against each nation is also remarkably consistent, with his career average of 42.28 against Pakistan his lowest against any country.

Due to the restrictions of his time, Bradman only ever played Test cricket in two countries; Australia and England.

Of Bradman's 52 Tests, 37 were against England with five against each of South Africa, West Indies and India.

World War II Often overlooked in the debate between the two is how much of an impact the Second World War had on Bradman's career.

While The Don never saw active service like most of his team-mates, WWII meant that he didn't play Test cricket at all between the ages of 30 and 37 – a period that has been the most fruitful of many batsmen’s careers.

Hypothetically, and based solely on Bradman's average of 4.3 Tests and 2.4 centuries per year played, The Don would have finished his career with 48 hundreds from 87 Tests had conflict not broken out.

That would have left him just three short of Tendulkar's mark of 51 Test centuries – from 113 fewer matches.

It's also important to note that in the summer of 1945-46, 12 months before Bradman returned to Test cricket, he was unable to play after being struck down by regular bouts of fibrositis.

ODI record Along with Tendulkar's Test record, fans of the Indian legend point to his unsurpassed ODI figures as proof that he is the greatest ever.

The Little Master scored 49 centuries and 96 half-centuries from 463 one-day internationals, an extraordinary set of numbers that will stand the test of time.

Of course, Bradman never got the chance to play 50-over cricket so we will never know if The Don would have been able to match Tendulkar in the limited-overs game.

Different eras There's no doubt that modern batsmen, like Tendulkar, have several significant advantages over those from Bradman's era.

The quality and size of modern bats and the roped-in grounds of today make it much easier for the modern player to score quickly and freely.

The introduction of helmets has also allowed modern players to hook and pull without fear, while the quality of pitches today are far superior to the uncovered wickets of Bradman's day.

Unfortunately, we'll never know how Tendulkar would've performed if confronted with the same conditions Bradman had to deal with in his era.

Weight of runs While Bradman's career spanned just three years less than Tendulkar's, the Indian dwarfs the iconic Australian when it comes to matches played and runs scored.

Tendulkar played 957 matches across all three forms of the game, 634 of which were at international level, and scored 50,192 runs.

Bradman played 234 matches (24.45 per cent of Tendulkar’s tally), 52 of them at Test level, and scored 28,067 runs (55.92 per cent).

Due to the relatively small volume of cricket played in Bradman's era, and the intervention of WWII, The Don could have never played the incredible number of games that Tendulkar did.

Also working against Bradman was the absence of air travel, meaning he and his team-mates would have to travel by sea for around six weeks just to reach English soil for an Ashes tour.


Big hundreds One of Bradman's calling cards during his long career was his extraordinary ability to cash in when he was set.

Of his 29 Test hundreds, 12 were scores over 200, and two of those were triple hundreds.

He also made four scores of over 300 in first-class cricket, including a long-standing Australian record of 452 not out against Queensland in 1930.

In contrast, Tendulkar only scored six double centuries during his Test career, plus an incredible innings of 200 not out in a one-day international against South Africa in 2010.

Cultural significance As their batting prowess grew and grew, both men took on God-like status in their respective countries.

The Don's feats with the bat have generated several songs, a television mini-series, commemorative stamps and coins, numerous books and a museum in his old home town of Bowral, around two hours south-west of Sydney.

Australia's citizenship handbook also features a passage about Bradman and his importance to the nation.

The Don's celebrity status during his career is best summed up by biographer Roland Perry, who wrote: "(The Don's) performances in England in 1930, right at the heart of the depression, gave the nation hope."

In a cricket-mad country of over one billion people, the hero-worshipping of Tendulkar is difficult to put into words.

The sports car loving batsman would regularly drive around his home city of Mumbai in the middle of the night, the only time he could do so without being mobbed by his adoring fans.

Amid the incredible outpouring of emotion upon Tendulkar's retirement in 2013, a banner at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium summed up the impact The Little Master has had on a country with little history of sporting achievement. 

It read: "India divided by religions, united by Sachin".

Quality of opposition Fans of Bradman are quick to point out that Tendulkar scored eight Test centuries and averaged around 100 against the minnows of world cricket, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

On the other hand, Bradman played 70 per cent of his Tests against England, who were the strongest opposition of the day.

Of course, England were almost the only opposition of the day, with South Africa, West Indies and India only playing Test cricket sporadically during Bradman's era.

First-class records While Tendulkar spent his time playing ODI and Twenty20 cricket when he wasn't playing Tests, Bradman would feast on the bowling of Australian state sides and English county outfits.

In all, The Don played 234 first-class matches for 117 centuries and an average of 95.14.

His record is far greater than Tendulkar's, who scored 81 hundreds from 310 first-class matches at an average of 57.84.

But given that 200 of Sachin's 310 first-class matches were at Test level, compared to just 52 of Bradman's 234 matches, it's hard to know exactly what to make of the comparison between the two first-class records.

Sir Donald Bradman

Born: August 27, 1908, Cootamundra, Australia Died: February 25, 2001, Adelaide, SA (aged 92)

Played: 1927-1949


Sachin Tendulkar

Born: April 24, 1973, Bombay (now Mumbai), India

Played: 1988-2013